Matt Ingoglia: The art of respectful disagreement

There are many aspects of GW culture so commonplace we tend to take them for granted.

For example, registering for classes is always going to be an ordeal. Finding study space in Gelman is always going to be difficult. Sirens and motorcades are always going to interrupt your elusive slumber. And some people are always going to think that leggings can substitute for pants. These are simply facts of life here, and like it or not, they’re here to stay.

Another seemingly inescapable part of the GW experience is the obligatory tension between opposing student organizations. As a former College Democrats executive board member, I could choreograph the drama in my sleep: Some group announces they’re bringing a controversial speaker to campus, everyone gets outraged, inflammatory op-eds and blog posts proliferate and before you know it, the rival organizations are at each others’ throats. This ruckus is unfortunately bipartisan; whether we’re talking about Michael Moore or Tom Tancredo, the vitriol knows no bounds. The same scenario unfolds when a group comes out against some new policy, as we saw with the Young America’s Foundation vs. Michelle Obama firestorm a few weeks back.

For whatever reason, we seem to really love a good brouhaha. But as a recent event last week demonstrated, it doesn’t always have to be that way.

I’m referring to the eighth annual Interfaith Dinner that was held on Oct. 14. Planned entirely by the Muslim Students’ Association and the Jewish Student Association, the itinerary called for speeches, musical performances and multilingual prayer delivered by students from both groups. The tradition motivates the student organizations to collaborate as an expression of their desire for peace and understanding.

For many of us, it would come as no surprise if this event had failed completely. After all, if liberals and conservatives can’t get along here, how could Jewish and Muslim students possibly put aside their differences, which are much older, stronger and personal?

Clearly they found a way, because the evening’s programming unfolded beautifully before a packed house. As an example of the audience’s impressive diversity, I sat at a table with two Jews (one an Israeli national, the other from New England), a Muslim-American transfer student and a Catholic from Minnesota. And we all had a wonderful time – no awkwardness, no fights and no disrespect. I came away from it feeling that the politico chattering class at GW could learn a thing or two from how the speakers and crowd acted that night.

For instance, when two groups manage to put on a great event in spite of the fact that a multigenerational conflict between them continues to rage in the Middle East, it’s probably a good idea to stop and put things in perspective. When you consider how crystallized the views of Muslims and Jews are on this subject, it suddenly seems petty to rant and rave over a student organization’s latest ploy for attention.

I’m not saying we should all keep quiet when organizations make objectionable decisions; that would be unpatriotic, to say the least. Nor am I trying to claim that joining hands and singing is the solution to all of our problems. But as the Interfaith Dinner’s organizers and participants demonstrated, civil disagreement is not only possible on this campus, but infinitely preferable to the bitterness and hate to which all of us so easily fall victim.

I realize that cooperation is tough when our political idols are busy calling each other terrorists and liars. But when the JSA and MSA are able to deliver a successful event amid seemingly endless strife, I think it would be embarrassing if the rest of us couldn’t follow their example.

The writer, a junior majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet columnist.

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