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In Their Own Words: Mia Benjamin ’13

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

“In Their Own Words” is an ongoing series featuring the experiences of Middlebury students at their summer internships. This summer Mia Benjamin ’13 interned with Pathways for Mutual Respect and the International Institute of Connecticut in Singapore, Malaysia and Connecticut.         

What did you do?

I worked to promote Pathways for Mutual Respect’s interfaith dialogue initiative in Singapore and Malaysia and assisted in a Yale Fellow’s dissertation research on sociology of religion. The other intern and I also put together and facilitated a Life Story Group which brought together Muslims and Christians to share their personal experiences with the goal of breaking down stereotypes and boundaries. For IIConn, I translated Arabic legal documents and served as a personal interpreter and American language and culture tutor to an Iraqi refugee family. While the main purpose of my internship was still to translate legal documents, I did a lot of other tasks for the Institute’s refugee department. I translated about one or two legal documents a week, including divorce certificate, marital contracts, passports, criminal records, and academic transcripts from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria. My other primary duty was providing support for a family of Iraqi refugees. In addition to tutoring the wife and children on English and American culture, I served as the personal interpreter for the wife on her doctor and dentist visits.

What did you learn?

From my trip to Southeast Asia, I learned first-hand about the complex religious, ethnic and political tensions in Malaysia and Singapore. I was also exposed to international leadership roles. I gained experience in maintaining careful control over the public image and identity of an organization and the subtleties of inter-business relationships. In the other parts of the internship I learned how to facilitate interfaith discussion groups and manage controversial topics. I also gained experience doing literature reviews of certain topics. The most benefit I gained was learning a great deal about interfaith work, Islam, and running a small non-profit.

What are your plans for the future?

This internship really helped me explore what an academic career that is heavily involved in activism might be like. It increased my desire to work internationally with Muslims and well as pursue graduate studies in the field, because I saw how important international experience and graduate degrees could be having a very real influence on policies and leadership. This helped encourage my belief in the necessity of interfaith dialogue initiatives, especially ones that carefully take into account the complexity of religious and social tensions in the region. One way that I would like to continue this would be to combine community service and interfaith endeavors on the Middlebury campus. For instance, I hope to organize a Habitat for Humanity build day with leaders from the different religious groups on campus.

Think this experience sounded pretty cool? Check out opportunities like this and more on MOJO.

Identity Prospecting

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

In the latest step in the on-going conflict over memory-rights and the Holy Land, Benjamin Netanyahu decided today to include two shrines located in the West Bank – among them the Cave of the Patriarchs – in the list of Israeli national heritage sites. For those of you unfamiliar, the Cave of the Patriarchs is considered holy by the whole Abrahamic tradition and is thought to be the resting place of Abraham and a few others of Biblical note.  The stories can be read here, here and here. As is its wont, the New York Times ran a story that you had to know existed to read.

hebron_cave

It is easy to appreciate the significance of this move given the rhetoric and the people cheering for it, namely, that ‘…Our existence depends not only on the IDF or our economic resilience – it is anchored in…the national sentiment that we will bestow upon the coming generations and in our ability to justify our connection to the land,” to take that wholesale from Ha-Aretz. This is not new, but it is reflective of past policies of landscape and memory claiming that have taken place in Israel and the West Bank more specifically.

We know that historical memory is a touchy subject, but it’s especially touchy in this case because it maintains the tradition of mingling national identity with religion. While it is unclear what real effects will be felt now that they are on a register of Israeli historical sites, it is obvious that the Palestinian reaction has not been welcoming, again pointing to discrimination and an effort to wipe them off the historical map. That the government would budget 500,000 shekels for the ‘renovation’ of these sites struck me as particularly ominous.

If we want peace – two-state solution, one-state solution, whatever – it cannot be achieved by claiming sites of historical memory. It just can’t. If there is to be some modicum of peace between Palestinians and Israelis, it has to be on the basis of shared heritage, not cultural domination. Mark Regev commented that ‘the list was not meant to set borders,’ but it has already violated some of the most important borders, all of this even if we discount settlement activity and the fact that Hebron is smack in the middle of the West Bank. Israeli conservatives (and the Israeli government) should consider that strengthening the Israeli national narrative comes, sometimes, at the cost of prospects for peace with those troublesome Palestinians, who have their own legitimate historical connection to the land.

Look, I do not know what will actually come of this aside from the emotional responses (which are powerful enough on their own), but I cannot help but think of how beautiful this sight could be in the future: Muslims, Christians and Jews worshiping their shared forefathers. Instead, it has been a battleground for the soul of the Holy Land, and looks like it will continue to be so, at least in the near future.