A Tale of Two Theories

UMD students bridging the gap between Islam and Western education

By Samantha Reilly

On a typical day in College Park, MD, a number of students sit, sleep and/or groan through lecture and classes.

On April 14, 2014 in Nigeria, Boko Haram kidnapped 273 girls.

Students in upper-level communication studies at this university are working to show that these two groups of people are more connected than you think.

This is not a guilt trip. This is not a justification. This is an explanation.

Communication students at the University of Maryland are developing a series of documentaries challenging the anti-western education ideology of extreme terrorist group Boko Haram.

The Nigerian group mainly aims to overthrow the current Nigerian government and to implement Islamic law, an issue that seems distant from our lives here at College Park, but what “Boko Haram” really means is “Western education is forbidden” and this university is more involved than you’d think.

The documentaries are a compilation of interviews and information about the influence of Islam on western education and why the idea that the two are incompatible is inherently wrong.

“We’re using our college campus to get student opinions from people who are in the system,” said senior communication major Julie Himelstein.

The class, COMM498A: Applied Social Campaigns: Anti-Extremism Messages, compressed their academic curriculum into a short five weeks in order to spend the rest of the semester gathering interviews and creating this docu-series.

The students will hold a screening of the film on Wednesday, April 22 in the 6th floor special events room of McKeldin Library.

The class took time to ensure that these films are delivered in “bite-size” pieces so that they are digestible for students. The students particularly care about reaching lone wolves, which are misplaced or isolated people in their communities who might feel discriminated or judged and are at a high risk of being recruited by extremist groups overseas.

Senior communication major Alyssa deWolfe said, “I think the ultimate goal would be to have somebody at risk who thinks that Boko Haram is cool and thinks that their message is something they can identify with, we would love for them to stumble upon our video and then have them say, ‘you know what, I think these people have something good to say and I do not want to be violent and extreme.’”

The videos include interviews with professors, students and people of the surrounding community, as well as insight into the contributions that Islam has made to western education.

Professor Nicholas Joyce said, “We’re just trying to contribute something that might make [students] feel like it’s a little more possible to integrate these two worlds together.”

The project is an entry in a competition sponsored by EdVentures, along with 19 other groups. The winners will receive a screening in Washington, D.C. and the opportunity to meet people working against extremism at the governmental level.


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