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  • The relationship between the Muslim and Western worlds has been cast as a clash of cultures—a war between civilizations in which one is destined to prevail over the other. But is this so? What are the real attitudes and viewpoints of ordinary Americans and ordinary Muslims?

    These video clips from the seventy-minute documentary Crossing Borders, created by Crossing Borders Films, aim to give a personal face to the “other side” through the experiences and interactions of four American university students and four Moroccan students traveling and living together in the moderate Muslim state of Morocco. By avoiding a focus on extremism, the videos provide us with a sense of ordinary citizens on both sides whose voices are often not represented by the media—citizens working to overcome the artificial separation between “us” and “them.” Through frank discussions, the featured students confront the complex implications of the supposed culture clash and build relationships that disarm hidden stereotypes.

    Clip Summaries:

    “On Stereotypes”: This clip introduces the group of four American and four Moroccan students who will travel and live together. The students express their concerns about stereotypes imposed on them and their hopes for this opportunity to get to know people from another culture.

    “On Communication Styles: The students have their first group discussion, which includes an emotional disagreement among the Moroccan students, and they talk about their communication styles and how their different cultures respond to disagreement.

    “On Politics: The students engage in frank discussions about politics, challenging each other on what the Muslim youth see as American abuse of power and what the American youth see as Muslims’ irrational actions.

    “On Religion: The students share the roles religion plays in their lives, how their actions are impacted by their beliefs and faith, and how extremists use religion for their own benefit.

    1. Borders are defined as “real or artificial lines—political boundaries—that separate geographic areas.” What other types of borders do you see the students crossing in these clips?

      Responses will vary, but may include attitudes and stereotypes that separate people due to real and perceived differences. In the case of the American and Moroccan students, borders of religion, culture, communication styles, and politics, as well as geography, separate them.

    2. How were the students in these clips able to cross borders to gain a better understanding of one another?

      Responses will vary, but may include that the students were able to engage in open and honest dialogue—across and within their cultures. They spoke honestly and listened to one another.

    3. What is demonstrated in the interactions between the students about the nature of stereotypes and ways to overcome them?

      Responses will vary, but might include that the students initially exhibited some distrust of one another based on stereotypes they held. Stereotypes sometimes also support fear about other people and cultures. The students in the clips demonstrated the importance of authentic dialogue and relationship building in debunking stereotypes. They were genuine in their desires to get to know each other on a deep level and to engage in open and honest communication—including expressing their stereotypes about each other. These expressions were not met with defensiveness, which was critical to open and honest dialogue.

    4. What major differences in communication styles did the Muslim and American students discover, and how might those differences impact understanding between cultures?

      The Moroccan students recognized that they were much more passionate and emotional in their communication and were able to openly disagree with one another one minute and laugh together the next. The American students said that they were more reluctant to disagree openly with others. The ability or willingness to disagree in an open and productive manner may facilitate open communication. When two people don’t understand each other’s communication style, communication may break down or not lead to productive outcomes.

    • There is no scientific count of Muslims in the United States; however, the most commonly cited figure is six to seven million. Muslims in the U.S. are a diverse population, representing a broad range of ethnicities; this population’s members come from all of the five major continents.
    • The niqab (veil) is a symbol of modesty within several Muslim cultures. There are a variety of interpretations within Muslim cultures of how the value of modesty should be expressed in the behavior and clothing of Muslims.
    • The word “Islam” or “Islamic” should be used to describe the religion and its subsequent cultural concepts. The word “Muslim” should only describe the followers of the religion of Islam, for example, “The Muslim woman followed the tenets of the Islamic religion.” The word “Islam” is derived from the Arabic root “Salema,” which means peace, purity, submission, and obedience.
    • Islam is the world’s second largest religion, with nearly 1.5 billion followers globally. Today Islam is the world’s fastest-growing religion.