(Issyk Kul, Kyrgyzstan)--How are religious labels used by leaders (and media) to divide populations and inflame passions? What role do stereotypes have in laying a foundation for hate speech?
These were two key questions discussed during the last day of “Generation Peace: New Media Technology for Central Asia,” a conference I’m teaching at this week at Issyk Kul lake in Kyrgyzstan. The conference is sponsored by the Fulbright Association of Kyrgyzstan, and includes participants from five central Asian countries.
The first presentation today about religion was adeptly taught by Gerd Junne from the Amsterdam Centre for Conflict Studies. Junne pointed out how religion is used to divide groups—the classic “us vs. them” outlined by the originators of peace journalism. Junne also recommended that journalists take a different approach, and instead look to highlight common, shared values—again, a fundamental peace journalism principle.
Although I’ve occasionally led discussions about peace journalism and religion, Junne’s presentation has encouraged me to expand my consideration of religion and media issues, especially religious jargon and propaganda from extremist leaders and groups. As peace journalists, we must be able to filter out inflammatory religious content, or at minimum, expose it as extremism. This discussion was especially salient for me as I ready to hop a plane for Lebanon, my next peace journalism teaching stop this May.
Another excellent session today at the conference featured a presentation by Kyrgyzstan Director of the School of Peacemaking Inga Sikorskay (pictured). She led the participants through an exercise where they catalogued popular stereotypes of central Asian peoples. (Tajiks are all terrorists, for example). The exercise was well executed, and engaged the participants in some valuable introspection.
After hearing Inga’s presentation, I plan to “borrow” her exercise for my classes. Avoiding spreading stereotypes, which are often divisive and inflammatory, begins with understanding and cataloging these stereotypes and their impacts.
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