NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College announced the winners of the C. Henry Smith Peace Oration Contest at one of two final convocations of the school year.
Jacob Miller, sophomore from Westmoreland, Kansas, placed first with “For the sake of peace, please remember that not all terrorists are Muslim.”
Starting from a personal vantage point – his own Iranian-American uncle – Miller explores “the inaccurate labeling of terrorism based on religion or skin color,” in particular the equating of “Muslim” with “terrorist,” within 21st-century American society and culture.
Examining reasons for this, Miller asks: “Who perpetuates this? Well, besides [us Americans], the media. And we buy in. The media’s portrayal of terrorism harms us all, because white people get a free pass, and it also undermines justice. And there’s nothing peaceful about either.”
Miller compares examples from the past several years. Nidal Hasan (an American of Middle Eastern descent), who killed 13 at Fort Hood, Texas, was instantly labeled “terrorist” while the word was never applied to Jared Loughner, who killed six and critically wounded 12 in Tucson, Arizona, or Andreas Lubitz, who crashed a German jetliner into a mountain and killed 150.
This kind of disparity – of those with white and Christian privilege marginalizing “the other” – Miller says, carries over to our criminal-justice system and the rest of our society, and is counter to a social-justice understanding of the words of Jesus, Paul and the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective.
“Peaceful discourse on an individual level is the only way to ensure change for our national dialogue,” Miller says. “Otherwise, this contemporary issue will morph into a chronic one, and as Christians, as pacifists, as decent humans, we cannot let that happen.
“My Uncle Kamyar shouldn’t be threatened because of his heritage. Kamyar, Muslims and all Americans deserve better.”
Only one other prize was awarded, second place to Jesse Voth-Gaeddert, graduating senior from Hesston, Kansas, for a speech titled “Bridges of Understanding.”
Voth-Gaeddert’s speech looked at managing and transforming conflict as tools in the process of real peacemaking.
Negotiating is an important part of managing conflict, Voth-Gaeddert says, whether it takes place in the current talks between Iran and six world powers that seek to limit Iran’s nuclear weapons capacity, or between college roommates or classmates who disagree.
“Knowing how to approach and transform a conflict is crucial if we want to keep from building fences of bitterness and instead build bridges of understanding,” Voth-Gaeddert says.
“I use the word ‘transform’ instead of ‘resolve’ because, while solutions may conclude negotiations, relationships are ongoing.
“Resolution, being content-centered, asks: How do we end something not desired? Transformation, on the other hand, being relationship-centered, asks: How do we end something destructive and build something desired?”
Voth-Gaeddert calls for working “together rather than against each other” in order to both find solutions to conflict and to build relationships.
“We need to remember that whoever we are in conflict with is a fellow child of God, not an adversary,” Voth-Gaeddert says. “Putting forth an effort to transform a conflict is effort being put towards loving your neighbor as yourself.”
Both students received cash awards. Miller sent his manuscript and a DVD recording of his speech to Mennonite Central Committee headquarters in Akron, Pennsylvania, to be judged against the winners from the other Mennonite and Brethren in Christ colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.
Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2014-15 Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States, and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2014-15. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.