The world is not black and white. If we don’t learn how to find common ground while in college, the world will see more and more tragedies. Courtesy of Stock.xchng

“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”

Barry Goldwater spoke these words at the 1964 GOP National Convention. Considering the current situation in the world, they hardly seem like a true statement. Is extremism or radicalism to be excused when it is in the name of liberty and freedom?

In Florida, the Reverend Terry Jones drew worldwide criticism last week for  his “International Burn a Koran Day” scheduled on 9/11. The point of his demonstration was to serve as a “warning to the radical element of Islam,” not a message of hate or lack of acceptance of Muslims in the United States.

As he puts it, they are “burning the book… not killing somebody.”

Terrorism, and the element of Islamic extremists that support it, is a very real problem. If they had their way, Islam would be forced on the world and those that resisted would be killed.

Obviously, there is a need to do something to combat it. But taking a radical, extreme stance against it won’t solve the problem. If anything, it would be throwing gasoline on an already combustible situation.

Regardless of the reasoning behind it or actions taken because of it, extremism only closes a person off from accepting any other viewpoint.

Once someone believes that theirs is the only correct assumption, anything that goes counter to their belief has to be wrong. Their world is painted in black and white, with no shade of grey allowed in between.

As a country and as a society, we cannot afford to accept extremism as part of our mainstream culture, regardless of the reasoning behind it. Just because another group has differing beliefs doesn’t mean we should oppose everything they do.

Demonstrating against a group trying to create a religious cultural center several blocks from ground zero, simply because they share the same religion as the terrorist group responsible, is absurd.

Promoting tolerance and cultural sharing is no reason to turn into an angry bigot that wants nothing less than to trample the rights of someone who is different.

Students from around the world attend this university, from Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia to South Korea and Japan. Our political views vary wildly, from hardline conservatives to far left liberals. With such a wide range of beliefs, finding conflicting opinions and beliefs could be easy.

Learning to find common ground, expand our understanding and tolerate opposing ideas should be at the core of why we attend school. Education is meant to broaden our view of the world and open our minds to the possibility that we may be wrong.

Success at a university in large part depends on our ability to accept that our own opinions and views may not be the only correct ones. Disagreeing with a professor and rejecting a point they are making, just because it doesn’t fit with what we know or think, is a sure way to fail.

Apply this to our classmates of differing backgrounds. They may believe in something that clashes with our faith, but that is no reason to dismiss what they have to say.

With such a divergent array of viewpoints, we are being presented with an opportunity to exchange the best ideas and portions of our beliefs, improving our own understanding of the world. While the knowledge we glean from our classes is important, gaining the ability to work and learn from opposing views is vastly more valuable.

If we cannot do that while we are here, if we embrace ignorance and cling arrogantly to our own opinions, we doom ourselves to a perpetual cycle of hate and retaliation.

It may be only burning “a book” now, but global tragedies have started with less.