And the end-of-camp-potluck perfectly showcased this. Parents of all ethnicities jovially sat with one another and ate foods from all over the world. The range of foods –from mjadara, hummus, Pakistani-style peas and carrots, and Sudanese potatoes and beef, cookies, macaroons, and so on– itself indicated the diversity of the campers respective cultural backgrounds. At the end of two weeks packed with intercultural exchange, this potluck beautifully, and deliciously symbolized the heterogeneity of the Al-Bustan community.
The desire of Al-Bustan parents to expose themselves and their children to other cultures reminds me of Omid Safi’s contrasting of tolerance and pluralism. By comparing these two approaches to multiculturalism, Safi, editor of the generally excellent Progressive Muslims, highlights what is so special about the fact that Al-Bustan Camp parents chose to enter in a heterogeneous community. To explain that tolerance is not a simply positive concept, Safi informs us that tolerance is etymologically linked to someone’s ability to “tolerate” poison. Although tolerance may be peaceful, it also can imply a subtle contempt for “others” lingering beneath the surface. Safi contrasts that with pluralism, which is a celebration of difference. Pluralism, and not tolerance, is the engine that really drives cultural exchange and innovation, and as such, is a benevolent concept in Safi’s conception.
What I have seen here over these past three weeks (two for camp and one for orientation) is pluralism at its clearest. Everyone involved in the camp at Al-Bustan seemed actively invested in intercultural exchange. With so much divisiveness between ethnic, political, and religious groups throughout the world today, a scene such as the one I witnessed during the end-of-camp celebration was really inspiring. It was truly a pleasure being involved with Al-Bustan Camp and getting to see the pluralistic mentality in action.
Kenyon College, ’14