By Dr. Paul Hwang
We have “discrimination” as a main theme for the ALL Forum’s newsletter in March this year. It is not only because we observe the “International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination” on March 21 but we celebrate the “International Women’s Day” in March 8 designated by United Nations. According to UN, the COVID-19 has heavily impacted people, especially young ones Including those from minority backgrounds. It points out that “Many are now grappling with an increase in racial discrimination, in addition to severe disruptions to their education….” It also reckons that under the pandemic, women face greater vulnerability to multiple forms of discrimination, including those who are older women, those living with disabilities, LGBTQI and trans women, migrants, displaced and refugee women, and many others.
As mentioned above, in such a difficult situation, horrible news related to racial and gender discrimination has been often heard in many countries in the world. Recently, a young white man killed eight people, including six Asian women, in Atlanta, USA, which looked a ‘hate crime’ not an accidental one. As former President Trump constantly called Covid19 “China Virus” and the media inserted photos of Chinatown or Asians in news reports of the pandemic which have hardly to do with China and emphasized China as the source, it seemed to have eventually led to violence and hatred against Asians. Many countries in Asia including Korea have gone through similar experiences.
Migrant peoples like migrant workers and even students from Southeast have been experiencing discrimination and violence against them in the country. It was the first time the exclusion and discrimination faced by Muslims in Korea have been broadcast in public media. In Daegu, a city of the southern part of the country, a small mosque under construction was suspended due to opposition from its residents. Residents complained that they would not accept the culture of Islam and all the inconveniences including its making noise and smell from cooking foods which were very new to the residents. It was the major reason for stopping the construction.
If our readers of the newsletter see the WTI’s webinar for the matter in the March issue, all of you may know what Pastor Park Sung-min, a commentator in the webinar, said about the discrimination against Muslim. He said that it is an undeniable “discrimination” that the district office ordered the suspension of construction just one day after the residents filed a petition against it. It is quite true for him to say that it would have been different if it were a Church, a Buddhist temple, or a Cathedral, not a Muslim mosque. Their opposition and conflict has been deepened and worsened because of the administrative order ofthe office. He stressed that “If we can’t accept the Muslim students as our neighbors, it’s like breaking our community eventually.
Rather, creating a community with diversity is what we should aim for.” It is amazing to hear from Abdul Yekeen, the speaker and one of the 150 graduate students involved in the incident, saying on the February 22 nd webinar that “The residents protested against it yesterday too, but I want to reconcile as soon as possible with hope.” He said his taking the legal action for lifting the suspension of construction in reluctant manner. ”We are clearly aware of the residents” opposition to reconstruction, not against us (Muslims). Because of the conflict, our good perception of Koreans has not changed,“ he said. He then stressed, “Since it appears in the Quran (Islamic scriptures) that you are not a Muslim in faith if you do not do well to your neighbors, and that you are not a believer if you do not love them.”
Abul’s statement were echoed by one participant when she shared her experience for about two years with a Syrian family. They were very open-minded, and she wanted to resemble and respected as religious people when she saw them praying in time regardless of locations. In addition, she was curious about how Abul felt about Koreans after the conflict with the residents. She was very impressed by Abdul’s positive response to the residents because of which she thanked Muslims for their tolerance and virtue from their religion.
What I want to say from the webinar especially Abdul’s response in relation to discrimination is that it has been worsened because of the governmental or the district office’s decision, in this case on the structural level. On the personal level, all kinds of discrimination must be overcome by experiencing and understanding the situation and only then, mutually articulating decisions.