Moral Courage Has Heart but Lacks Teeth

The MSU campus was visited on Feb. 22 by the acclaimed Canadian author and educator Irshad Manjii. Part of a series of speakers organized by MSU’s Leadership Institute, Manjii was born in Uganda and raised in British Columbia, and grew up to become an outspoken advocate of Islamic reform and a critic of identity politics and political correctness.

Manjii touched upon these themes during her presentation. The presentation itself was relatively brief, lasting little more than an hour. She spoke at length about how “fear prevents us from doing the right thing” and about how her own life experiences informed that point of view.

She elaborated on her memories of receiving Christian and Muslim educations and of how, after being asked to leave the Muslim school, she would devote time to studying her religion and how she often struggled with her identity. She shared her experiences of trying to promote reform in Islam following the events of 9/11, as well as the varied responses she received in turn, ranging from supportive to hateful.

Her message focused upon having the courage to insist on being told the truth. She stated the importance of differentiating between allies with criticisms and critics who are merely judgmental, saying that “When people disagree with us, it’s not always because they are on the other side.”

It was a good message and a good presentation.

Unfortunately, those who had attended with the expectation of being challenged in their beliefs were probably disappointed. Manjii’s activism has generally focused upon Islamic reform and true to form, her message at MSU was predominantly related to these experiences. How much this message challenged the city of Bozeman is open for discussion; it is no secret that most Bozemanites of all backgrounds and creeds are willing to accept that radical Islam is a serious problem in need of being addressed.

While her message of moral courage was a good example of leadership qualities to emulate (it was through the Leadership Institute after all) and should be taken for the valuable counsel that it is, Manjii missed an opportunity to really challenge the people of Bozeman. Bozeman is a city with strong and highly-opinionated right-wing and left-wing movements, both of which hold views that Manjii has historically opposed.

Manjii herself said that MSU is “about moral courage,” adding that it has a lot to teach Ivy League colleges. The fact that MSU has moral courage does not mean that this campus can rest on its laurels; it can definitely stand to be challenged more often. Manjii’s unique experiences as an entrepreneur, a member of the LGBTQIQ community, as a Muslim and as an activist have provided her with perspectives entirely foreign to many students and residents of Bozeman, and while they may be unwelcome, they need to be heard.

Towards the beginning of her presentation, Manjii expressed her hope that she would return to Montana. When she does, let us hope that she will be ready to tell us something we do not want to hear, and that we will have, as she expressed, the moral courage to hear her out.