Letter 83

DAY 83

Tazim R. Kassam

Associate Professor of Religion
Syracuse University
April 12, 2021

Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Members of the 117th Congress,

Engraved on coins in the United States is the script, E pluribus unum (“Out of many, one”). Observing the present state of affairs in the nation, this motto remains an aspiration. The many have not come together as one greater than its parts. America is disunited and fragmented by difference; instead of being a source of strength, diversity has become a cause for weakness.

When John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson proposed the motto for the first Great Seal of the United States in 1776, they had in mind uniting many States under one nation; but E pluribus unum can be a vision equally praiseworthy for a country of immigrants from around the world.

We have come to see our differences as defining us against each other, rather than as an opportunity to celebrate the unique threads and colors we contribute to the tapestry of humanity. When unity is mistaken to mean uniformity, conformity, and normativity, every kind of diversity becomes cause for distrust and division.

“Pluralism and the merits of diversity must be taught.”

The following verse from the Qur’an aptly captures the appreciation of diversity and value placed on learning about each other: “O humanity! We created you of a male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know each other. Indeed, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the most righteous in conduct. Verily, God is Omniscient and All-knowing” (49:13).

Tribalism, which is based on blood and ethnocentricity, is a more natural state of human society than pluralism. Pluralism and the merits of diversity must be taught. A wellspring of knowledge is required for there to be mutual recognition, enlightened interaction, and social inclusion.

Unfortunately, education in the U.S. provides little exposure to the many cultures within its borders and around the world. The result is distrust and antagonism, often expressed through violence. Misguided suspicions reveal the gulf of ignorance that divides citizens into factions.

We need to reform our educational system by integrating a pluralist worldview into the curriculum. Investing in a fruitful conversation between cultures through the creative and performing arts of our global traditions of music, dance, poetry, storytelling and visual arts is one way to actualize the motto, “out of many, one.”

Thank you,

Tazim R. Kassam

Tazim R. Kassam, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Religion
Syracuse University

the author

Tazim R. Kassam, Associate Professor of Religion at Syracuse University, is a historian of religions specializing in the Islamic tradition. Her research and teaching interests include gender, ritual, devotional literature, syncretism and the cultural heritage of Muslims particularly in South Asia. She is the author of Songs of Women and Circles of Dance (1995) and has received fellowships from the Social Science Research Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.