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How "moral courage" can help fix polarization in politics, faith

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Irshad Manji
Irshad Manji
Courtesy of Westminster Town Hall Forum

Irshad Manji said she was blown away last year when the Pew Research Center released a report saying that almost half of those they surveyed who said they supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Election, also said they did not know a single Donald Trump supporter. 

Similarly, of the Trump supporters a third said they did not have a close friend who supported Clinton.

"So when we talk about polarization, this is for real. The divide is here," Manji said.

Manji is the founder of the Moral Courage Project at the University of Southern California, which was established to promote human rights, social justice, inclusion and the pursuit of the common good. She says that in order to heal polarization in society we need to ask question, read, learn and listen to understand, not to win.

"Americans of all creeds now also need to look inside themselves if we're going to change the conditions that we're experiencing today," she said.

Tackling questions of judgement and inclusion in multiculturalism is the first step, and answering those questions without defensiveness will help us build what is called "moral courage," which means doing the right thing even when you're afraid to, Manji said.

After writing her book, "The Trouble With Islam Today," Manji said she received a lot of hostile hate mail, but what she saw as more threatening were the young people who would approach her with examples of polarization in their own religions. 

She would often fire back at them with a question about how dangerous it actually was to defy their religion, because in some parts of the world to question Muslim doctrine could mean death. She saw the comparison from other faiths as a threat to her thesis that there needed to be change within the Muslim community.

Manji said this was not the right way to engage these students, and over the years she began to understand why.

"The moment I started to listen to understand, rather than to win, rather than to score points, I became a much more effective communicator for what I really, really stand for," she said.

Manji spoke February 14, 2017 in Minneapolis at the Westminster Town Hall Forum.

To listen to the entire speech, click the audio player above.

Further reading

• Politics: Media fact-checking more aggressive under Trump

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