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Extremism and Ethnic Conflict with Dr. Kamila Valenta
Episode 2930th June 2022 • Conversation with the Rabbi • Rabbi Michael Beyo | PHX.fm
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Rabbi Michael Beyo and Dr. Adrian McIntyre talk with political scientist Dr. Kamila Valenta about extremism and ethnic conflict.

(Producer's note: This conversation was recorded in March 2021 and discusses national and international affairs in the context of that time.)

Dr. Kamila Valenta is a part-time instructor at the Department of Global Studies at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, where she teaches two courses: “Ethnic Con􀀁ict in a Changing World” and “Extremist Ideologies and the Politics of Terror.” She received her PhD in Political Science with a specialty in International Con􀀁ict from Emory University in Atlanta, GA, and her Master’s degree in International Studies from Florida International University in Miami. She originally comes from Prague, Czech Republic, and has also lived in France and Great Britain. Her interests include international politics, war and peace, the problem of ethnic minorities, terrorism, democratization, and religious con􀀁ict and reconciliation. She has published articles on current political issues (especially on the problems of extremism, immigration, religious freedom and democracy) in the Catholic News Herald (the o􀀂cial newspaper for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, North Carolina).

Conversation with the Rabbi is a project of the East Valley Jewish Community Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, neighborhood organization that has served individuals and families inclusive of all races, religions, and cultures since 1972. Visit us online at https://www.evjcc.org

The Conversation with the Rabbi podcast is supported by a grant from Arizona Humanities, National Endowment for the Humanities, and the federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act.

The show is recorded and produced in the studio of PHX.fm, the leading independent B2B podcast network in Phoenix, Arizona. Learn more at https://phx.fm

Transcripts

Announcer:

From PHX.fm, this is Conversation with the Rabbi, featuring open, honest dialogue, and sometimes unconventional perspectives on the world we all share.

Adrian McIntyre:

Welcome to another Conversation with the Rabbi. I'm Adrian McIntyre. Our guest today is Dr. Kamila Valenta. She's a part-time instructor in the department of global studies at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. She's an expert in ethnic conflict, war, extremist ideology, a lot of the things that weigh heavily on the minds of those who look out at the world and the state that it's in. I'm looking forward to this conversation today. Our host, as always, is Rabbi Michael Beyo, CEO of the East Valley JCC. Welcome, rabbi. Good morning.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Good morning, Adrian and good morning, Kamila. Thank you so very much for joining us from Charlotte for another Conversation with the Rabbi. Your background, as we were chatting a little bit earlier, is a little bit similar to mine because we're both European. And as Europeans living in America, being both of us immigrants, we sometimes bring a different outlook and a different understanding of what happens in America, what happens in the world. I'm so excited that you joined us for this Conversation with the Rabbi. Please tell us where you're from and let's go from there.

Dr. Kamila Valenta:

Yes, thank you so much for having me. It is certainly a pleasure to be able to be here and discuss the current and important political issues today. I am originally from the Czech Republic from Prague. I was born and raised there during the communist times. Definitely since my childhood, politics has been a part of it and I have experienced political extremism firsthand. I was 17 years old when there was in our country peaceful transition to a democratic system. There was a fall of the Berlin Wall, fall of the Soviet Union, very dramatic events and I had the privilege to be able to participate in some of the resistance movement and meetings and demonstrations that took place in Prague as a very young person. Definitely politics is something that has left impression on me and it is a field that I decided to study later on. I've lived in America for the past 25 years or so, so a while. I feel like I always bring something here from my country of origin and my personal experience. These issues are of course, close to my heart, not just because I study them, but because I experienced a lot of those things growing up in communism and all the experiences of living in a non-democratic society and then transitioning to democracy.

Adrian McIntyre:

Dr. Valenta, one of the things that seems common in the general public conversation around ethnic conflict, sectarianism, these kinds of movements, there's sometimes a tendency to use language that makes it sound as if these things have been there forever, that this is a thousand years of age-old conflict between people, whichever part of the world this rhetoric gets to be talking about. I imagine you would want to nuance that view a little bit. Is the kind of movement, the extremist movements we see today, is that an accurate portrayal? Have they always been this way and it's just now becoming more of a problem or what's going on?

Dr. Kamila Valenta:

They have always been there in some form. I mean, ever since humanity has been humanity, there have been wars and there have been conflicts. But the way it's manifested today is of course different because people used to have different allegiances. People used to have allegiances to their towns, to their cities, to their kings. It's not the same thing today. Especially in the globalized world, so many of the movements became internationalized. Especially the jihadist movement and also the white extremist movement, the right wing extremism became very internationalized only in the past 20 years or so. When you think jihadism, the extreme Islamist movement that is new, because let's say, 100 years ago for example, a Muslim in Pakistan would not think he had much in common with a Muslim in Morocco. There was a vast difference of countries, there was not much of a common bond, they did not think that just being Muslim was something that would tie them together enough to fight or to engage in some kind of action. Now we have these extremists from different countries, different ethnicities, different parts of the world and the only thing that connects them is that they are extreme Muslim extremists and it doesn't matter to them or where they're from. This certainly could not have been achieved, this connection, without the technology and the globalized movement that we have now. With respect to white supremacy and to the right wing extremism, that has always been more nationalized than for example, left wing extremism, because communism traditionally was an international movement. Anybody was invited and could be a communist and you saw communist countries popping up in different parts of the world. But white extremism was always nationalized, not everybody could be a German Nazi. But that has changed in the past 10 or 20 years when we see white supremacists connecting from different countries. We've seen for example, the shooter in Christ Church in New Zealand was inspired by the Yugoslav conflict, by the things that happened there. Then the shooter in El Paso, the Walmart shooter was again inspired and cited in his manifesto, the person from New Zealand. So we see the connection of white supremacists around and across the world, across borders. That's definitely something that's very new and didn't used to be before.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

It's fascinating just listening to the connections that you're making and this topic is a very, very interesting topic. As we were discussing a little bit previously, we were saying that these extremist group don't see themselves as being extremist. They often see themselves as being I'm right and everybody that is not like me, they're just wrong. Are we then doomed to continue fighting? Or is there a possibility that some of these groups will at a certain point, realize that they can gain so much more by giving up a armed struggle or terrorism or extremist acts and by joining a conversation and trying to achieve their goals in that means?

Dr. Kamila Valenta:

Well, there's certainly hope at the individual level and we've seen many cases. Probably not enough cases, but we've certainly seen some cases where people joined a radical movement, and then they de-radicalized and were converted back to being peacemakers. There are examples of Muslims that have converted, joined a jihadist movement and then now work for peace. For individual people, there is certainly a hope. But of course, the definition of an extremist is that he or she does not want to engage in dialogue, that they are self-righteous, that they think that their way is the right way. They're always think that their actions are justified. It's usually because they have demonized the enemy and they think that they are fighting for a greater goal. It gives them a sense of identity. It gives them a sense of purpose in life. If they find something else that gives them a sense of purpose, then they can de-radicalize, or when they're confronted with other ideas. But of course, it's not an easy process. I think it can be achieved at the individual level, not so sure with a whole group. Now, I don't think you can convert ISIS as a group or Al-Qaeda.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Is religion a factor that usually can be beneficial in bridging conflict or is religion doomed to be a victim of extremism?

Dr. Kamila Valenta:

Well, from what I've observed, every religion, or at least every major religion has had an extremist movement. There are extremist movements within Islam, of course, even within different factions of Islam. There are extremist movements within different factions of Christianity. There have been extremist movements in Israel within the Jewish religion. And of course, secular atheist extremists. The communists that are by definition extremists. There's Buddhist, a lot of Westerners think that Buddhism is inherently peaceful and it can be very peaceful. But if you look at the conflict in Sri Lanka for 30 years, when they were fighting each other with machetes, that was not peaceful at all. I think every religion or non-religion is prone to extremism. But religion of course, has a great potential in bringing people together. But it has to be the right kind of religion. It has to be the religion that does not define the boundaries of us versus them, does not define who are our friends and who are enemies. It's not divisive, but it's more embracing. I think if you go deeply into most of the religious traditions, there are ways, there are things that you can find that teach people how to treat the other person. It's more going into depth as opposed to succumbing to this cultural and ethnicized version of religion that tends to pit people against each other.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Yeah, it's fascinating. But let me push back a little bit, because as a rabbi, and I'm very familiar with my religion, and I'm also familiar with other religions now having lived most of my life, not in Israel. I've lived among people of all kinds of religions, and I'm very much involved in interfaith dialogue. And so it's very interesting what you're saying, because on the one hand, it seems that you are saying that most religion or most of the religion that you mentioned do have the potential of extremism as we have seen historically. But then at the other end, you also mentioned that these religions, if we dig deep down, we can find ways how to use religion in a positive way. My question is, from your studies and your research, is it something that comes from the religion or is it something that we superimpose on the religion?

Dr. Kamila Valenta:

Well, I think definitely there is a great potential within the religion, but it takes effort because religion has been used and misused and abused so many times. There is history of violence and there is definitely a history, like I said, within pretty much every religious tradition to kill in the name of that religion or of God, even, which totally does not make sense. I think when we live in a particular cultural and historical context, that it does take an effort to put these things aside and to really look okay, what is the faith about? And to look at religion not just as a label to divide people, but as an act of personal faith and to see in each person, potentially a brother, a friend. That's definitely something that is common to all the Abrahamic religions, it can be found and used. But because there is already the history and so many religions have been ethnicized and used to divide people, it does take an effort. It's going to take an effort on the part of the clergy, the religious elite and also the common people. I think it cannot just be a top down approach, but it has to be at both levels to achieve that.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

What kind of extremism do we see on the rise in Europe and in America, and are those similar extremism?

Dr. Kamila Valenta:

Yes, we see there is a similarity and there is a connection now with the internet, these movements go to the same websites. I think white supremacy is the number one threat right now in Europe and in America and also jihadism. I think the statistics show that more attacks are committed by white supremacy groups than by jihadist groups. The problem is that we oftentimes see, especially the jihadist groups, as an ideology that's imported. We look at immigrants and think that they're bringing it here when in fact, the reality is that most jihadists are homegrown. That's true both for America and also for Western Europe. They usually get recruited from marginalized communities that were not properly integrated. People who have experienced poverty, who were not accepted in the society, who were maybe bullied for their ethnic origins, for their faith, whatever. Those are the breeding grounds for future jihadism. White supremacy, again, usually comes from usually young people who lack any kind of purpose, who lack guidance and these groups give them a sense of importance. Also, fear is a great motivating factor. They fear the others, they fear the immigrants, they fear the people who are different. Sometimes, somehow they think that their race is declining and all of those things. I think fear, marginalization, and non-acceptance are the core causes of this rise.

Adrian McIntyre:

Let's zoom out in our magnification just a little bit for a minute to situate this in a broader context. Because it strikes me as I'm listening, that if we go back to the 14th century, there's a white supremacist movement, although whether the Portuguese would call themselves white or not, it's anachronistic to say this. But there was a movement of supremacists, superiority spreading out of Europe that used brutal methods to subjugate people who were deemed other and inferior. We didn't call it extremism, we called it empire. As you run that story forward 400 or some years, you get to a global consensus if you will, which is not the same everywhere, but which has enough similarities that now movements that are emerging within it are called extremist. In other words, what I'm trying to say here is there was a globalization of violence and oppression that we're not talking about when we talk about extremism, because we analyze that under the label of empire, colonial expansion, those kinds of things. Deeply problematic. Needs to be discussed. But interestingly enough, in the systems created by empire, we now have groups, many of whom have similarities with the dominant power of those areas who are viewing themselves as outside and now we call those movements extremism. Is this tracking? I'm not sure if I'm communicating what I'm trying to get at here. But there's this way in which the extremist movements of today or of the last 80 years have emerged within the system that this other supremacist movement created and are now considered to be the extreme outliers in a system where in many places, and this is probably not true everywhere. In many places, the extremists actually look and sound a lot like the people in power, in government, but yet they feel alienated. Can you talk a little bit about this idea that white supremacists in America, for example, are in this really interesting position. They use the language of the victim, their race is being threatened, as you say, and yet in many ways they are in a country where there's more institutional and structural benefits to them in this country than almost anywhere else. And yet their extremism is founded on a story about their marginalization. This is an impossible question, I apologize. But somehow between these two levels of the world we inherited from empire and where we are now extremism emerges in that dynamic somehow. Do you have thoughts about this?

Dr. Kamila Valenta:

Well, yeah. Of course, white supremacy goes through the last thousands of years of history. And of course, our standard has changed and it's changing, we're evolving. What was okay to say in the 14th century about different races, minorities, other religions, or about women, it's just not okay to say now. We've evolved and we've moved. There's one thing is the history itself and then the other thing is the interpretation of history that people are taught in schools. These conquests, I think over the years have been romanticized as the great discovery of America and conquest and the bringing of civilization and Christianity and all of these things. We need to reinterpret history if we want to achieve an equality of races. We have somehow forgotten that in the beginnings of Christianity, it was a multiracial, multicultural movement. Some of the founding philosophers like St. Augustine was Black. That is not something that was taught for many years. Even the apostles were Middle Eastern of various skin tones, so to say, and Western culture-

Adrian McIntyre:

Let's not forget that Jesus of Nazareth was an olive- or dark-skinned, Middle Eastern Jew. Not the white guy who looks like he belongs in Lynyrd Skynyrd that you see in most of the pictures.

Dr. Kamila Valenta:

Yes, yes. And somehow ...

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Always blame the Jew [laughs].

Dr. Kamila Valenta:

Somehow it was forgotten because as Christianity established itself in different cultures, it comes natural that people depict these persons that are important to them, to make them look similar to them. I mean, if you look at even the depictions of Virgin Mary, she always looks and is dressed like the people of the local culture, whenever she appears or she's believed to appear. There is this process of acculturation of religion, but the problem is that it's been so Eurocentric for so long that we have forgotten that it really is a multiracial, multiethnic religion and we don't really look at other races as equal founders of the Western civilization that we value so much. We value Western civilization, we oftentimes think it's superior because of humanism and democracy and all of those things. But we forget that other races made a significant contribution and that they are equal with us. I think we really need to reinterpret history in how it is taught and how it is perceived. That the culture of humanism and democracy that we have now, that it's not an invention of white people alone. Other people made significant contributions. And we see a lot of that happening now in the United States, as history is being reinterpreted, we need to change the symbols and we need to remove some of the statues that no longer reflect our interpretation of history as we try to improve it now to bring in more people.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

But don't we run the risk of making the same mistake just on the flip side? Meaning, Adrian started with the statement and the assumption that part of the extremism that we find today is the result of imperialism. That extremism, imperialism over the past, which is true. But then at the same time, we also forget that there was imperialism everywhere. Meaning it was maybe called differently. Slavery exists, unfortunately from the moment that two different group identity existed and one conquered the other and took those prisoners as slaves. Slavery was not invented in Europe, slavery is found even today, all over the world in different ways, unfortunately. But it's found all over the world. Also, when the Europeans came and conquered what became known as the American continent, it's not like the locals, the natives were sitting around the fire kumbaya with all the different tribes. They were killing each other as well, and they were trying to expand their empires. So how do we make sense of all of this? It seems that history is just repeating itself, just using more modernized weapons.

Dr. Kamila Valenta:

Well, it's tough and violence has been found in every culture. There may be some minor communities that are inherently peaceful, but on the large scale, we see wars everywhere. Yeah, of course the Native Americans fought wars and they had slaves and they tortured people and all of those things. When the Europeans came here, it seemed to them like their culture was superior than what they saw here in the Americas. But I think there's sometimes temptation to make it racial. I think we have this superior culture of humanism. Oh, it's because we are white, or it's a white culture. That's not true. As we see from so many persons that were in the beginning of the philosophers, the founding philosophers of European culture, even when we go back to the Greeks and the old Romans, they were people who were oftentimes multiracial. I think we still need to value our culture of humanism, of hopefully tolerance and how we have evolved over the years that there are certain things we just don't do, we try not to even. That's not true that we never do it, but we try to condemn torture, we try to condemn violence. We try to promote equality in the Western world. But that's not something that is inherently white or developed by white people. We have to appreciate this culture and at the same time, recognize the contributions of other races and not think, "Oh, this is just ours, white people." It is a culture of everybody and for everybody. We need to de-racialize it and de-ethnicize it, if there is such thing. To disconnect it from race and recognize that we got a lot of these ideas from African Americans who contributed to it.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

You find Europe to be more or less racial in this sense than America?

Dr. Kamila Valenta:

I think there are similarities, but I think it's manifested differently just by the fact that there is not the same history of slavery and there is not the same presence of African Americans in Europe. So you don't see these clashes as much, but I don't think that means that there is no racism. I mean, we certainly see a lot of backlash now against immigrants from Syria, from Northern Africa and the society just does not treat them equally. There are other problems in Europe because a lot of the nations are defined in ethnic terms, which always makes it more difficult for other people to come. I've heard in Germany there are debates, well, how are we going to integrate all of these Syrian refugees? There was an interview with a professor, I don't know his name. But somebody asked him, "Well, how does a person become German?" And he said, "Well, these are the things that you have to go through to get citizenship." The reporter was pushing back saying, "Well yeah, but how does one really become German?" And the professor said, "Well, there is no such thing as becoming German. You either are German, or you are not. It cannot be done." As I listened to that, I thought, "Wow, good luck integrating these one million refugees that Anglo America promised to integrate." I mean, it's just a lot harder when a nation has been defined in ethnic terms. Now in America, it was always meant to be much more in terms of civic nationalism, the adherence of a particular political institution, regardless of where you came from and your origin. But in reality, it has been for a long time, a country of white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants as the privileged race and religion. And it's only recently that other people are being incorporated as essentially equally being American. The problems are different, but I think racism exists in both continents because it's certainly the same narrative.

Adrian McIntyre:

I'm struck by the fact that the real story is so little told, and maybe in classrooms at universities like yours, the ones that I used to teach at, there are attempts with a 15-week syllabus or whatever it is, to try to get into some of the nuance and subtlety of these things and bring together sources, both primary and secondary, from multiple fields to try to get a younger generation of future leaders to understand. Certainly I think of somebody like Jon Marks, my friend, who's a professor of anthropology at your university, University of North Carolina-Charlotte, who has spent his entire life trying to get people to understand that whenever they use the word race, they're probably referring to something that they don't understand and doesn't mean what they think it means. And yet we casually do it. We've done it in this conversation here as if there's an object out there in the world, a reality that when we say different races, we're referring to and we're not. The science on this is quite clear that there are no human races except as linguistic and cultural categories that as John said in a recent BBC interview, which I recommend everybody watch, we might link to it here, there is less genetic variation among humans than there is among almost any other species on earth. And it is highly likely that if you took somebody who looked like you and somebody who looked very, very different from you, that you would have more in common genetically than two chimpanzees that looked like twins to you. So we don't understand, but we talk about, I don't mean us, the three of us here, I mean, in general. We all talk about this as if there's a thing called race and the race is this and that and the other. At the same time, nationalism, just to bring in another layer here, is so incredibly interesting and problematic and little understood. I'm sure that thinking on this has developed since I was reading this stuff, but going back to Benedict Anderson's early intervention in this topic, he wrote a book called Imagined Communities on the origin and spread of nationalism. His argument there is that nationalism is actually a new world invention that gets exported back to Europe at the same time as, if you read Ibram Kendi's book, Stamped From the Beginning, you see that racist ideas that become racist policies, were imported from Europe into America. The early thinkers and writers, Cotton Mather and folks of that nature who were creating the justifications for the system of slavery that was already in existence, but they were providing a religious and a political and an American explanation. But there's just so many intertwined things that we really do need to understand, because it might make us wake up and go, "Oh, none of this is actually real. We've been living inside of these intersecting stories about ourselves for so long that we started to believe them." That shift that you talked about, that shift of allegiance, I don't know, I got to be careful, because I'll start waxing poetic here and that doesn't help anybody. Least of all, our listeners who came for you, not me. But you said at the beginning, Dr. Valenta, that there is an allegiance to certain ideologies and that while there has been war forever, what we now call extremism is people associating themselves with a particular group, a particular ideology, a particular movement. What if we could shift that allegiance to humanity instead of to the divisions of humanity? Now I'm going into the kumbaya direction that the rabbi's very clear does not fly here. Do you think this is possible? Do you think people could start to think differently?

Dr. Kamila Valenta:

Well, there's always been changes in ideology. It's definitely within our reach to change. I mean, probably not quickly. There is a lot of prejudice to be dismantled, but when you brought up the Portuguese explorers and the missionaries who came to America to export the European culture and Christianity into America, I think a lot of people just assume and we have it internalized that those were white people. We have it connected to race and this is something that we need to change in our understanding of history. That not all Portuguese explorers were of a purely European origin. A lot of them were of mixed origin, some of them. A lot of the Christian missionaries were again, of a mixed racial ethnic origin. Not to mention that the first Christians who spread Christianity were Jewish of various skin colors, like the rabbi already pointed out. Everything started with one Jew. We still need to value the culture and the progress that we've made, but at the same time, de-ethnicize it, as I call it, to disconnect it from particular racial allegiance. To say like, "Okay, this is Western humanism and our culture, which we think is superior, is the culture of white Europeans and therefore we are also superior and we have to bring it to the others." When in fact, this is a culture that rose from a variety of contributors, and we are all sharing it now, and we are all equal in it. Again, it goes back to education and like you said, we only have so much time in the classroom with the students. There is so much that we could teach them and not enough. We have to promote it in the classroom also by example, to let dialogue happen in the classroom. To talk about difficult issues and be respectful towards each other. In my classroom, I have limited amount of time and I try to both teach them the subject matter, but also to model what a conversation or a dialogue looks like among people of different faith, religions, and backgrounds. Especially when it comes to the Israeli Palestinian conflict and I have people who are personally connected to the conflict with their family being from Palestine or being Israelis or Jewish people there. Of course, they have opinions that are more stronger because they've had some personal experience with that conflict and we still have to find a common ground and engage in dialogue. I think modeling dialogue is important and teaching them. It will take time, but I think it is possible to change our historical narrative or to adjust it.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

It seems to me is a balancing act. On the one hand we all have our own family that we prefer over others. There is the nucleus, or maybe that we should. You can take my kids anytime you want, anyway. But here is the nucleus, the family, and then there is the village, and then there is the city, and then there is the country. Then there is the other country, the other families and that, I think is natural. It's that we feel more comfortable within our own family than with a stranger's family. We feel more comfortable in a country where we know the culture and the language then in a country that we don't know the language or know the culture. Naturally throughout history, these expressions can lead and often lead to wars, if you extend the line to the extreme. And on the other end, we are trying also to say, "Well, we don't want to go to a war with the other. We want to understand that the other is not dissimilar from me. Just because they look different, just because they pray different, just because they talk differently, their humanity ultimately is like mine." I think it's a balancing act between trying to keep the family, however we call the family, which I think it's a normal, natural trait that we all have and at the same time understanding that just because somebody else doesn't belong to my family, I should still respect them for their humanity and their things. It's a balancing act. Sometimes when we look at history, we have failed tremendously in understanding that others are basically a reflection of our humanity as well. We started with a question about religion, so many religions have this ideal about messianic times, that we hope for a messianic time where nations will live together in peace and harmony. Maybe that was the reason why so many religions have this concept of messianic time. Dr. Valenta, why don't you give us your last thoughts on these topics.

Dr. Kamila Valenta:

Well, one more thought that I have on what we could do with respect of this balancing act and balancing our identities, which are important to us, we need to have an identity, a sense of belonging to a community, to a family, to a country, nation, religious group. That's very important to us because it gives us a sense of belonging, sense of transcendence, all of these things. But what is important is to keep overlapping identity so that there is not one single identity that overshadows everything, because that's when conflict happens. That's when the friends and enemies are defined and they're sharp distinctions. So what we really need is to realize that, okay, with this person, I have a common language, maybe common cultural background. With another person, I have a common identity, maybe that we're both mothers or parents. With another person, I share religion together, they go to the same church, place of worship. With another person, I share another commonality. We each have a unique combination of different identities, and that's what makes us unique and gives us a sense of belonging. But it's important that there is not one single identity that it collapses everything to it and it becomes the one overshadowing identity that I cannot find anything in common with a person who does not belong to my group. I think that's when the problem really starts. With the balancing, I would think that this is important to keep multiple and overlapping identities. That way, you can almost connect with anybody in the world. You will find something in common. I think that is important, but we need identity at the same time. Identity really can be a source of problem and conflict.

Adrian McIntyre:

My last question for you is these topics on white supremacy, conflict, extremism can often be very heavy and very depressing, and they're serious and need to be dealt with seriously. But there's also some indication of hope. When you look at the future, what do you see? However filtered and bleak the little shimmering points of light may be, what keeps you going as you teach yet another semester of these same topics, as you do the work you do, to try to educate others and change the way people think? What are some of those bright spots in the future for you?

Dr. Kamila Valenta:

I think the students. I really like my students in every class. I can see bright, young people or young people who really want to make the world a better place. I've had students in my class who want to go out there. Who want be missionaries in different countries, want to learn about other cultures, want to promote peace, maybe want to join the Peace Corps. They're full of ideals and some of their ideals are not entirely realistic, but I'm still so happy that they have them. I really see a lot of potential in my students and I think if they are taught well from the beginning, I think there is a great, great potential. Sometimes, like you say, it is hard and it is depressing because I discuss wars and genocide and all these things. Sometimes as I try to finish the semester on some optimistic note, at UNCC two years ago at the end of semester, we had a mass shooting at UNCC. Another semester, there were the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka, just towards the end of the semester. I was like, "I'm trying to finish the class on a positive note and it just ends so badly." But we have to look beyond that, there is going to be violence for some time. It's unfortunate, it's not going away. But there are also going to be people who will be peacemakers and who will try to do their part to make the world a better place. It's always so uplifting to be able to talk to these students who are full of ideals, full of hope and who really want to do that. That's where I find the hope in my teaching.

Adrian McIntyre:

Dr. Kamila Valenta is an instructor in the department of global studies at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. She's currently teaching two courses; ethnic conflict in a changing world and extremist ideologies and the politics of terror. Dr. Valenta, thanks so much for joining us for this conversation.

Dr. Kamila Valenta:

Thank you so much for having me.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Thank you very much. Thank you for joining us, thank you.

Adrian McIntyre:

If you enjoyed today's show, please subscribe to Conversation with the Rabbi on your favorite podcast app. You can also find the latest episodes online at conversationwiththerabbi.com. For all of us here at PHX.fm, I'm Adrian McIntyre. Thanks for listening, and please join us for the next Conversation with the Rabbi.