Authors@Google: Eboo Patel

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 23.06.2010

>>Cliff: So, good afternoon everyone. Welcome to another awesome Authors@Google talk. Today,
we're particularly honored to host Eboo Patel.
Now, as part of the Campus Honors Program at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign,
the name Eboo Patel is always displayed prominently on our walls, it's sort of a myth and legend
thing as, as we progress through the program; someone larger than life. And that's, to a
certain extent who Eboo is; he's always striving for the greater good.
He found his calling through the promotion of interfaith dialogue, making the interfaith
conversation as, as important and relevant as the environmental con-, conversation, the
social justice conversation, and he's found his particular outlet on, on college campuses,
which is a, a traditional area for, for discussion and, and un-, understanding. And E-, Eboo's
team has made a big impact in terms of fostering interfaith dialogue on college campuses.
Now, his work does reach beyond the college campus and the University. He serves currently
on the board of President Obama's Religious Advisory Committee, and he writes regularly
for The Washington Post in a, a blog that deals with interfaith issues. It's entitled,
"The Faith Divide."
Today, he'll be speaking to us about his work through his non-profit, which is the Interfaith
Youth Corps, and as well as his book, his book, which is entitled, "Acts of Faith: The
Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation." Now, Eboo has
many titles and awards from being a, a Rhodes Scholar to an Ashoka Fellow to a, a member
of the, the National Committee of the Aga Khan Foundation.
He's one of the social entrepreneurs to watch on our nation's stage, but, but his true merit
lies in his impact in work and by fostering interfaith dialogue, Eboo helps make the world
truly a better place. So, we'll have some time for Q&A at the end. Feel free to use
the, the mics and otherwise, please join me in welcoming Eboo to Google.
Thank you.
>>Patel: Thank you. Well, thank you to my fellow Ilini, Cliff. Thank you, too, Usma,
Mahin, and Cliff, for hosting me for lunch. Thank you to Google. This, you wanna talk
about legend, this company is legend, this campus is legend, and I was joking with Usma
and Mahin, and Cliff earlier saying, "I've long wanted to visit Google, but I felt a
little peculiar about being a tourist here." So, when I got the, the invitation to come
speak I thought, "Well, you know, this is, this is my opportunity to kind of get an oogle
at Google, if you will, and see the famous pool tables and the coffee shops and the cafeterias
and, and the tents and, thank you."
Thank you. Thank you for, for being part of a generation that envisioned a new world and
then built that world. And that's what we're trying to do in our own way at the Interfaith
Youth Corps. And I wanna, what I wanna describe for you is, is where that vision came from,
what that vision is, and how we're trying to build it. And then what I'd love is your
advice. I mean your advice as a community of people who, as I said, have imagined a
new world and then built that new world, right? How, how could you counsel us in dramatically
expanding our reach and our impact?
So, to begin with, I wanna take you back to a place that Cliff and I happen to share,
which is the University of Illinois, and I understand that there's a pretty good pipeline
from Champaign Urbana, Illinois to Mountain View, California, a set of very, very talented
computer engineers who are working here at Google and I wanna tell you that, that my
year, my time in Champaign was a dramatic paradigm shift for me. My, and, and the paradigm
shift was largely around issues of identity and diversity, right? I grew up as a, as a
person of color, an Indian American who's Muslim in the suburbs of Chicago and, you
know, frankly, I, I spent a lot of time trying to be white in the western suburbs of Chicago
because that's was kind of the dominant cultural archetype.
And when I got to the University of Illinois, I became part of a conversation about what
does it mean to build a truly multicultural America where people are proud of their racial,
their ethnic, their national backgrounds, and where they're contributing the best of
those backgrounds to build this, this nation that has gathered people from the four corners
of the Earth. And the multicultural conversation was very, very prominent in the mid 1990s
all over the country and including the University of Illinois.
And like any good 17-year old, first year student, I would go home to my parent's house
in Glen Ellyn and I would regale my father with all my newfound wisdom from my first
year in college. And I would lecture him over and over again about identity and diversity
and my dad would kind of roll his eyes and be like, you know, "I got my MBA from Notre
Dame University in South Bend, Indiana, and I was one of the first Indian Americans in
a senior position in corporate advertising. You think I don't know something about diversity?
And you think I don't know something about trying to advance multiculturalism?"
My dad said one thing to me, which not only struck me deeply at that point, but frankly,
changed my life. And he said, "For all your talk about identity and diversity, you, you
never mentioned the form of identity and the type of diversity that's driving global politics.
And that's religion." My dad was exactly right. Think about '93, '94, '95, '96, that mid to
late 1990s.
Think about some of the most prominent global events during that time. There was the World
Trade Center bombing in 1993, kind of Al-Qaeda's coming out party, if you will, there was the
assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in the Middle East, there was the possibilities represented
by the Oslo Process and then the breakdown of that process, there was a nuclear test
in India dubbed, "The Hindu Bomb," there was the response in Pakistan dubbed, "The Muslim
Bomb," there was a, a terrible rampage through Champaign, Illinois and Chicago and Bloomington,
Indiana, somebody who shot and targeted Jews, Asian Americans, and African Americans.
And each of those incidents of horror, you know, an additional one is the bombing at
the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, each of those incidents of horror was perpetrated to the
soundtrack of prayer. It was committed in the name of God, right? And what's interesting
is that the perpetrators came from different religions, so Al-Qaeda clearly claims Muslim
heritage. The assassin of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 was Jewish; claims Jewish heritage.
The person who shot Jews, African Americans, and Asian Americans in, in the Midwest, was
part of the Christian Identity movement, right? So, a huge part of national and global politics
was this emergence of religious extremism. And Sam Huntington, the late Harvard political
scientist, put a framework on this. For my money, a very dangerous framework. He said
that the next era in human history was gonna be defined by what he called "The Clash of
The simple definition of the Clash of Civilizations is that people from different religious backgrounds
were inherently and inevitably at odds with each other, right? We were gonna enter a period
of inter-religious war. So, his message to people from different religions is espe-,
is essentially that people from the other faith are coming; sharpen your swords, right?
You have to if, if, if, if you don't wanna die, you have to, you have to prepare to defeat
and kill and win, right? That's the message of the Clash of Civilizations. And my dad
was exactly right.
There was almost no discussion of this on my college campus. And Diana Eck, a professor
at Harvard, who writes on religious diversity, actually pointed out that there was almost
no discussion of religion in the diversity multicultural conversation nationally. She
says religion is the missing "R" in the diversity conversation. And not only was this missing,
in kind of a global macro way, it was also missing in a personal way and there's something
that happened when I was a resident advisor at the University of Illinois that I, I still
So, again, this is in the midst in the multicultural movement where, where we are often invited
to share our identities and to talk about how we might have met-, been made to feel
uncomfortable because of a certain part of our identity. So, we're having this type of
workshop as a group of resident advisors at the University of Illinois and people are
saying, "Well, you know, as an African American, you know, this happened to me. As a Latino
American, this happened to me that made me feel uncomfortable or marginalized."
So, it gets around to my friend Kizar and Kizar says, "You know, there was something
that happened in the cafeteria a couple weeks ago that made me feel really uncomfortable."
There was a group of student who basically had a food fight, who kept on getting food
and throwing it around and, and everybody, including the resident advisors and the cafeteria
workers, they were all laughing and effectively encouraging this terrible waste of food. And
Kizar said, you know, "For me, food is life and life is from God and that is precious
because I'm a Muslim and, so I was a little bit offended by what happened. As I looked
around at the faces of these resident advisors and these other kind of campus leaders of
the University of Illinois, people who are, you know, trained to be aware of how people's
identities affect their lives, blank stares."
They weren't opposed to what Kizar was saying; they just had no radar screen for it. They
had no radar screen for somebody making salient their religious identity and the role it played
in their lives. And I thought to myself, "Wow. You know, we're missing a great opportunity
here, right? Because at the global, political level, the story that's being written is a
story of religions and conflict with each other. And who seemed to be the perpetrators
of that conflict? Who, who were, were the foot soldiers of religious extremism?
They're always teenagers and twenty-something's, right?" I mean, the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin
is 26 years old. Almost all of the September 11th hijackers; in their twenties, right?
Osama bin Laden recruited into extremism when he's14 years old, right? The person who bombs
the Atlanta Olympics, part of the Christian Identity movement, is just 30 years old. Religious
extremism is a movement of young people taking action.
Well, here was this other movement happening on college campuses of young people who wanted
to be aware, in an appreciative way, of identities that mattered to people and to bring those
identities into harmony and cooperation, but we weren't talking about religion. We were
forfeiting that territory to the religious extremists of the world. I thought to myself,
"You know, we, we oughtta be able to do something different. We oughtta be able to do something
And, and one of the things that gave me an awful lot of encouragement and inspiration
was history, you know? So much of the 20th century's most inspiring movements are actually
interfaith movements started by young people. So, Martin Luther King Jr. is obviously a
great civil rights hero, he's a great African American hero, he's a great American figure,
but he's also a great interfaith hero. Now, King, after all was inspired by Gandhi's movement
in, in India. He marched in Selma with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel; he carried out a correspondence
that deeply influenced him by a Buddhist monk named The Venerable Thich Nhat Hahn, right?
King learns from people from a variety of religious backgrounds even as he s-, remains
deeply, deeply rooted in his own Christian faith and he learns how to bring people from
different religions together to serve the common good. The Civil Rights movement is
an interfaith movement. Same with Gandhi's Hintz Barrage movement in India, same with
the struggle in South Africa, right? Same with movements like community organizing;
these are interfaith movements.
And so, I think to myself, "If those were movements that were built of the early and
mid-late part of the 20th centuries, couldn't we be part of writing the next chapter in
interfaith cooperation, especially in an era of global religious conflict?" Final inspiring
dimension from history: the people who started those interfaith movements, they're our age,
younger. King, in Montgomery in 1955, when he led the bus boycott, was 26 years old.
Mandela, when he founds the Youth League of the African National Congress; 26 years old.
Gandhi, when he starts the movement against the racist pass laws of South Africa in the
early 20th century; 24 years old. The Dalai Lama, when he moves Tibetans into India; 24
years old, right? Well, if interfaith cooperation in previous eras was a movement of young people,
why not today? Why can't we make the story of young people's involvement in religious
diversity in the 21st century, not a story of the Clash of Civilizations, but a story
of interfaith cooperation?
I think religion in the 21st century can go one of four basic directions. It can be a
bubble of isolation, you can say that your religious commitment or your, your humanist
commitment, whatever it might be, walls you off from everybody different and if you're
a Muslim, you can't talk to anybody else. If you're a Hindu or a Christian or a Humanist,
you can't have any dealings with anybody else from a different background, so it can be
a bubble. It can be a barrier of division. Your religion is so different from anybody
else's that you're actually in an oppositional tension.
It can be a bomb of destruction, you know, you feel like you need to dominate people
from other backgrounds, violently. Or, it can be a bridge of cooperation. The 21st century
could lift up the best of the spirit of the Civil Rights movement, the best of the spirit
of the south-, the, the struggle in South Africa, the best of the spirit of the Settlement
House Movement in the United States, and say that people from different religious backgrounds,
including no religion at all, ought to interact in ways that build understanding and cooperation.
We oughtta be building bridges, right? I think that there are four main trends in the world
that make this one of the great topics of our times, right? Trend number one is we're
living during a time of religious revival. You know, the best sociologists forty years
ago, people like Peter Berger, many, many other were saying that, you know, religion
is dead. As societies modernize, they secularize necessarily, right? Well, a lot of those sociologists,
in light of you know, recent movements and trends and demographics, say that they made
what Berger calls a "category mistake." Modernity doesn't so much secularize as it pluralizes,
right? And, indeed, what numbers show right now is that there's, there's religion, as
Peter Berger says, "The world is as religious as it ever was; perhaps more furiously religious
than ever." Right? Sure, there's a growth in people who call themselves nonbelievers,
but there's increased fervence in a particular set of believers, especially in areas of the
world defined by the second trend. The second trend is the "youth bulge".
We live in a very, very young world. You at Google are probably hyperaware of this because
a lot of, so many people who are fast adopters of new Google technologies and approaches
are very young people because they're, they're the first ones who kind of, you know, they
don't have to go from a landline to a cell phone. They just go straight to a cell phone
and then whatever the next technology is that you guys are, are, are developing here. Lemme
give you some stats on this. The median age in Iraq is 19.5. The median age in Afghanistan
is 17.6. There are more children in India than there are citizens of the United States,
and none of those places is the youngest place on the planet. That award goes to Uganda,
right? How are all these young people gonna view their identities in an era of religious
revival? Are they gonna view them, those identities, as bubbles, as bombs, as barriers, or as bridges?
Ok, third trend that I wanna make salient is the breakdown of traditional socioeconomic
patterns. Very simply, for much of human history, people have expected to live the type of life,
have the kind of job, have the kind of family, have the kind of socioeconomic pattern, if
you will, that their parents had, right? Well, those jobs don't exist anymore from, you know,
Kansas City to Cairo to Cape Town, right? And if the same jobs don't exist then you
can't build a family structure on top of those jobs, right?
You're, you're seeing entire socioeconomic patterns, entire waves, ways of life disappear.
And what that does is make identity questions. "Who am I?" questions that much more acute,
that much sharper, right? Because you no longer have the same kind of identity in being a,
a worker at a GM factory or being a worker at a government office in Cairo. So, you're
constantly saying, "Who am I and what type of pattern, what type of life pattern am I
expected to live?"
The fourth trend, another type of, another thing you guys are hyperaware of here at Google,
and in fact, a trend that you have dramatically accelerated, is the increase in interaction
by people from different backgrounds, ok? So, just about everybody on Earth right now
is aware that there are people who are very different than them on Earth. And think about
how shocking that is.
If you weren't aware, if, if, if you thought that the whole world went to church on Sunday,
right, you're entire town of seven hundred people goes to church on Sunday and then one
person moves in to your town who doesn't go to church, right? Or you're aware of somebody
on the other side of the world because of some Google application that puts you in touch
with that person, of somebody who prays very differently, or doesn't pray at all, doesn't
believe in God at all or believes in a, in one God fervently, or believes that Jesus
is the son of God when you believe Jesus is a prophet of God, right?
You start asking yourself two, deep, gut level questions. Question number one: If that person
believes something differently, why do I believe what I believe? If the Buddhist kid who just
moved into my town doesn't go to church on Sunday, why do I go to church on Sunday? Now
what you took for granted because it was your whole world before, because, you know, all
you knew is a fish was water, right? When somebody shows you air, you start to ask yourself
the question, "Why do I live in water?"
And the second question it makes salient is: How do I relate to that person? So, she doesn't
go to church on Sunday. He doesn't pray the way that I do. She doesn't believe in God
at all. So, what does that mean for how we relate to each other? Right? So, think of
the intersection of these four trends; the religious revival, the youth bulge, the breakdown
of socioeconomic patterns, and the increase in interaction of people from different backgrounds.
And, if you will, personify that for a moment. Think of the 17 year old kid in Cairo, or
the 17 year old kid in a favela outside of Rio, or in a township outside of Johannesburg,
or in a small town in Nebraska, right? And think of the number of 17 year old kids around
the world who can't live the life that their mom or dad lived, right? Who are asking themselves
all sorts of "who am I" questions and are now asking not only what does it mean to be
a Pentecostal in Brazil or a Catholic in Nebraska or a Muslim in Cairo or a Hindu in India,
but what does it mean to be one of those people in a world of Pentecostal, of Brazilian Pes-,
Pentecostals, Israeli Jews, Indian Hindus, American Catholics, right? Who am I in this
world? How do I relate to those people? There is an enormous energy at the intersection
of those four trends and the thing that scares me is the people who figured that energy out
first are religious extremist movements, ok?
I view extremist movements from Al-Qaeda to the Christian Identity Movement to their equivalents
in every faith and they have equivalents in every faith. I view them as effectively youth
movements. They are movements that understand the psychology of 16 to 24 year olds, understand
the confusion and power and search for clarity and impact that it as at the heart of what
it means to be at that intersection. These movements re-, have a clear message to those
young people, "Your religious civilization was once a magnificent people and look at
us now. We are in the gutter. We're suffering, but you can return us to glory. All you need
to do is dominate those other people, right?"
These religious extremist movements recruit, train, network, and mobilize young people
to be the foot soldiers of religious extremism. That's why on the evening news tonight, and
tomorrow night, and the next night, you're gonna see some story of some young person
killing other people to the soundtrack of prayer. It's no accident that they're young.
They were recruited young. They were trained young. They were mobilized young. The Interfaith
Youth Corps is a movement that wants to turn the tide. We wanna change the story. We see
a movement of young people taking up the mantle of King, and Jane Adams, and Dorothy Day,
and Mother Teresa, and Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Nelson Mandela; a movement of young people
who believes in a world of pluralism, who believes in a world where people from different
backgrounds live in equal dignity and mutual loyalty.
A world where people's identities are respected, a world where there are positive relationships
between people of different communities, and a world where those people are coming together
to serve the common good. We call that a world of pluralism. That's the world that we're
trying to build, right? We would like interfaith cooperation to be a social norm in the same
way that environmentalism has become a social norm, in the same way that service learning
has become a social norm, in the same way that the human rights movement is a social
When you walk out onto the street, the Google campus is a unique chakra of the world, so
let's not use you guys as the, as the test case here, but let's say you were to walk
some miles in any direction. You tap somebody on the shoulder and say, "Human Rights Movement."
They would know what you were talkin about. "Environmentalism." They would know what you
were talkin about. They would say, "Yeah, that's a good thing. The Earth is precious
and it ought to be protected and, you know, I recycle and I drive a hybrid car and we
compost at my home. I participate in this thing." What would it look like for interfaith
cooperation to have the same clarity of definition? To have the same participatory culture? Where
you walk out in the street in ten or fifteen years and tap somebody on the shoulder and
say, "Interfaith cooperation," and the, the person says, "Yeah, you know, people from
different religious backgrounds including no religion at all, they ought to be coming
together in ways that build understanding and cooperation."
That's the definition of interfaith cooperation and, and I'm a part of that. You know how
I'm a part of it? Because I, I have a knowledge base of, of how different religions speak
to service, right? So, I don't get my, my information on Islam from the evening news.
I don't get my information on Judaism or Hinduism or Evangelical Christianity from the evening
news. I have an appreciative knowledge of the world's religions, including humanism,
right? I, my church or synagogue or mosque, we're part of a congregational exchange, right?
My 15 year old son or daughter, he or she participates in Interfaith Habitat for Humanity
builds four times a year as part of the youth group of our temple. The college campus that
my 19 year old daughter is on, she's the leader of the Interfaith Student Council. The mayor
of Mountain View or the mayor of Palo Alto or the mayor of Chicago, they hosted their
eighth annual Day of Interfaith Service and this year it had eight thousand people, right?
That's the kind of texture that I'm talking about for interfaith cooperation being a social
norm. It means people have a framework of what it means to build interfaith cooperation;
it means they have a knowledge base of how different religions speak to service and what
it is in their own tradition that would inspire them to cooperate with others. And they have
a skill set. They have the ability to bring people from different religious backgrounds
together to build understanding and cooperation. That's interfaith cooperation becoming a social
We think that there, that, that we can advance three core strategies against this. Obviously,
in any movement that becomes a social norm, there are a thousand organizations. There
are a million different niches. Environmentalism has, you know, people who chain themselves
to redwood trees and people who buy hybrid cars and people who start recycling programs
in elementary schools and people who give money to the Sierra Club, right?
There are a million riffs on environmentalism, but everybody knows that at the end of the
day, what they're about is that the Earth is precious it ought to be protected, right?
For interfaith cooperation to become a social norm, it has to be a field and a movement
that's as diverse and large and robust as, as any other movement; as environmentalism
or human rights or civil rights or service learning. We would like to advance three key
Key strategy number one: We need to spread a message and shape a discourse around interfaith
cooperation. Part of what I woke up and realized a couple years ago is every night, Al-Qaeda
advertises "religion is violent" on the evening news for free, right? If you want a commer-,
if you're a toothpaste company, or a cola company, or a car company and you wanna get
your message out on MSNBC or CNN or NBC, you gotta pay $50,000 for 30 seconds or $200,000
for 30 seconds, but if you're a religious extremist group, all you have to do is videotape
your beheading and send the videotape to a media company. And the media company plays
it for free.
Now what that effectively is, is an advertisement for "religion is violent." So, what that means
is there's a lot of people who walk around the world and all they know about religion
period, or somebody else's religion, is that videotape, and I think that that's terrible,
right? What does it look like for those of us who believe in interfaith cooperation and
who believe that religion can be a bridge of positive cooperation, to be as aggressive,
as strategic about advancing our message of interfaith cooperation, of religion as a bridge,
through media and policy circles? What does it mean for us to, to shape a discourse that,
that says that religions, although they have clear doctrinal differences, also have very
important shared values? Show me a religion that doesn't value mercy. Show me a religion
that doesn't value compassion, hospitality, service, right? The message that we have to
send is that religious communities can come together on these shared values.
Those values are mutually enriching and they are actionable and that ought to be part of
the character of the next era. We cannot forfeit the, the space of the media or the policy
to people who believe in the Clash of Civilizations. We have to make sure that that space is imbued
with the message of interfaith cooperation. Strategy number two: We believe a sector needs
to show what "good" looks like, you know? One of the things that I love about Google
is that, in so many ways, this is a company that shows what "good" looks like; how it
should treat its employees, right?
And so many other companies have had to follow the lead of Google to the benefit of the workforce
around the country and the world. We think that college campuses can show what "good"
looks like when it comes to interfaith cooperation. Just like college campuses that are around
multiculturalism and sensitize people to the importance of, of ethnic and racial and national
identity, and sought to build a culture where people from different racial and ethnic and
national backgrounds were coming together in a spirit of cooperation.
College campuses are places where there are different religious student groups; where
there's a volunteer office, where there's an ethos of leadership development, where
there is a, a sense of being on the vanguard. Why shouldn't every college campus consider
it part of its mission to model interfaith cooperation? Every college campus has days
of interfaith service. College presidents give inaugural speeches to the freshman class
about the importance of religious diversity and engaging it positively. Well, there are
academic courses that builds peoples knowledge base and skill set in interfaith cooperation.
Orientation leaders, our age, are trained in religious diversity and interfaith cooperation,
right? College campuses can show what "good" looks like.
And that has, there are two clear benefits to that. One, is it's a sector that other
people follow, ok? I'm pretty convinced that if college campuses show what "good" looks
like, the corporate sector will follow, high schools will follow, municipalities will follow,
right? Higher education likes to serve as the vanguard. I think they ought to serve
as a vanguard in this area.
The second thing is that higher education trains a nations next generation of leaders.
So, if you have a generation of leaders who are imbued with the importance of interfaith
cooperation, who develop some of the knowledge base, who acquire the skill set of interfaith
cooperation, not only do they have a chance to practice that on their campuses, but they
go ahead and bring that into the culture when they graduate. And they take it their neighborhoods
and to their communities and to their companies; they become interfaith leaders.
And that's the third part of the Interfaith Youth Corps strategy. We need, just like the
environmental movement has a, a critical mass of people called "environmentalists" who are
driving it, and the human rights movement has a critical mass of people called "human
rights activists".
For interfaith cooperation to become a social norm, we need to have a critical mass of people
who are called "interfaith leaders." We need to have an identity category that people can
i-, that people can relate to, consider themselves a part of, be in a community within, and that
identity category says, "It's our job to advance this ethos, this quality, across the planet."
One of the most important movements of the past 25 years has been social entrepreneurship,
and one of the most important conventions of that movement is simply the identity category
titled, "social entrepreneur," right? You have a bunch of people around planet Earth
who say, "Hey, I'm a person who dreams new dreams for the social sector, for how the
world can be better, and I put those dreams into action. That means I'm a social entrepreneur.
That means I'm in this community of people called social entrepreneurs, right?"
We need a community of people called interfaith leaders and there needs to be enough of them
in neighborhoods, and on campuses, and in companies across the world to help make interfaith
cooperation a social norm. So, here is where I would love the help of Googlers. Why it,
it, it strikes me that so much religious extremist messaging and recruitment takes place online,
right? This is where so many young people, especially, develop their identity of religion
as a barrier or as even a bomb. How do we use the online space to send the message and
build a community of religion as a force for interfaith bridge building?
That's what part of what I'd like to focus the discussion on, but before I go on to that,
I wanna leave you with, with a piece of one of my favorite poems by Williams Stafford,
a great poet of the West Coast, a native American poet, and he says in this, in this beautiful
poem called, "A Ritual to Read to Each Other,"
[quotes from poem]
"If you don't take the time to get to know me
And I don't take the time to get to know you Then a pattern that others made may prevail
in this world And following the wrong God home, we could
miss our star.
Those who are awake must be awake now Or else a falling line will lull us back to
sleep. The signals we give--yes or no or maybe--
Must be clear now because the darkness around us is deep."
Thank you for having me at Google. I look forward to the conversation [ ].
>>Cliff: So, we do, we do have the, the mic if, if people have any, any questions to,
right there.
I guess, I guess one, one question that I had is, in terms of, of really making, making
people aware beyond the college campus, how, like what, what concrete steps should people
take when they, you know, move to a corporate America where--
>>Patel: Right.
>>Cliff: the atmosphere is, is different, or like people in their middle age--
>>Patel: Mm-hmm.
>>Cliff: or senior citizens? How, how can we continue the interfaith dialogue--
>>Patel: Right, well--
>>Cliff: later in years?
>>Patel: Cliff, lemme, lemme ask, lemme, lemme respond to that in two ways. Number one, I
think one of the best ways, obviously, of getting, spreading the message is, is through
communications in media. What I would love your advice on is what does it look like to
create online platforms to this kind of civic goal of interfaith cooperation? And one of
the things that strikes me is, as I was sharing with you at lunch is, you know, I write a
blog for The Washington Post called The Faith Divide and I write for USA Today. With some
frequency in the Sunday Times of India and I, and I write for the Huffington Post and,
and the vast majority of the comments on those articles and blogs are hateful, right?
And, and they're just, I mean, there's, they range between "Islam is evil" and "religions
are fated to fight," and I, I think to myself, "Th-, that can't be representative of the
vast majority of people, right?" Because you, you don't necessarily see that poison in direct
human discourse and clearly, there are things about the online world which make it easier
because of anonymity for people to say terrible things they might not say to somebody's face.
But, how would the smartest people in the online space think about spreading a message
and creating an online community of people who believe in interfaith cooperation, given
my very real experience of people responding to, you know, frankly, noncontroversial pieces
about the importance of interfaith cooperation? And I don't, you know, my job is not to take
controversial policy stands, it's just to hold up the idea that religion can be a bridge
of cooperation and what people said about that, like I said, it's, it's, it's unbelievable.
So, that's one way of spreading this. Lemme, lemme give a more direct answer to your question,
which is you know, just like I think college campuses are a great place to do interfaith
service projects. You have 12,000 people here at your Google campus at Mountain View, right?
Do an interfaith service project amongst Googlers and, and have it be open to people who, who
are Muslim and Jewish and Evangelical and Catholic and Hindu and Buddhist and Humanist
and say, "Part of what it means to have an interfaith service project is not just to
gather the organic diversity of Google together to, to clean rivers and tutor children, but
to have an, to have a facilitated discussion.
This is what we do. We train these facilitators, have a facilitated discussion about how people's
various faith identities and religious traditions inspire them to do service. So, effectively,
you're using a service project as an opportunity to have a discussion about how religion is
a bridge of cooperation, and the shared value, and the, and the, and the pragmatic action
project of serving others, right? I think you can do that in a city. I think you can
do that on a campus. I think you can do that at Google and I hope you do.
>>membermale1: I've read your book.
>>Patel: Oh, thank you.
>>membermale1: And, in fact, a whole group of people through my church read it. We've
read it; we have an ongoing discussion group called, "God's Politics," inspired--
>>Patel: Ahh.
>>membermale1: by Jim--
>>Patel: Wallis.
>>membermale1: Jim Wallis and Sojourners. And I grew up in the Midwest, so I relate
somewhat to your, the, the book says, about, I grew up in a much more nondiverse community;
a little town. One of the things I see that with my son's generation is that they are
seeing religion as a very divisive issue --
>>Patel: Yeah.
>>membermale1: And they say, "Heck with it. All it does is make people angry. All it does
is make people fight. All it does is kill people, so I don't wanna have anything to
do with it." And so, to bring up anything about religion, even my boys who went to church,
but don't want to now, is, is divisive to even mention that idea. So, I'm, I'm not sure
it's the big atheist movements, like Richard Dawkins and the people who are so strong against
religion are the problem, but the people who are just sort of seeing religion as not a
force for "good", but a force for--
>>Patel: Right, right.
>>membermale1: for destruction.
>>Patel: Right. So, thank, thank you for that, that comment. You know, I, I actually have
many more "B's" than before that I listed, you know. So, I listed religion as a bubble,
as a barrier, as a bomb, and as a bridge. I think the fourth one, and an increasingly
prevalent one, is religion as blasé, right? I-, people who just don't wanna have anything
to do with it and I think that that is one of the consequences of, of religious violence
playing out in the evening news, and it's one of the consequences of people from other
faiths denouncing people of different faiths.
And I think that in a way, any of us who are religious, or anybody who has a friend who's
religious, right? Who ha-, is, has an appreciation of tha-, of, of how precious that identity
is to that friend, to say, "Gosh, you know, it's, it's wrong and damaging and false to
only have the story of religion as poison and violence out there." You would not have
had a civil rights movement if you didn't have the religious inspiration. It's the power
of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
They met in churches, they sang, they sang gospel songs together, they called it a movement
of Christian Love. King said Jenu-, Jesus first the inspiration and Gandhi, a religious
Hindu, gave us the message. I saw Nelson Mandela speak in Cape Town in 1999, and he said, "I
would not be standing here today if it wasn't for Christians and Muslims and Hindus and
Jews and Traditionalists in Africa coming together to build a struggle against apartheid."
Right? So, I just think it is, it is a terribly sad thing if this generation passes on to
the next generation that religion can only poison things and therefore, you shouldn't
touch it at all. What we ought to be passing on is religion can be a real force for "good",
but you have to make it a force for "good." Right?
And in order for you to make it a force for "good," you can't forfeit it into the hands
of bad people. That's a big part of the message of the Interfaith Youth Corps, is to, is to
lift up that message and to empower young people who ba-, wanna believe in religion
as a force for "good" in their own lives, in history, in the lives of their friends,
to make it so. Thank you.
>>memberfemale2: So, there have been recent talks about building a mosque at Ground Zero
in New York,--
>>Patel: Mm-hmm
>>memberfemale2: and I read in the news that there have been protests, where people have
essentially gone with signs that say stuff like, "Building a mosque at Ground Zero spits
on the graves of 9/11 victims." So, to that end, what do you think the residents of New
York could do--
>>Patel: Right.
>>memberfemale2: to build bridges?
>>Patel: Right. I think, so I think that's a great question, so lemme, lemme offer a
story and then platform off that story into a more direct response to this. So, when Keith
Ellison, who's a friend of mine and the first Muslim to get elected into Congress in American
history, from the fifth district in Minnesota representing Minneapolis, when people started
to, when some people said, "We shouldn't have a Muslim in Congress and we definitely shouldn't
let him take his oath of office on the Koran,"
Keith Ellison's response was to walk across the street to the Library of Congress and
to request the Koran reverently owned by The Honorable Thomas Jefferson, and to take his
oath of office on that Koran, right? And the message he was sending is that religious diversity
and interfaith cooperation was part of the founding ideals of this country. And by suggesting
that there shouldn't be a Muslim elected to Congress, or that "I shouldn't take my oath
of office on the Koran," is actually violating a core American value.
So, I don't want to call you just an Islamaphobe, I wanna call you somebody who is advancing
a message that's anti-American, right? You know, George Washington carried out a correspondence
with the Hebrew congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, and this, this, this Jewish leader
sent him a letter saying, "In this new country called America, are my people safe here?"
And Washington says, "This nation will give bigotry no sanction." Right? That's as American
an ethic as you have, that, that diversity oughtta flourish and oughtta become cooperation.
And I think that that's the message that not just the Muslims of New York, but that the
people of New York oughtta bring to the people who are violating that message. That you're
being a-, by, by saying that a group of people cannot build a house of prayer here, you're
violating the ethic of Washington, you're violating the ethic of Jefferson, you're violating
the eth-, ethic of Madison, Franklin, and those people who built this nation. And you
don't know anything about Islam, but that's point number two.
>>memberfemale2: Thanks.
{background chatter]
>>Patel: I'm at Google; I have all the time in the world.
>>membermale3: One, one of the big concerns that I have about, I'm sorry. Most religions
have their core in exclusivism. I've read the Bible, I haven't read the Koran, but I've
read other religious writings and so many of them have, at least as part of it, saying,
"We are the good people, everybody else is the bad people." Maybe they said that 2,000
years ago, but in Islam, I don't know, but in the Bible, clearly it says in parts of
Genesis, "kill all the people who aren't, aren't Jews." And people use that all the
time. How do we get be-, my own religious group is Lutheranism and there's a group of
Lutherans who refuse to have anything to do--
>>Patel: Mm-hmm.
>>membermale3: with people who are not their particular brand of Lutherans because even
working with them together is a sign that somehow they're--
[Patel clears throat]
sanctioning somebody else's belief as being--
>>Patel: Mm-hmm.
>>membermale3: valid. And how do you, how does one get to people who--
>>Patel: Mm-hmm.
>>membermake3: have that mindset that, "I'm right and everybody else is wrong?" There,
there jokes about it, of course--
>>Patel: Right.
>>membermale3: but it's serious and I think--
>>Patel: Mm-hmm.
>>membermale3: I think it's so easy for people to fall into, how do you--
>>Patel: Right.
>>membermale3: how do you start opening up dialogue with people who start from there?
>>Patel: Right. So, lemme, lemme tell you a story. It's a great story about a Christian
pastor who is sta-, American, who is stationed in Europe during World War II, and his congregation
sends him money so that he can make the voyage back to America to spend Christmas with his
family and his, his church community.
And he uses that money to help a group of Jews flee from Hitler's fires into safety.
And one of his congregants writes and says, "But they weren't even Christian." And he
writes back and says, "Yes, but I am." Right? And what strikes me about that is, is here
is somebody who says at the heart of my faith is standing up for people from a different
And you know what? That's a theology. That's not just that guy was a nice guy. That's the
Good Samaritan story, right? That's Jesus reaching out to the marginalized and so, where
I would begin is not so much arguing point-counterpoint with people who have what I would call a "theology
of separation" or a "theology of domination", I would just lift up the theology of interfaith
cooperation. And I would say, "Look, there are parts of the Cription-, of the Christian
scripture and moments of Christian history that clearly sacrilize, make holy, cooperating
with people from different religions."
Those are the parts that I, I relate to and want to make real. That's not to say that
there aren't other parts, but you know, the Bible is a big book, you know? Muslim history
is 1,400 years long, right? There are clearly contradictory dimensions to, to both scripture
and to the history of a religious tradition. And at the end of the day, adherents of different
traditions, whether its Hinduism or Humanism, choose which parts of that tradition that
they're gonna emphasize, that they're gonna be inspired by, right?
Khaled Abou Al-Fadl, great Muslim theologian, Usma was talking about earlier actually, you
know, he writes a beautiful essay on this called, "The Place of Tolerance in Islam."
Where he says, you know, here are the scriptures, here are, here are the parts of Muslim scripture
and the places in Muslim history that emphasize domination, right? And then he says, here
are the parts of scripture and the places in Muslim history which emphasize cooperation,
right? And then he says, so how do you choose which one is more important? And he goes through,
you know, a set of kind of, more technical, theological approaches which say, you know,
there are certain verses which are, you know, de-emphasized for his-, because they're historically
bounded in other verses which are considered eternal, etc., but then at the end of the
essay, he says something that so powerful to me.
He says, "You know what, at the end of the day, the Koran will morally enrich the reader
to the extent that the reader morally enriches the Koran." Right? At the end of the day,
God has written kindness in the human heart and the human heart is meant to approach a
religious tradition in the spirit of kindness. That's what Khaled Abou Al-Fadl is saying.
He says, "That's Muslim theology." Right?
It comes from surah two of the Holy Koran, in which God says he created Muslims, he created
humankind as his "abden halifa", his servant and representative on Earth. God gave us his
breath, his rule: we tend towards the good, as the Muslim tradition says, and we act on
those dimensions that we consider "good" in the scripture and in the tradition, right?
So, I, I don't wanna get into, you know, a theological like, you know, sword wielding
match with people who have a theology of domination. I would much rather lift up and make salient
a theology of interfaith cooperation and, and say to people around the world, most of
whom are good, right? I share that belief with, with Google that people are good. The
more you lift up that positive theology, the more people will, will relate to it. And,
and I think that, you know, to be a little bit sharp about this, I think we have failed
to do that, right?
And I'm always struck that people who believe in, in, in, in the bubble, the barrier, or
the bomb, they can quote chapter and verse on why they believe that. Bang, bang, bang.
They have it on the tip of their tongue, but those of us who believe in the bridge we don't
really, we can't really cite, you know, surah 49 of the Holy Koran says, "God made us different
nations and tribes that we may come to know one another." Right?
From, from the Constitution of Medina, right, where the prophet Muhammad made the peace
and blessings of God be upon him, created a framework where people from different religious
backgrounds would come together in one city in Medina through the great Muslim empires
of Cordoba, and the Fatimids, and Bagdad through Akbar and the Ottomans, through what Rwandan
Muslims did in the genocide, you know? The Muslim communities have often built partnerships
and, in fact, stood up for people who are different from them.
That's what I wanna act on, right? And it's the same in Judaism, it's the same in, in
Christianity, it's the same in Hinduism, it's the same in Humanism. Lifting that up, teaching
that theology, I think that, that that oughtta be a high priority.
>>memberfemale4: Hi. I just wanna say thanks. Great subject and a good discussion to have.
I was a member of an interfaith group in college, so I want to thank you for supporting the
movement, but one problem we had, or that I observed in our small group, was we had
a lot of people from different faiths, but we didn't have anyone like you said from the
humanist movement or people without a religiously defined faith. So, how do we make sure that
we reach out to those groups who don't necessarily have a religion and make sure they're not
turned off by the mention of faith?
>>Patel: Yeah. I think that's a great question, thank you for that. So, I, I think part of
it is language and, and you know, I've gotten better at this and so I, I include humanism.
It's not a religious tradition, but it is indeed a tradition, right? And it's a tradition
that has, has books and heroes and, and inspiration for people to cooperate and serve. So, just
including that in our language I think is important. There are leaders of the humanist
movement, like my friend Greg Epstein, who's the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard, who you
oughtta invite to speak here, who has written a book called, "Good Without God," where he
talks about how Humanists ought to be involved in interfaith cooperation and interfaith service.
And so, use of language is important, issuing the invitation to Humanists is important,
and finding the leaders of the Humanist Movement who are pushing interfaith cooperation as
a priority; those are three ways to do that. Thank you.
Nobody's giving me advice on how to build an interfaith movement online!
>>memberfemale5: I don't know how to build an, a--
>>Patel: Aren't' you Googlers supposed to be problem solvers?
>>memberfemale5: But I, I actually had one thing and I, I don't want, I hope by the name
it doesn't sound like, degrading. I don't know too much about it, but I'm in engineering
department and someone that I don't work directly with, but is also in that department recently
went to a fairly major conference in New York called, I don't know what it was called, but
it was regarding something called "Serious Games", and he mentioned that with these things
called serious games, which are somewhat like education games, but less, the education is
less directly in your face. It's a little more appealing, I guess, to kids--
>>Patel: Yeah.
>>memberfemale5: a little more playing than, you know, kind of a fake set up and they say
this is a game but it's actually a math problem, right? But he, he mentioned that there's people,
you know, from all different subjects and movements and a lot of social activists and
different things doing, with ideas in the realm of, of, of what they're calling serious
games and I don't, I don't build platforms, but that's just something that struck me as
you were talking and I, I've been trying to think for the last five minutes of the name
of, I've forgotten it, but it's something in the serious games that took place, I think
largely in the San Francisco Bay area, but with environmentalism in which people, I don't
know, I watched a YouTube video on it, but they, they pretty much, it was like a real
life game and they took, they took, they pretty much videotaped themselves, put it on YouTube
through the game, I can't remember the name of.
When they were, you know, of different actions they were taking to help the environment and
it was kind of made into a game with people across the city playing this game for environmentalism.
I don't know, I'd have to be--
>>Patel: I, I love that, I mean this is, that's actually exactly the kind of, the kind of
advice I'm looking for is, is part of what you have to do in, in the online space is
things like, figure out where young people already are and how you can weave messages
like interfaith cooperation into things that they're already involved with. So, it, I love
to hear that environmentalism is being woven into games and I think you could do the same
with interfaith cooperation.
>>memberfemale5: Right.
>>Patel: Right, like, so, so you could be an interfaith leader online and, and kind
of mimic talking to the leader of a synagogue about how to get their synagogue involved
in an interfaith project, right? I mean, that, that could be an online kind of interaction,
>>memberfemale5: Right.
>>Patel: Thank you for that. It's a great, great suggestion.
>>memberfemale5: Sure. So, yeah, it's called Serious Games and there's some other, some
other things related, but that's the name that jumps out at me. The other thing is that
I'm here for the year, but really I'm a, I'm a teacher most of the time and I was just
wondering what, what kind of things are being done through your organization or other similar
ones, like more at the high school level. Because, I mean, you can keep going down forever,
>>Patel: Yeah, yeah.
>>memberfemale5: I know that high school students do go on to…
>>Patel: Yeah.
>>memberfemale5: college, and I know high school students who have started groups based
on race and things, things like that, so I, are there things being done at high schools?
>>Patel: Yeah. So, so, we don't do a ton of direct work with high schools. I mean, occasionally,
I'll be asked to like, be the Martin Luther King Jr. Day speaker at a school and, you
know, I, I'll do it if I can, I, but I clearly enjoy that stuff.
>>memberfemale5: Mm-hmm.
>>Patel: Not afraid of the microphone, as you can see.
But part of building a movement, a part of a movement is that different organizations
emerge and kind of drive different dimensions of work, and so I think there, there should
be national and international level org-, interfaith organizations that focus on high
schools. And at the end of the day, you know, our hope, the wonderful thing about college
students is that they become college graduates and then they go off and they take their message
and knowledge base and skill set into whatever they do. And hopefully, a lot of them become
high school teachers.
>>memberfemale5: Haha. Ok.
>>Patel: Cool.
>>memberfemale5: Ok, and maybe the last one, this is something that we're currently having
a lot of trouble with our work on, because we're doing things education, but other than
online, just like, if there's any way to get it into curriculum, you know--
>>Patel: Yeah.
>>memberfemale5: I mean, then you, you hit into--
>>Patel: Yeah, yeah.
>>memberfemale5: that's kind of like the thought process--
>>Patel: Yeah.
>>memberfemale5: that's difficult to change.
>>Patel: You know, we do that at the college level, you know--
>>memberfemale5: Right, right.
>>Patel: like, we help faculty shape new courses in interfaith cooperation. I just finished
teaching a course at Northwestern University called Interfaith Leadership, and we're trying
to spread that course, so, and then again, we hope the theory of change is that campuses
serve as a vanguard sector and as they teach courses in interfaith cooperation, high schools
start to do that.
>>memberfemale5: Right, right, true. Thank you very much.
>>Patel: Thank you. Thanks for having me, again. Thank you so much.