Film elicits discussion of the Muslim world

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By Alyssa Marie Harn, The Daily Iowan

Four days in Morocco. One crossing and a shattering of stereotypes. Five years ago, University of Iowa Associate Professor Denise Filios traveled to Morocco for the first time.

During the trip, she realized that, although borders may separate people, they are all similar. The Spanish professor has been to Morocco four times since then, but she will never forget that first experience.

Morocco Exchange is a nonprofit organization created by the cross-cultural group Crossing Borders Education. The group’s award-winning documentary Crossing Borders will be shown at 6 p.m. today in 1505 Seamans Center. Admission is free.

Crossing Borders follows the journey of self-discovery of four American and four Moroccan students as they travel through Morocco. The students form deep relationships and confront the differences between Islamic and Western cultures.

The documentary screening is a part of “Images of the Muslim World,” a series of public discussions, film screenings, and lectures that exemplify the diversity of the Muslim world. The events are sponsored by UI Middle East and Muslim World Studies, the African Studies Program, and UI International Programs.

“This film really tries to explode these stereotypes,” said Filios, a UI faculty member for 11 years. “It helps break down all of these misconceptions, especially those that [make it seem like it’s] the West versus Africa.”

Following the film screening, Filios will hold a discussion to further encourage thoughts about the Muslim world.

“It is beneficial to have conversations about religions, the world, and stereotypes that Americans have of Moroccans and that Moroccans have of Americans,” Filios said, noting that traveling to a particular country is the only way to really get to know the culture and have a more informed perspective on the world.

The language enthusiast said she wants the screening to show people that it is quite worthwhile to travel to Islamic countries.

“In general, it seems as if there is this fear that it is particularly dangerous to travel in the Muslim world,” she said. “Meeting and talking with people is the best way to break down these stereotypes.”

Last spring, the film was shown to encourage students to participate in the UI’s summer Study Abroad Program in Morocco. At the screening, Tania Carrasquillo, a UI graduate teaching assistant, shared her experiences in Morocco and how they related to the film.

In 2008, Carrasquillo went with Filios to Morocco as part of the UI’s Study Abroad Program. The Puerto Rican native wanted to study the influence of Arabic on the Spanish language after her husband converted to Islam.

“When you are learning a new language, you are giving yourself the key to a new world,” she said. “The purpose of the Study Abroad Program is to challenge students to make a change within themselves.”

The mother of two said that each time a person travels to another country, he or she changes, and the process is a crossing. The documentary showcases that transformation and makes viewers ask themselves if they are prepared for that change, she said.

“I think that the purpose of the movie is to invite and tell students about the opportunity to travel,” Carrasquillo said. “It also challenges students to see if they are really ready for the program.”

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