Yale’s seventh annual “Islamic Awareness Week” kicked off Monday with talks by two individuals who have witnessed firsthand the perniciousness of anti-Islamic prejudice.
Riz Khan, reporter for the Arabic news network Al Jazeera, spoke about misperceptions of Muslims in the media. James Yee, a former Muslim chaplain at Guantanamo Bay who was illegally detained for several months, and Brandon Mayfield, an attorney who was falsely accused of coordinating the 2004 Madrid bombings that killed 191 people, spoke about their experiences being unfairly targeted.
Muslim members of Yale’s community expressed hope that this year’s week of events, titled “Muslims in the 21st Century,” will help correct stereotypes many Americans harbor have regarding Islam.
“Because Islam has been in the media so much, a lot of people have a lot of misconceptions,” said Shamshad Sheikh, Yale’s Muslim chaplain. “This is one of the best ways to share our religious beliefs in the Yale community.”
This week’s events were designed to provide a forum to increase understanding of the political manifestations of Islam, members of the Muslim Students Association said.
Living in the West, American citizens are bombarded with images of Islamic extremists, and many associate 9/11 with this faith, said Khan, who said he has encountered this misunderstanding in his work.
“A lot of people misunderstand what Islam is about, especially now more than ever,” he said.
Khan, who spoke about Islam’s portrayal in the media during a talk at the Yale Center for British Art, said the “new enemy” for him is not North Korea, Iran or fundamentalist Muslims, but rather ignorance. He said he trusts the current generation to overcome the prejudices of the past and use the tools of mass communication available to them.
“You guys are the next generation,” Khan told the audience of about 70. “You don’t carry the baggage and prejudices of past generations. You live in a truly globally connected world.”