Turkish journalist and author Mustafa Akyol began his address in Payson Library with an anecdote about pancakes from McDonald’s and went on to tackle issues involving Islamic extremism, interfaith dialogue and the role of Islam in an increasingly secular society.
“A foreign culture might be a little misleading at first sight,” Akyol said in a speech Tuesday afternoon. “You might misunderstand it. And these misunderstandings, of course, are not a big deal if they are about pancakes. But if it’s about culture, and it’s about religion and it’s about politics and the beliefs of different societies then this might be a bigger problem.”
Author of the book “Islam without Extremes: a Muslim Case for Liberty,” Akyol writes regularly for two Turkish newspapers. He also travels extensively, speaking everywhere from Oklahoma to the UK.
According to Akyol, confusion between east and west is nothing new. As someone who is both a “dedicated Muslim” and a guest contributor to such western publications as Newsweek, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, Akyol said he is trying to bridge the gap between two seemingly detached cultures. According to Akyol, that is the primary message he hoped to convey to students.
“I hope that they will have a more nuanced view of Islam,” Akyol said in the speech. “Because Islam is portrayed as a problematic religion in the west — a religion that sometimes breeds extremists and authoritarians. And I’m not denying the existence of those problems; I’m just saying that they show a very little part of reality.”
According to Ken LaZebnik, director of public affairs and advancement of the library, Akyol’s visit is part of an intentional step by the library toward creating an environment that fosters intercultural communication.
“The overarching theme for this year is: ‘beyond the horizon, the global century,’” LaZebnik said. “We’ve had a concerted effort to engage in interfaith dialogue.”
LaZebnik went on to say Akyol fulfills a very important and specific role in modern society.
“To me, what he brings is a very seriously minded attempt to find that bridge of Islam and the modern secular world,” LaZebnik said. “A challenge for the Muslim world is ‘how do we interact with a modern secular world?’ And I think that Turkey and Mustafa are moving in that direction.”
“Interfaith misunderstanding is so common,” Akyol said in an interview after the speech. “Interfaith bias. Communities tend to say ‘we are good because all the other people are very bad.’ It should not be that way. It should be, ‘we are good, these are our values and other people might have values that we could use as well.’ We need dialogue to balance that.”
As a journalist, Akyol said the media has an enormous impact on public opinions in places like the Middle East and North Africa.
“The media would help us better if they found stories that showed the nuances of other faiths,” Akyol said in the interview. “A story about Muslims who try to expand more liberal ideas, more moderate ideas. There are some media institutions both in the United States and in my part of the world that really look at other cultures with a strong bias, and they attempt to demonize other people.”
Akyol went on to say in the interview that he loved Pepperdine and that the campus was beautiful.