There are certain things I have come to expect at Yale, whether it is the familiar walkways and Gothic arches as we drift from classes to meetings against a backdrop of elm, or the dining hall conversations laced with intellectual debates as we sit facing portraits of the luminaries who have come before us. Even the rivalries between the residential colleges — and, lest we forget our Ivy League crown, the rivalry with our Cantabrigian friends — is part of the constellation that somehow makes Yale the city upon the hill it so comfortably alleges to be.
Of course, with its high prestige and cherished traditions, Yale also carries with itself the raison d’etre of cultivating a campus culture where the oft-professed commitment to diversity is celebrated; where students organize around principles of solidarity, tolerance and respect; and where, as an extension of all of the above, bodies, minds and souls can feel safe. It is, proudly and unabashedly, a bastion of worthy ideals.
But the feelings of safety and comfort evaded me on the morning of Nov. 15, when, walking out of class, I was greeted by a hurried collage of blatantly racist, bigoted caricatures of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. It seemed, in those two seconds in which my mind went from the conjugation of the subjunctive in Espanol to the absolute shock of realizing that the tidal wave of anti-Muslim sentiment had hit home, that I was alone in a campus of thousands. Was this really happening? At Yale? Do I really live among and attend classes with students who think this? That a place as forward thinking as Yale would harbor such inconspicuously racist attitudes was appalling to me.
Indeed, the anonymous mass posting of these fliers, with no brave commitment to dialogue or to understanding political and real-world complexities, is something hardly fitting to the standards of our community. Not only do the posters vilify Muhammad by tagging a disgraceful depiction with an implication of terrorism, they show ignorance of the life that the Prophet led, a life marked by compassion, love and humanity. The depiction is also negligent of what Muslims at large, but especially at Yale, stand for; the MSA at Yale has tirelessly struggled to maintain a welcoming community where students feel free to exchange their views and opinions — political, religious or otherwise. To those behind these posters, I encourage you to attend events organized by Muslim students at Yale. Please do not shut the door on dialogue by making us face mute pictures, which, through their anonymity, silence meaningful conversation, with no voices for us to address.
These posters also cannot be divorced from the increasingly popular trend of demonizing Islam and Muslims, which lead to acts of violence, unconstitutional laws and blatant racism; nor can we isolate this incident from the broader context of recent events that have occurred on our own campus, including the recent NOGAYS e-mail. Clearly, there is still much to be done in accomplishing the mission of an open, welcoming and safe campus for all. As a student body, we need to acknowledge the seriousness of these incidents, take measure of the deeper issues that are revealed therein, and honestly discuss what they say about the values in our community. After all, while this hateful effort was designed specifically to stir racist and religious antagonism against Muslims, all students — Muslim or not — are negatively affected by an environment where we are unable to appropriately address serious issues without essentializing and stigmatizing an entire religious and cultural group of human beings.
Next week, in conjunction with Yale College Dean’s Office, the Chaplain’s Office, the Yale College Council and other student organizations, the MSA will be holding an open forum and we hope that students come out to discuss this. We need to show more than passionless gestures toward expunging prejudice and seriously question the milieu that pervades our campus culture.
Altaf Saadi is a junior in Morse College and the president of the Muslim Students Association.