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Turkish writer, journalist combats cultural stereotypes

Rose Davidson / Lantern photographer

Understanding different cultures can be difficult, but some say it is an important part of being in an inter-connected world.
“Despite the fact that we are living in an age where we have so much more information about the world than our ancestors, we actually live at a time that we are very prone to be misguided about different societies,” said Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish author and journalist who came to Ohio State Wednesday evening. “It’s important to not misunderstand (other cultures).”
Speaking from personal experience, Akyol told about his first trip to the United States and said he was excited to see the country but was confused at times during his visit. The same applies for most people traveling to a new country or culture, he said.
“The lesson I got when I was studying the relations between East and West, between the Islamic world and America and these different civilizations is that a foreign civilization might be a little misleading when you meet it for the first time and you might misunderstand its culture,” Akyol said.
Akyol discussed his book, “Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty,” and the importance of understanding other cultures, especially Islamic-dominated countries. He also said misunderstanding comes from the most common images people see of a place or group of people.
“The media by its very nature tends to focus on the most shocking, unacceptable elements in the world and especially the most disturbing elements from the other side,” Akyol said.
The author compared the images that citizens of the Middle East and America see of one another. In both cases, the most negative images are broadcast and become the reference points for an entire culture, he said.
“We should look more honestly and sub-critically to our societies,” Akyol said. “Since we are living in this world, when we are always seeing the most negative elements on the other sides, we should try not to be misled by this.”
As a Turkish resident, Akyol spoke firsthand about the Islamic rule in his own country and other Middle Eastern countries and advocated for more freedom.
Students for Dialogue, an organization that aims to better understand people of different backgrounds, religions and cultures, brought Akyol to speak.
“The author tries to analyze (Islamic-dominated countries) from a historical, cultural and political point of view,” said, Fatih Olmez a fifth-year graduate student in mathematics and president of Students for Dialogue.
Olmez sought out Akyol to come to OSU and talk more about understanding countries under an Islamic rule.
“In Students for Dialogue, I got the chance to learn about religion from those who follow it, and not just from reading a book,” Olmez said. “I was looking for an opportunity to learn about other faiths.”
Hilal Smirniotopoulos is the faculty adviser for Students for Dialogue and a professor in the spoken English program. She encourages students to learn more about different cultures and said Akyol brought interesting ideas to light.
“(Akyol’s) quite impressive as a journalist with a liberal, more open point of view,” Smirniotopoulos said.
More than 40 people attended the lecture at the Ohio Union. The presentation was followed by a book signing and discussion with Akyol.

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