Alumnus Yassin El-Ayouty, current president of Sunsglow and professor of Islamic Law at Fordham University, said he has seen the United States lose international sway in the wake of Sept. 11 during a lecture on March 24.
“Due to my extensive travel and work in international law, I have seen that under (former President George W.) Bush, the United States, unfortunately, lost a great deal of international respect,” he said.
El-Ayouty, who specializes in international law and reform and has worked with the United Nations for more than 20 years, was invited to speak as part of the College’s Multicultural Lecture Series.
“I am glad that my presentation here takes place during the Obama administration and not the Bush administration,” he said, although he explained that he is politically an independent.
El-Ayouty explained that the loss of respect stems from the fact that “there are certain basic facts that the world knows about America,” such as that the United States has done extensive work in international human rights, has yielded virtually no colonial power and has a “genius” for checks and balances.
“This has been the America as perceived by the world,” El-Ayouty said, including those in the Muslim world.
The terrorist attacks on 9/11, El-Ayouty said, “shattered” good feelings between Muslims and Americans, though there was optimism shortly after “that the attacks would not change our way of life.” This promise was broken by the creation of an unending war on terror, El-Ayouty said.
After serving as an attorney in Iraq to liberate imprisoned Iraqi photojournalists, he “had a chance to realize how Iraq has been destroyed, economically and socially and with no benefit to America.”
He then argued that Bush acted more like a king during his presidency, and that one aspect of a solution would be to “bring the United States back to the rule of law” and to combat terrorism with a global undertaking.
When asked whether the current evolution of Islam is related to American democratic politics, El-Ayouty agreed.
“You are absolutely right. There is an evolution going on. (But) from the beginning, Islam has always changed,” he said.
He pointed out that during Islam’s origins, women had much more say than in modern times, though that is not well known. He warned that “when a culture doesn’t take care to learn more about itself, it tends to fossilize.”
He was also asked to give his opinion on whether or not Bush and others in the administration should be brought to court for war crimes. El-Ayouty argued that the International Criminal Court is a “highly politicized body.”
“Is a war crime trial an effective means (for the United States)?” El-Ayouty asked. “It is not. This country needs unity, it needs healing.”
El-Ayouty theorized that if a Democratic president tried chief members of the Republican party, “it would shatter this country asunder. There is a higher calling than law . and that’s peace. Law and justice are two different things.”
Some members of the audience disagreed with his logic.
“His addressing of the war crimes was really inadequate because it’s not just about maintaining unity and peace,” Joanne Wiedman, junior elementary education and English major, said.
Wiedman added, “If you put Bush up for war crimes for invading two countries and causing the deaths of almost a million people, you’d have to call into question the actions of previous presidents, in particular recent presidents. You’d have to call into question Clinton’s foreign policies and sanctions that also killed thousands of people and destroyed infrastructures, which are also technically war crimes.”
A faculty member also asked El-Ayouty for advice on how to further engage students to be pro-active on important issues.
“If you are in academia, you must be involved in your world,” El-Ayouty said. “There is no boundary right now. Try to get involved in the New World.”
El-Ayouty defined the New World as not being the government but non-governmental organizations and volunteer organizations.
He said that when he interacts with his students, he understands that “they want to learn to be global.”
A professor, according to El-Ayouty, should engage the outside world and “take this from the field and apply it to the classroom.”
El-Ayouty came to the College from Egypt on a Fullbright scholarship in 1952.
“This college has paved my way to the conclusion to make the United States my home,” he said.
He began his lecture by discussing his experience as a student at the College and how his time here influenced his perception of the United States as a whole.
For the first time, he said, he experienced the benefits of co-education and the combining of work with education in order to succeed.
After completing his undergraduate work at the College, El-Ayouty went on to Rutgers University for his master’s in international law.
He began his work in the United Nations in 1954.