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Harvard Student Gives Protested 'Jihad' Talk

June 07, 2002|From the Washington Post

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — On a rain-drenched commencement day at Harvard Yard, a Muslim American student Thursday urged his fellow graduates to shape "a more just, peaceful and honorable global society"--and referred repeatedly to "jihad" as he did so.

Thus, Zayed Yasin, 22, a biomedical engineering student, delivered the speech whose original title--"American Jihad"--ignited a controversy that included a campus-wide debate over free speech, a petition opposing his selection as one of three student speakers at Harvard's 351st commencement and an e-mailed death threat against him. Yasin changed his title to "Of Faith and Citizenship" and heightened some references to the Sept. 11 attacks, but his text remained largely intact.

"I am one of you. But I am also one of 'them,' " he said, opening his remarks by referring to his dual identities as a practicing Muslim and American citizen and their perceived contradictions. He said he chose the word "struggle" deliberately and went on to condemn misuse of the Arabic term.

Yasin's choice of the word, which also has been defined as "holy war" and used by Muslim fundamentalists to justify terrorism, had led some to denounce him as a terrorist sympathizer. But the former Harvard Islamic Society president received the continued backing of university President Lawrence Summers.

As he finished his speech, Yasin, the son of a Bangladeshi father and Irish American mother, looked relieved to have the dispute and four years at Harvard behind him.

A number of audience members, including an entire section of students, rose to give him a standing ovation, while others whooped in support. Scores of other students wore red, white and blue ribbons to express their opposition to the speech.

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