Pulitzer prize winner delivers McBride Lecture

Pulitzer prize winner delivers McBride Lecture

by Katie Anthony/Editor-in-chief & Zach James

It’s not every day that a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist delivers a speech on the Simpson campus.

New York Times investigative reporter Andrea Elliott delivered the annual McBride Lecture on Wednesday, where her main focus of her speech was on the role Islam plays in American society 10 years following 9/11.

Elliott received the award in 2007 for her series, “An Imam in America,” which told the story of a Muslim immigrant having to lead his community of Brooklyn, N.Y. in the post-9/11 era.

“This subject deserves a lot of attention, and I hope Simpson students got a thirst to find out more,” Elliott said.

When Elliott set off in 2005 to report on Islam in America, she met Sheik Reda Shata an imam. An imam in the Islamic culture is a prayer leader. Shata not only served as a prayer leader for his mosque, but also as a community leader.

Shata played many roles to his community. For example, he was a mediator to law enforcement, a matchmaker, and a father figure to the young Muslims who were struggling to balance Islam with American life.

Shata shared with Elliott that America had transformed him from a person of rigidness to a person of flexibility.

Shata had to learn how to balance and blend the life and reality of America with the edicts of Islam.

When Elliott began her report on Islam, it was tough for her to gain access to the community.

“I pitched to my editors the idea of covering Islam in a post-9/11 America,” Elliott said. ” It was a very difficult beat from the outset, not just because the subject was complex but because I struggled to get access. Everywhere I went, I heard the same thing: that the media were to blame for the public’s negative perception of Islam.”

Elliott followed Shata’s life for six months, and during this time period she accompanied the imam as he chaperoned dates between the marriage candidates that he had set up.

“Finding the right match was, he said, was “harder than choosing a diamond.”Scanning his little black book, he made his pitch with the precision of a car salesman. Shata has been known to arrange 10 marriages while Elliott was shadowing the imam.

Another prolific Muslim that Elliot introduced the McBride crowd to was Debbie Almontaser. Almontaser was the founding principle of New York City’s first public Arabic-language school. She was known for having tolerant and progressive views.

Critics incorrectly branded her as being a radical and accused her of secretly planning to prosletyze her students.

Elliot hopes that her work on Islam has helped deepen the public’s understanding of Muslims in America, and that those willing to learn more will go out and explore.

Before writing about Muslims for the New York Times, Elliott worked as a reporter at the Miami Herald. She earned her B.A. in comparative literature in 1996 at Occidental College in California, which a small liberal arts college similar to Simpson. Elliott went on to get her Master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism attaining top honor in her class.

The McBride Lecture started in 1988 in honor of Robert and Luella McBride. Robert served as president of the college from 1979 to 1987. Other known figures who have been featured at the McBride include Pulitzer-winning journalist Seymour Hersh in 1989, former National Security Adviser Leon Fuert in 2004 and local astronaut Peggy Whitson in 2008.