“Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” is still three weeks away, but the event and a similar campaign from Young America’s Foundation are already setting off campus controversies and debates about tolerance and free speech.
Organizers — who are planning events at dozens of campuses — say that they are just trying to make students aware of the threats posed by radical Islam to the United States. Speeches are being scheduled on multiple campuses by such luminaries of the right as David Horowitz (chief proponent of the week), Ann Coulter, and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum. More intellectual takes will come from such neoconservative icons of Middle East policy as Michael Ledeen and Daniel Pipes. The in-your-face approach of publicity for the events (not to mention some of the speakers) is already setting off campus debates over whether the campaign being orchestrated is about informing students or intimidating Muslim students and selected targets of the right (such as women’s studies programs).
Already charges are flying from organizers about posters being torn down and colleges blocking access for events. And critics are firing back, questioning the motives of the efforts. With the Middle East already dividing many campus groups, October could be a month of additional tensions.
For a sign of how easily rhetoric about the Middle East can escalate, consider George Washington University, where authorities discovered hundreds of posters Monday that said: “Hate Muslims? So do we!” A “typical Muslim” is then portrayed, with features identified such as “venom from mouth” and “suicide vest.” University police removed the posters and are investigating who put them up.
The posters claimed to be from the campus chapter of Young America’s Foundation, which immediately issued a statement condemning the posters as “hate speech” that had never been authorized by the group. The statement said that YAF has a system for approving posters, and that no one ever submitted such a poster for approval. The YAF at George Washington said it was promoting events later this month to condemn terrorism and violence — and that one part of its efforts would include bringing Horowitz to campus. Steven Knapp, president of the university, also released a statement, calling the posters “reprehensible” and stating that “there is no place for expressions of hatred on our campus.”
Laila Al-Qatami, a spokeswoman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said her group has been writing to colleges identified as planning events with Islamo-Fascism Week, asking them why they were doing so. She said that while there are “serious and legitimate problems in the Arab and Muslim worlds,” Horowitz’s “obsessive focus” on Arabs and Muslims encouraged the view that people could “with impunity” say anything they want about members of those groups — and that encourages events like the the plastering of George Washington with offensive posters. (MORE)