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PA: Criticism of Saudi Students Sparks Protests

WILKES-BARRE – A letter to the editor in Sunday’s Times Leader blasting Saudi Arabia and criticizing the paper’s decision to run a story about Saudi Arabian international students at Wilkes University sparked a protest at the college Wednesday. Salmon Punekar, a Wilkes
University business student, organized a protest of a recent letter to the editor in the Times Leader. The letter, written in response to an article, pointed out that most of the Sept. 11 conspirators were Saudis and many had come to the United States on student visas.

Nearly 300 students attended the hour-and-a-half exposition outside the Henry Student Center Wednesday afternoon to protest the letter written by Forty Fort dentist Stephen M. Lawrence referencing 9/11, honor killings and the treatment of women and Christians in Muslim states.

“It is said we are having a clash of civilizations, but as we can plainly see, only one side is civilized,” he wrote. “Wake up Americans. We are letting the barbarians in and we must be diligent.”

The letter responded to an April 9 story that followed 15 Saudi Arabian students’ acclimation into an American university.

Interviewed Wednesday, Lawrence stood by his views, calling the religion of Islam “a political and religious system that is against everything that Western values stand for.”

Salman Punekar, 19, a business major at Wilkes University and a naturalized American citizen of Saudi Arabian decent, organized the peaceful protest that drew out many students on the final day of classes. He said he learned about the letter earlier this week and began circulating e-mails to fellow students.

“His statements undermine American values,” Punekar said of Lawrence.

“I’m a naturalized citizen now and there’s no difference between me and anybody else. We came out here so that he (Lawrence) knows there’s a strong opposition to his views. He’s exercising his freedom of speech and so are we.”


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