Yesterday, the American Movement for Israel and the Michigan Political Union collaborated to bring Dr. Raphael Israeli to campus to discuss China’s rapid economic growth and its involvement in the Middle East. Israeli is a professor of Islamic, Chinese and Middle Eastern history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He also has written several books, including “Islamikaze: Manifestations of Islamic Martyrology,” “The Spread of Islamikaze Terrorism in Europe: The Third Islamic Invasion” and “Muslim Minorities in Modern States: The Challenge of Assimilation.” In his books and editorials, he promotes the xenophobic notions that Muslims are incapable of assimilating into western societies and have particular difficulty co-existing peacefully with non-Muslims. According to Israeli, non-Muslims who challenge these views are in fact “cowardly” Muslim apologists.
While Israeli may have intelligent contributions to make on the topic of China’s involvement in the Middle East and Islam in China, his scholarship cannot be considered without the context of his political views, which undoubtedly inform and direct his research. To be clear, we aren’t necessarily challenging the validity of Israeli’s scholarship on China and the Middle East. As members of student organizations that promote freedom and equality in the Middle East and throughout the world, we challenge the American Movement for Israel and the Michigan Political Union to identify Israeli’s politics for what they are: racist, bigoted and destructive to an accurate understanding of the Middle East and Islam.
It’s an interesting thought experiment to consider what the reaction of the campus and the receptivity of the sponsoring student groups would have been for a similar academic who, instead of being virulently anti-Muslim, was a white supremacist, anti-Semite or homophobe. It is unlikely that such a speaker would have been invited at all, and we can look to the protests at the Blind Pig against reggae artist Buju Banton last fall for evidence of the sort of reaction such a speaker might receive. This disturbing double standard of what constitutes acceptable or unacceptable bigotry on campus needs to be re-examined by student organizations looking to present diverse perspectives through the speakers they bring.
Free speech and responsible speech go hand in hand. We must remember that people have the inherent right to exist, but the fact that an idea exists does not make it automatically legitimate or equal to all other ideas. Those ideas that seek to undermine any people’s natural right to live a dignified and free existence must be examined with close scrutiny before they are presented as legitimate. In the case of Israeli, his perspectives on Muslims undermine the (obvious) idea that Muslims are people just like Christians, Jews, Buddhists and atheists.
It is not acceptable for student groups to host an individual under the auspices that his or her presence creates opportunities for meaningful dialogue when the lecturer himself publicly demonizes those who speak out against his xenophobic perspectives. While Israeli’s ideas shouldn’t be censored, an explicit distinction should have been made between presenting his scholarship and endorsing his politics. Bringing Israeli to campus but failing to make this distinction constitutes an implicit endorsement of his anti-Muslim views. This is not the first time, however, that pro-Israel groups have hosted speakers with prejudiced views toward Islam. Pro-Israel academic Daniel Pipes and anti-Islam writer Brigitte Gabriel have all been invited within the last four years.
Israeli’s bigoted perspective on Islam is one that, in addition to being irresponsible, is already too widespread and accepted in our society. As a result, Muslim Americans and Muslims globally have been the victims of discrimination, ethnic cleansing and unjust incarceration. Giving intolerance yet another platform does nothing to encourage dialogue on these topics. As University students and as citizens of a global community, we must demand more from one another when it comes to discussing difficult, yet critical, issues. One need not look further than the University’s humanities departments for intelligent dissections of Islam, the Middle East and the broader role religion plays in our society.
We encourage students to examine the misrepresentation of both Muslims and Arabs by attending upcoming events organized to address these issues. Tonight at 6:30 p.m., the Arab Student Association will screen “Reel Bad Arabs” in the Rackham Amphitheatre, which will be followed by a discussion with director Dr. Jack Shaheen on representation of Arabs in Hollywood cinema. In addition, next week is Islam Awareness Week, which will feature several events designed to address pervasive misconceptions on Islam, including a short lecture by Dr. Yvonne Seon next Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Union Ballroom on the experience of being a black Muslim woman in America.
Ghida Dagher is the president of the Arab Student Association, Malvika Deshmukh is co-chair of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality and Afshan Khan is political chair of the Muslim Students’ Association.