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Troublemaking Dissenters at Palestinian Solidarity Week

Does showing the face of Hamas to university students represent "hate speech"?

by
Adam Savit

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April 24, 2009 - 12:00 am
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“Christians, Jews, and Muslims have a right to live in equality. But Israel has no more right to exist than the apartheid [had].”

These words were spoken by Mauri’ Saalakhan, the author of the book The Palestinians’ Holocaust: American Perspectives. Saalakhan was invited to speak at the University of Maryland’s Palestinian Solidarity Week last month. Jewish students, supporters of Israel, and rational Americans in general may justifiably find these words inflammatory, hateful, or even morbidly ironic, yet it was not Saalakhan’s speech that earned the condemnation of the university administration along with a criminal investigation instigated by the university’s president. Rather, it was the fliers posted protesting Saalakhan’s appearance that caused such an acute disturbance.

A member of the Muslim Students Association called the posters “Islamophobic” and other students described them as “menacing.” The university’s Diamondback newspaper characterized students who were unfortunate enough to lay eyes on the “propaganda” posters as “victims,” yet this was the scariest description they could muster:

One such flier depicted a woman, wearing a traditional Muslim burqa and holding an AK-47 in one hand and a bomb-toting baby in the other. “What did she teach her child today?” was written above the picture.

Note that no one is disputing the authenticity of the photograph’s content. Sadly, images of Palestinian parents grooming their children for resistance and “martyrdom”are widely accessible on the Internet. Apparently, the disturbing aspect of this flier was not the scene itself — a mother shamelessly using her child as political fodder — but that this authentic image was allowed to confront the sensitive university students with some of the less noble aspects of the Palestinian resistance during the sacrosanct Palestinian Solidarity Week.

University of Maryland police halted their investigation after determining that no crime had been committed, with a police spokesman calling the fliers “free speech … plain and simple.” Despite this legal exculpation, the fliers were declared to be in violation of the university’s free speech policy, with Vice President for Student Affairs Linda Clement saying, “There’s such a thing as free speech, but when you post things anonymously and make others feel threatened, that’s not free speech.”

Yet this university condemnation was not sufficient for the students behind Palestinian Solidarity Week. They said they were shocked by the amount of hate the fliers emitted even if they weren’t against the law. One organizer, Sana Javed, promised to keep up the pressure on the university to “make sure it’s not put on the back burner.”

“There is a difference between free speech and hate speech,” said Ms. Javed. “They [the fliers] were an irrelevant commentary on Islam, but we were talking about politics.”

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