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Troublemaking Dissenters at Palestinian Solidarity Week

“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.”

It’s interesting that Javed introduces Islam into this story when the literature in question doesn’t mention it. While the flier described by the Diamondback apparently depicts two Palestinian Muslims, it does not logically follow that the flier is a commentary on Islam in general. Furthermore, if  Javed makes a distinction between politics and Islam, the de facto government of the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza certainly does not. “Hamas” is an Arabic acronym standing for the “Islamic Resistance.” The first article of the Hamas charter states: “The movement’s program is Islam. From it, it draws its ideas, ways of thinking and understanding of the universe, life and man. It resorts to it for judgment in all its conduct, and it is inspired by it for guidance of its steps.” It is a basic point of fact that the elected leadership of the Palestinians in Gaza considers religion and politics synonymous, hence an event proclaiming solidarity with the Palestinians implies at least tacit approval of the fusion of Islam and politics and the violent methods used to promulgate the resultant ideology. This apparent endorsement is confirmed by the presence of speakers such as  Saalakhan, who has been an open apologist for Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

An event titled “What Would MLK Say About Gaza?” highlights the depraved and hypocritical atmosphere of Palestinian Solidarity Week. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life was a testament to non-violence in an era when other black leaders such as Malcolm X openly embraced militancy. Indeed, if the Palestinians had emulated the peaceful resistance methods of Dr. King over the past four decades they would by now undoubtedly possess the state they supposedly long to establish in the West Bank and Gaza. Instead, they have chosen a path of religious extremism, brazen violence against civilians, and ultimately self-destruction.

As for Dr. King’s views on the conflict, it is unlikely that Dr. King ever spoke or thought much about Gaza. Indeed, for most of his tragically shortened adult life Gaza was an annexed territory of Egypt and the appellation “Palestinian” was not yet commonly used to describe Arab Muslims in the region. But he is on the record about Israel. In a 1968 appearance at Harvard University, he said: “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews, you are talking anti-Semitism.” Thus it seems doubtful that he would associate himself with the explicit anti-Zionist politics promulgated at Palestinian Solidarity Week if he were alive today.

The police appear to have been the only rational actors in this overblown University of Maryland fiasco, deferring to the Constitution instead of the hurt feelings of pro-Palestinian students whose own actions buttress an ideology that regularly manifests itself in violence against civilians across the world. Furthermore, the university’s spineless groveling before the offended students was an affront to the free speech rights of the rest of the student body and the community at large. Universities are the soft underbelly of the First Amendment; they foster a “politically correct” atmosphere where bureaucratic fiat trumps free political expression.

At the height of the Maryland affair, Clement lamented that “[the posters] made a number of our students feel very uncomfortable.” Ms. Clement, our university students should expect to feel uncomfortable when contemplating one of the most controversial political conflicts of our time, and it is certainly not the role of your administration to shield them from their own feelings.

Indeed, there are few subjects worth discussing that do not offend some segment of the population. The role of a university should be to expose students to a variety of perspectives and provide a relatively objective venue for discourse. Instead, our college campuses have become a preserve of reactionary liberal orthodoxy, with facile phrases like “diversity” belying an oppressive ideological conformity. Students should have a right to organize a “Palestinian Solidarity Week,” and other students should have a right to freely express their opposition to such an event. The dissenters certainly should not be treated as troublemakers — criminal provocateurs whose dangerous words and images are worthy of censorship — for simply exercising their First Amendment rights. After all, we are talking about fliers, not bombs.