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Duke's Terror Odyssey By: Nathan Carleton
Duke Chronicle | Tuesday, September 21, 2004

When President Richard Brodhead announced his decision to allow the 2004 Palestine Solidarity Movement conference at Duke, he called it an “easy” one. Last week, he heard three big reasons why it shouldn’t have been.

First, it’s now clear that the views expressed at the conference will be of the most hateful and offensive nature possible. As the Duke Conservative Union’s Sept. 14 advertisement in The Chronicle revealed, previous PSM speakers have publicly advocated suicide bombing, attacks against civilians and terrorism. The PSM’s reaction to the DCU ad was revealing—spokesperson Fayyad Sbaihat dismissed his own speakers’ quotations as having been “taken out of context.” One wonders if Brodhead has inquired as to the proper context of statements like: “Why is there something particularly horrible about ‘suicide bombing’—except for the extreme dedication conveyed in the resistance fighter's willingness to use his or her own body to fight?,” as last year’s original conference organizer Charlotte Kates told a journalist last year.

Second, Brodhead should now know that the PSM conference will stifle free speech. According to reporter Lee Kaplan, last year’s conference-goers were searched with metal detectors. Last week, Kaplan said that a Duke administrator told him the University won’t prevent the PSM from doing the same this year. So far, no one from Duke has challenged Kaplan’s reporting nor explained how banning recording devices could contribute to the “dialogue” the PSM conference was supposed to foster.

Ben Rubinfeld then voiced the third criticism of the PSM when he identified it as the student arm of the International Solidarity Movement: an organization that recruits American students to work as human shields for Palestinian terrorist organizations. The links between the PSM and ISM are undeniable. For one, ISM co-founder Adam Shapiro spoke at the 2002 PSM conference, where participants formalized support for the ISM. And it’s also worth nothing that local PSM spokesman Rann Bar-On, a graduate student in mathematics, was identified on the syllabus for the Duke House Course “Nonviolent Activism in Israel & Palestine” as an “ISM activist.”

Sbaihat’s earlier claim that there is “no link” between the PSM and the ISM is an outright falsehood. Even the section on Duke’s website set up to defend the conference calls the PSM and ISM “related.” That Duke would sanction a PSM conference knowing this is shocking, for the ISM’s stated purpose in recruiting Americans to risk their lives overseas is publicity. As ISM co-founder George Rishmawi has said: “When Palestinians get shot by Israeli soldiers, no one is interested anymore. But if some of these foreign volunteers get shot or even killed, then the international media will sit up and take notice.”

Brodhead has responded to every criticism of the PSM conference the same way. He has abstractly discussed “free speech” and “dialogue” and implied that those challenging his decision support censorship. This response is neither logical nor appropriate.

Just nine days ago, Brodhead condemned terrorism and violence around the world during remarks at the Sept. 11 memorial. He can certainly do the same with a group whose speakers advocate terrorism and murder and won’t condemn suicide bombings.

Moreover, Brodhead’s own words contradict his above-the-fray stance. Consider his response to Tuesday’s DCU ad: “The deepest principle involved is not even the principle of free speech. It’s the principle of education through dialogue.”

By drawing a distinction between the legal right of “free speech” and the supposed good of “education through dialogue,” Brodhead has already made a value judgment about the PSM conference. In short, he is not just allowing the conference to take place, he is supporting it. If he is authorized to publicly support something, then he is certainly authorized to publicly oppose it.

The concept of “dialogue” has become a red herring in this debate. Not only is it acceptable for a University president to take a stand against a group this deviant, it is necessary. Brodhead should have never approved the PSM conference in the first place, and he owes it to the entire Duke community to denounce it.

Nathan Carleton is a Trinity senior and president of the Duke Conservative Union.

Nathan Carleton is a Trinity senior and president of the Duke Conservative Union.

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