American universities are often portrayed as bastions of free speech, but my experience at Pace University painted me a different picture.
Recently, my chapter of the Jewish organization Hillel, of which I serve as president, decided to hold a “Jewish Awareness Week,” a week of events relating to Judaism. As part of the activities, we wanted to show the film Obsession, a documentary that chronicles the influence of radical Islam in the Middle East.
The film is careful to distinguish adherents of radical Islam from most Muslims, and I hoped to convey that we had no intention of promoting anti-Muslim views. With that intention, three weeks before the screening of the film I contacted the campus Muslim group, the Muslim Student Association (MSA). I notified them that we were going to show the film and have a panel of speakers discuss the film before and after it was viewed. I also offered the MSA an opportunity to collaborate with us and invited them to bring a speaker of their choice.
Despite taking these precautions, two weeks later I heard rumors that the Dean, Dr. Marijo Russell O'Grady, wanted to pull the plug on the film. Concerned, I made an appointment to see the dean and the head of the student organizations on campus, David Clark, one week before the event. Mere minutes into our conversation, Dean O'Grady “warned” me that because of the recent “hate crimes” that were committed against the Koran at our school -- on September 19, a Koran was found in a library toilet on campus -- my organizations could expect to incur similar charges for showing the film. (Interestingly, while hate crimes were committed against the Muslim religion and the Jewish religion, school administrators showed concern only for the sensibilities of Muslim students.) I was informed that, were I to show the film, the police would get involved and begin to look into my personal record.
That was not the end of it. Four days later, a “mediation meeting” took place. The Dean, David Clark, two representatives from the Affirmative Action office and two professional mediators were called. The president and secretary of the MSA were also present. I was the only one present for Hillel.
There was a good reason for the meeting. Earlier, the MSA had sent Hillel several angry and hateful emails. These emails attacked not only our group, but also our religion. The meeting itself, however, proved very far from constructive. The president of the MSA member spoke first. More accurately, she proceeded to berate me, shouting for 10 minutes, until I finally asked her to stop. Although one of the mediators noted that she was out of line, the six administrators that were present made excuses for her behavior. But when I tried to speak up in defense of the film and our club I was physically restrained in my seat. David Clark, who was sitting next to me, twice put his hand on my shoulder to silence me.
But the more important issue was that no one no one from the administration, or the MSA for that matter, had ever seen Obsession. Thus they had no way of knowing what it was truly about. I offered them the opportunity to view the film and both the MSA and the administration turned it down. They didn't want to hear anything that I had to say because they felt the film would only give the school more bad press. Their solution? To put on joint events that would focus on "eco-terrorism.”
No doubt this issue deserves attention. But I am not sure that it was "eco-terrorism" that took down the World Trade Towers; blew up two buses in London; held a school hostage in Russia and continuously kills tens of thousands of people throughout the world. Radical Islam is the cause and to ignore it, to silence those who want to educate themselves, is not going to make it go away.
One might think that university administrators could appreciate such a stance. At Pace, one would be sadly mistaken.
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