You can criticize Hezbollah even in Saudi Arabia. You can attack Hamas even in Kuwait. But don't think of doing either at San Francisco State University (SFSU).
On Oct. 17, 2006, the tiny beleaguered local band of College Republicans organized an anti-terrorism rally. The students had made paper copies of Hamas and Hezbollah flags. At the rally, they trampled the flags underfoot.
And why not? Under American law, a publicly funded university like SFSU is considered a branch of the government. It must respect all the rights and freedoms protected by the U.S. Constitution and its local state constitution. The courts have repeatedly held that the constitutional right of free speech protects protest activities like the burning of the American flag. So if it's legal to burn the American flag, surely it must be legal to trample the flags of murderous terrorist organizations, right? Right? Right?
But that's not how modern universities act. To them, Old Glory may be barbecue starter, but a terrorist flag is a sacred symbol.
Prodded by the local Palestinian student group, SFSU's student government voted to condemn the College Republicans. The university then charged the College Republicans with "attempts to incite violence," "creating a hostile environment" and "acts of incivility." It set up a special committee to judge the charge--including two of the student council members who had already voted to condemn the College Republicans.
On March 15, the university held a formal hearing on the charges. If it finds against the College Republicans, they could face financial penalties or potentially the dissolution of their organization.
You might wonder: What on earth does the university think it is doing? Why is it according greater respect to the flags of Hamas and Hezbollah than it could (or would!) to the American flag?
The University explains that the two trampled flags contained the Arabic word, "Allah." According to university spokeswoman Ellen Griffin, "I don't believe that the complaint is about the desecration of the flag. I believe that the complaint is about the desecration of Allah." Oh really?
Imagine, for example, that the local Palestinian students association were to burn a Union Jack, as they regularly burn U.S. and Israeli flags. The Union Jack features a Christian cross. Four Christian crosses actually. Does anybody seriously imagine that the San Francisco State University would penalize them?
That's not exactly a rhetorical question.
Over the past half dozen years, campus radicalism in the United States has taken on an increasingly sectarian and anti-Semitic tone--and SFSU has been the scene of some of the worst offenses.
In April, 2002, Muslim students organized a pro-Palestinian rally on the SFSU campus. To advertise their event, they distributed a flyer with a picture of a dead baby alongside the words: "Canned Palestinian children meat--slaughtered according to Jewish rites under American license."
No disciplinary action was taken against the students: The groups that had printed the flyer did not even lose their university subsidy. The university president, Robert Corrigan, did send a letter of protest to the student groups, but if you read it (it's posted at www.sfsu.edu/~news/response/nohate.htm), you will I think be struck by its strangely apologetic, excuse-making tone:
In speaking as strongly as I have in this letter, I am doing no more than you asked--working to eliminate discrimination and combat racism. And this is just as much a protection for Muslims, Arabs, and Palestinians as it is for Jews and Israelis. I recognize that these are times of great anguish, as well as anger, and I know that one moment, one flier, does not define this group or its individual members.
The next month, Jewish students at SFSU organized a pro-Israel rally. After the rally ended, a small group of volunteers lingered to clean up. Suddenly they were swarmed by a much larger group of pro-Palestinian students. According to an eyewitness, the pro-Palestinian students shoved the Jewish students against the wall of the rally area and screamed anti-Semitic slogans. The Palestinian students demanded the lowering of an Israeli flag flying from a university building--and university officials hastened to comply. Again, no discipline was imposed.
There is obviously something profoundly wrong on American campuses--and not only American campuses, as the unhappy history of Canada's Concordia University reminds us. Apologists for terrorism receive maximum protection for the most vicious bigotry, for menace and intimidation, and even outright violence. Yet that zeal for free speech vanishes altogether when opponents of terrorism engage in much, much milder forms of protest. This goes beyond double standards. It is a moral collapse.
The SFSU College Republicans will prevail in the end. Even if the university sanctions them, those sanctions will be appealed to federal court and swiftly overturned. It is the universities for whom we should worry. They lack the courage to defend the freedom without which they cannot live.
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