Conflict and Hope on Campus
From: Andrew Getraer
Originally sent October 2, 2014 at 7:26 PM
Subject: Urgent Hillel Update
Dear Friends of Rutgers Hillel:
We held an event this week that has caused much controversy and will be featured on Fox News TONIGHT at 9 PM – TheMegyn Kelly Show. TUNE IN.
This past Tuesday night the Rutgers Hillel Center for Israel Engagement sponsored an event, “Examining Human Rights Violations Against Minorities in the Islamist World” A Discussion with Brooke Goldstein and Dr. Qanta Ahmed. A letter protesting the event was published in the campus paper, the Daily Targum, the day before. I personally received dozens of hate filled messages, calling me a racist, a white supremacist, an islamaphobe, etc. Dozens of posts to our Facebook event called on us to cancel the event.
The event went on as planned. Powerful and compelling issues regarding human rights abuses throughout the Middle East were discussed. The most honest dialogue I have ever seen between Jewish and Muslim students occurred. And it has ramifications.
The speakers, Brooke Goldstein and Dr. Qanta Ahmed presented powerful testimony. Ms. Goldstein is a human rights attorney,award-winning filmmaker, and director of The Lawfare Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to issues regarding abuse of Western legal systems and human rights law. She has been featured in several media, including CNN, FoxNews, The New York Sun, Defense Technology International, and WABC News Talk Radio, and has been published in a variety of sources, including The New York Daily News, Commentary Magazine, The American Spectator, The Counter Terrorist Magazine, and others.
Dr. Ahmed, daughter of Pakistani immigrants to Britain, physician, devout Muslim, and human rights activist, is a frequent contributor to a variety of international media, including BBC World Service, Voice of America, NPR, CNN, Fox, C-Span, and Al Arabiya. She has been published in The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, the Jerusalem Post, Ha’aretz, Pakistan’s The Daily Times, Gulf News, The Times of Israel, and the World Policy Journal. Her first book, “In the Land of Invisible Women” details her experience of living and working in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The presenters were exceptional: reasoned, articulate, compassionate – but no tip toeing around the issues. It was a powerful and moving experience, before a standing-room-only crowd of students, about half Jews and half Muslim. The speakers clearly and sensitively differentiated between the term ‘Islamist’ and Islam/Muslim. They testified to their own experiences living, working, and researching in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Palestinian territories, under the rule of Muslim religious extremists. The litany of child abuse and oppression of women and minorities was tragic and chilling. For over 2 hours students sat in rapt attention, and it was conducted with civility.
Then came the Q&A, filled with shouting, anger, and discord. Not a single student addressed the litany of tragedy and human rights violations which had been described to them in detail for two hours. The lack of any concern for the serious human rights issues presented was notable and disappointing.
Instead, many Muslim students focused entirely on attacking the speakers personally. Hillel’s student Israel Chair had been facilitating the event, but eventually I had to step in and restore order. I had the police remove one student who began shouting anti-Zionist epithets. Both Dr. Ahmed and Ms. Goldstein, shocked and insulted, got up and left unceremoniously.
Following the formal program, however, several Muslim students stayed at Hillel and continued discussions with a group of Jewish students for an hour. These students expressed their feelings that the overall experience was extremely positive. I was very proud of our students and that Hillel facilitates such discussion.
- In this era of instant global communication, comments pro and con have been flying all over Twitter, reaching tens of thousands of people.
- Other online commentaries are springing up even as I type.
The controversy is sure to continue. Some students have already called the Office of Student Life to condemn us. It’s easier to attack Hillel than to deal with the human rights issues related to Islamic extremism. The irony, of course, is that the victims of such extremism are almost entirely innocent Muslims themselves.
Ultimately, Hillel created a safe space for students to engage with challenging issues in a serious way – they struggled, persevered, and ran with it. We hope to continue at the Jewish-Muslim Dinner, Sunday October 12th in the Hillel sukkah next to Brower Dining Hall, co-sponsored The New Jersey Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee, the Sisterhood of Shalom Saalam, and The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding,
That is what the campus, and Hillel, is all about.
Executive Director, Rutgers Hillel