Pace University: Free Speech Finally Wins Out
There is some good news.
Last fall, Pace University student Michael Abdurakhmanov tried to hold a screening of Obsession, a documentary about radical Islam, on his campus. Hoping to show that Islam is home to moderates as well as extremists, and that it is important to distinguish between the two camps, he unexpectedly found himself beset by opposition. Muslim students angrily rejected the idea. University administrators took an even harder line, with the school’s dean ominously warning Abdurakhmanov that showing the film could be considered a “hate crime,” and intimating, less than subtly, that police might be invited to sift through his personal record.All to the good, we might say.
Now Abdurakhmanov has received restitution in a big way. Not only has Pace president David Caputo tendered a personal apology to Abdurakhmanov for the school’s strong-arm tactics, but yesterday marked the first-ever “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Day,” a nationwide effort to call attention to the threat of militant Islam by holding a mass-screening of the film that Abdurakhmanov’s school, quite literally, didn’t want him to see: Obsession. In total, 96 colleges and universities, among them Pace University, Columbia, Duke, and other prominent schools, together with three high schools and two military bases, showed the film. . . .
But free speech isn’t as robust on college campuses as that might suggest.
Even as many schools successfully screened the film, many students found themselves pressured -- and in some cases openly harassed -- to cancel the event. They resisted, and showed the film anyway.We want to know: when is the film going to be shown at Marquette?
Josiah Lanning, a student at Ohio’s Columbus State Community College, offered one such story. Lanning recounted that his attempt to show the Obsession was nearly frustrated by the head of his school’s student activities center, which is in charge of such events. Even though he took pains to fill out the proper paperwork for the event, the center repeatedly intervened. First, Lanning was admonished for his proposed flyer for the event, which had the indelicacy to point out that terrorist groups like Hezbollah committed, well, terrorism. Forced to replace the flyers, Lanning was next told to suspend the film until further notice due, incongruously, to this week’s massacre at Virginia Tech.
One professor, meanwhile, wrote Lanning an abusive email, berating him for showing a film that, as she saw it, creates “barriers to acceptance of any Muslim person,” and judging his motives “suspect” because of the event’s connection to David Horowitz. (“David Horowitz is insulting to me and to my colleagues,” the professor pompously informed him.) Only after Lanning appealed to the dean of students at the college was he at last allowed to proceed with the showing.
College Republicans at the University of New Haven in Connecticut, who also showed the film, had a similar experience. Cassie Sgro, a student who helped organize the event, said that some students and faculty members worried that showing the film would encourage harassment against Muslim and foreign students. Sgro disagreed. “The point of the film is to separate innocent people in the religion from the radical minority,” she told them.
Carl Soderberg, chair of the school’s College Republicans chapter, encountered similar resistance. “There were some faculty members who pressured me to postpone the film until they could find someone who ‘could properly frame the issue,’” he recalled. (Soderberg confessed that he was unsure what was meant by this, but was unwilling to put it to the test.)
Ruth Malhotra, a student at Georgia Tech and a member of the school’s College Republicans chapter, had perhaps the most difficult time winning the right to show Obsession. Among the hurdles erected by the school, Malhotra listed the fact that an ad for the event placed by the College Republicans was “censored” by the campus newspaper (a second ad was later published as submitted). In addition, she faced regular interference by opposed faculty and school administrators, boycotts and counter-demonstrations from left-wing student groups -- and even death threats designed to prevent the screening. Of Obsession’s subject -- radical Islam -- Malhotra understatedly observed: “It’s an issue that ignites a lot of passion and opposition.” Be that as it may, Malhotra, who spent much of the day under police protection, has no regrets about trying to show the film. “It’s important for students to know that violent Islamic extremism does pose a threat to our way of life, and to challenge that threat we have to understand what it is we’re up against.”
And a prediction: the same crowd that was keen to present “The Vagina Monologues” will want it censored.