By Hammad Khan
Nonie Darwish has written: “Those who take time to read the Qur’an and Hadith and want to follow the example of Muhammad cannot help but be terrorists.”
The dehumanization and demonization of an entire religious tradition, the perpetuation of stereotypes, and the hateful rhetoric employed against Muslims in this statement is appalling – yet Mrs. Darwish, who has also described the Qur’an as “violent, incendiary, and disrespectful,” was hosted by CSBT on March 1 to speak on “Cruel and Unusual: Islamic Law, Women, and Minority Rights”.
Other than a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Anthropology, I am unaware of Mrs. Darwish’s academic and/or legal qualifications to speak on Islamic jurisprudence. Even worse may be her personal disposition as she has engaged in demonstrable misrepresentations and falsities regarding Islam.
Furman’s decision to grant CLP approval to a person of fear, hate, and Islamophobia has shocked many on campus, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The speaker does not represent the Furman spirit of civil discourse, good will, and intellectual honesty – the environment that such people help to foster is antithetical to diversity. Recently, Muslim students have started offering Friday prayers, Jummah, in Daniel Chapel. Such are the ideals of interfaith respect that the Furman community is striving to foster.
However, Nonie Darwish is the embodiment of values that directly clashes with the values we stand for, as Muslims, as Furman students, and most importantly, as human beings.
The Muslim Student Association (MSA) protested peacefully outside the venue where Nonie Darwish spoke. Other Furman students supported MSA’s efforts against bigotry and hateful rhetoric. The protest was not against Mrs. Darwish’s or CSBT’s freedom of speech – a right we all cherish and protect. It was against the discrepancy between the CLP mission and values and the evident lack of educational value of the event, the bigotry and the hateful rhetoric of the speaker.
Civil discourse, a core Furman value, has a tenet of responsibility – responsibility to participate in good will through speakers who embody Furman values and are qualified and willing to approach the issues objectively.
CSBT’s mission of “contribution to a vibrant discussion of ideas” necessitates responsible participation and engagement, which the speaker hardly achieved, evident by her generalizations of Muslims as a monolithic group of people.
Islamic Law (Fiqh) is a topic of extreme significance, and Muslim students are open to its legitimate criticism. The MSA is committed to educating the Furman community on such aspects of the religious tradition. However, it is a topic which is immensely complex as well. It would be an inherent responsibility of the organizers and the CLP approval process to ensure a qualified and objective speaker.
Both the organizers and the CLP approval process failed. CSBT presented a speaker who is the epitome of Islamophobia. The CLP board saw academic, cultural or general educational value in the event and gave it CLP status.
Under the leadership of President Smolla, Furman University has sharpened its focus on diversity. As attempts to diversify the student body increase, it should be remembered that the intrinsic value of diversity lies not in mere differences, but in the recognition, tolerance, and respect for such differences. The disrespect of such differences and perpetuation of stereotypes against Muslims were evident by Mrs. Darwish’s talk and a strong sense of Islamophobia in the room following the talk.
Mrs. Darwish repeatedly categorized all Muslims with the likes of Osama bin Laden, insinuating a communal guilt on all Muslims for the September 11 attacks, even including those sitting in the room. Under such personal attacks, students in support of the MSA reacted calmly, and it was a proud Furman moment as these students, non-Muslim and Muslim alike, stood up against bigotry and accusations in the true spirit of interfaith understanding and humanity.
As we reflect on such attacks on diversity, we should recognize the responsibility of not mere dissent, but the need to engage with the fundamental human questions at Furman. There may not be definite answers to questions of standardization of qualifications of speakers, CLP criteria, classification of bigotry and as such.
Moreover, the recognition of such complexity must not lead to marginalization of minority groups on campus, but respect for human dignity must serve as the standard for any and all.
Human dignity is intrinsic in every secular ideology and religious tradition represented at Furman through different student groups. It is such a thread of humanity which forms the basis of not only civil discourse, but of discourse itself. In the absence of any such recognition, the community actively degenerates in to a fragmented society, instead of being the celebration of diversity on campus.