Hateful speech cannot stand unchallenged

This week, student groups across the country are hosting speakers, panel discussions and film screenings as a part of the third annual nationwide Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week. Sponsored nationally by the Terrorism Awareness Project, Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week fuels the dangerous and hateful lie that Islam is a violent religion and undermines the values of tolerance that lie at the core of the Washington University community.

As a part of the week, our campus will play host to author and historian Daniel Pipes, a commentator whose views on Islam approach bigotry. Although he rightly believes that it is possible to fight terrorism by supporting moderate Muslims, Pipes has consistently ignored the reality that the vast majority of Muslims belong to this category. In an April 2007 column in the New York Sun, Pipes wrongfully asserted that moderate Muslims “constitute a very small movement when compared to the Islamist onslaught”; this statement is characteristic of the intolerant attitude that Pipes has consistently espoused in appearances at colleges around the country—and that he is likely to share tomorrow night.

Like all major religions, Islam leads its adherents along a path of value, service and faith—a fact to which Washington University students can testify through firsthand observation. Muslim students at the University are an integral part of our community and should be commended for their commitment to bringing together students of all faiths to facilitate religious dialogue. That a radical and miniscule faction has superficially cloaked itself with the rhetoric of an otherwise peaceful religion is a painful reality of contemporary society but not a reason to condemn that religion outright.

This year’s Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week is dedicated to raising awareness about the alleged radical Islamic presence on campus that chapters of the national Muslim Student Association (MSA) provide. On its Web site, the Terrorism Awareness Project makes the unsubstantiated claim that the MSA is “a hardcore radical political organization representing Muslims who support the jihad against the West and the destruction of the Jewish state.” On the contrary, at Washington University the MSA has consistently established itself as an organization guided by a desire to serve the community. One need only visit the MSA’s annual Fast-a-Thon to see the natural confluence of service, religious observance and inter-faith cooperation that defines the MSA’s existence.

Given Pipes’ history of hateful speech, it is likely that his appearance tomorrow night will be controversial and inflammatory. Though his opinions are steeped with intolerance, Student Life firmly rejects any a priori attempt to censor Pipes’ speech or opinions. However radical the message of Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, it is critical to the success of our nation’s democracy that the marketplace of ideas be allowed to function freely. It is important to remember that the only effective counterbalance to hate speech is more speech.

Encouraging open expression, however, is not a justification for passively accepting the ideas that are repulsive to any common sense of decency. Pipes’ lecture specifically includes an extended question-and-answer session—a unique forum for students to engage Pipes in discussion and to make known their opinions about a subject with critical global implications. It is incumbent upon the University community to parse Pipes’ message with a critical eye and to form an educated opinion that does not simply parrot the loudest ideologue within earshot.

Dr. Pipes, be cognizant of your audience and the reality that Washington University is not a campus faced with a daily threat from Islamic extremists. You have a venue to speak on the importance of building communities of moderates—take advantage of that, but be mindful of your message, and do not devolve into intolerance.

Students, do not let Pipes’ speech go unnoticed, and do not passively accept that which should be the source of vigorous debate. Attend Pipes’ speech, weigh his argument and challenge his ideas and their underlying implications. Most importantly, prove that acceptance and diversity are not merely empty promises, but rather values firmly embedded in our community.

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