Wash. U. community transforms the Pipes visit

| Op-Ed Submission

I have never been prouder to be a member of the Washington University community than on the late evening of Oct. 21, 2008. To object to Dr. Daniel Pipes speaking on our campus, we stood—all 55 of us—outside the Lab Sciences building, in the autumn breeze beginning to turn chilly, and celebrated the openness, the diversity and the tolerance that characterizes Washington University. I looked around myself and saw young, bright, thoughtful and informed people. Even as Dr. Pipes, who has warned America against the dangerous habits of the “Brown People” and considers 15 percent of the Muslims to be radicals ready to take over the world, spoke in the hall, we busied ourselves with totally different matters. Many faculty members and even more students, one after the other, highlighted the need for peace, our commitment to each other and our respect for possible differences we may have.

There were no chairs and, to make matters worse, some people had dressed for warmer weather. But no one seemed to care. First, a young man spoke, presenting careful quotes from Dr. Pipes to let everyone know what it was we were objecting to. Yes, we were all dedicated to the freedom of speech. But hateful speech can incite violence (just as the recent distribution of the movie “Obsession” in Ohio was followed by attacks on a Mosque). An off-campus participant, who introduced himself as a local Egyptian American, thanked the Safe Zone representative who had brought a message of support from the LGBT community. He said, as a Muslim, “I would like to express my support for the safety of the gay community because tolerance cannot be a selective gift. It has to be extended to every single member of the community.” There was applause.

By the time my turn came to speak, I was already energized with the warmth emanating from the group. No one had been angry. No one had said anything nasty about Dr. Pipes. No one had even spoken with a slightly raised voice. It was all about making sure everyone was allowed into the safe zone of a community free to extend its umbrella of safety. I looked at the young and bright faces forming a semi-circle around me and said, “You are the hearts and minds of tomorrow!” I don’t even know how I thought of the metaphor, but it made perfect sense. I was looking at the face, rather faces, of tomorrow—the tomorrow I was hoping to see. I said that the invitation to Dr. Pipes and the distribution of free copies of the film “Obsession” happened because Missouri is a swing state, and we are about two weeks away from the election. Our real problems, I added, are world poverty, rampant corporate greed, the economic crisis and the climate change. “These are the problems we need to solve to save the planet in our safekeeping. And to solve these global problems,” I concluded, “we need each other’s help, not hate.”

Many others spoke, including a Jewish student anxious to point out that hate speech against Muslims should not be done in the name of support for Israel. “This is not right,” she insisted, “and [it] is not going to help Israel.” Then others spoke. I cannot describe every one, but I must mention the soft-spoken Muslim student in an elegant hat and scarf. She shared the recent memory of praying in an interfaith camp. “The water had run out,” she said. “And Jewish and Christian women brought us water in jugs so we [could] perform our ablution before the prayer.” She told us that that gift of water transformed her prayer.

“I do not know what you achieved inside the hall where you spoke, Dr. Pipes” I thought on the way home. “But out here, on the lawn, we came together and celebrated the tolerance and diversity which has given Washington University a distinct character. I do not know how you define yourself either. But we know we are the faces of tomorrow!”

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