WU condemns removal of 9/11 commemorative flags as SU vice president Alkilani defends actions amid calls for disciplinary measures

and | Managing Editor and Editor-in-Chief
Two rows of roughly six-inch tall American flags stand on grass, casting shadows.

American flags line Mudd Field for a 9/11 commemoration in 2014. (Photo by Mary Richardson | Student Life)

Washington University condemned the removal of 9/11 commemorative flags from Mudd Field in a statement Saturday night but declined to say whether Student Union Vice President of Finance Fadel Alkilani, who removed the flags, would face disciplinary measures.

The condemnation came as the president of the Washington University College Republicans called for Alkilani’s expulsion from the University or other punishment and as national conservative media outlets have picked up the story.

The College Republicans had placed the 2,977 flags Friday night, with each representing a victim of the 9/11 attacks. Sophomore Nathaniel Hope saw Alkilani removing the flags on Saturday morning and started filming a video, which showed Alkilani holding multiple plastic bags containing American flags and which has circulated widely.

[See our coverage of Chancellor Andrew Martin’s Sunday evening message to the University community]

Alkilani defended his actions in a statement Saturday night, clarifying his intent to critique the Islamophobia and American military interventions that followed the 9/11 attacks. 

“Any memorial of 9/11 that does not contend with these facts is not only incomplete, but it also amplifies pro-imperialist sentiment and actively disrespects those who have died because of American Invasion,” Alkilani wrote.

He also decried misinformation being spread about Saturday’s events.

“My planned protest was to place the bags of flags on Mudd Field, along with various statistics explaining the human cost of 9/11 in the past 20 years,” Alkilani wrote. “On the sides of the bags, some writing may be visible, but the full statement was not outlined at the time of the video. I did not deface, destroy, damage, nor steal any flags, nor did I interfere with any registered event time. I assert that I did not violate any University Code of Conduct policy, though the conduct process is undergoing.” 

In a statement Vice Chancellor for Marketing and Communications Julie Flory emailed to Student Life Saturday night, the University did not say whether Alkilani would face consequences. “We were disappointed to learn about the disruption to the 9/11 display on Mudd Field,” the statement read. “We condemn the interference with the expression of support by the College Republicans for the victims of the national tragedy that took place 20 years ago today.”

College Republicans president junior Nick Rodriguez also condemned Alkilani’s actions, writing in a statement to Student Life that Alkilani had “made a mockery of one of the most somber days in American history.” 

“At minimum, I believe he should be removed from both SU and his [resident advisor] position, as what does it say to be a top American institution, and have yourself represented by a student leader who has no respect for property, campus traditions or the remembrance of thousands of lost lives,” Rodriguez wrote. “Today is about remembering the tragedy, 20 years ago to the day, not to make a political statement. Any reason he can conjure to remove the flags I find ludicrous.”

In his statement, Alkilani described experiencing verbal and physical harassment by both students and WUPD officers, which he said he would report through official channels. He added a note that his case is not unique.

“Muslims such as I have faced fear, harassment and Islamophobia from those who unjustly use the victims of 9/11 as a political cudgel,” Alkilani wrote. “Those who died during 9/11 deserve better than to be used as a political tool by those who seek to excuse American imperialism and Islamophobia.”

In the University’s statement, which did not mention Alkilani by name, administrators said the removal of the flags was “not on behalf of the University or a University-sponsored organization,” adding that “we value freedom of expression in all forms and will work to ensure that all students are able to express their points of view through appropriate channels without disrupting the rights of others to show support for causes they care about. This is a critical component of our core values and we are committed to facilitating free speech on our campus.”

Junior Reagan Steirn was one of a group of people who had gathered with a large American flag on Mudd Field outside the Knight Center Saturday evening. “I’m livid,” she said, citing the number of University community members with direct ties to the events of 9/11. “With a leadership role, someone doing those actions and showing his disrespect will just allow other students on campus to do the same thing, when in this situation it’s just not okay to do that.”

Other students were less sure of what should happen to Alkilani. “It’s not fair for there to be a completely negative reaction without any understanding of why the flags were being taken down,” junior Renee Austin said. “It can’t be a one-sided conversation. You have to consider the big picture of 9/11 and the impact that that event has had on so many different things since then,” Austin said, pointing to widespread Islamophobia and other lasting effects of the attacks.

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