Geert Wilders’ visit to set off a domino effect’s worth of emotions, speech, debate and hate-mail.
“I know that some of you here were very much against me speaking tonight, and to those that opposed me coming here, I would to like to quote the very famous British author George Orwell,” Wilders said in his opening, “‘If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.’”
It’s not that Temple students didn’t want Wilders to exercise his right to “tell people what they do not want to hear,” but they didn’t want to hear hateful rhetoric, which – instead of proposing a diplomatic solution – proposed the eradication of a religious group. Not to mention they didn’t want Temple to be the first United States institution to let him do so.
Advertisement for the event upset students, with its “no backpack” policy, written by TUPurpose Chairperson Brittany Walsh, a senior social work major.
“We were bringing a speaker whose life is at risk every single day, so this was set up for his safety,” Walsh said.
Walsh may not have understood students’ concern for the safety issue, but the real issue students had was with Wilders’ statements.
Wilders claims to make a distinction between “the people and the ideology” of Islam, but when he spouts hateful statements, such as “Western culture is far better than the Islamic culture, and we should defend it,” he counteracts his alleged distinction. It marks the people who practice the Islamic faith as the enemy, giving these defenders of the West someone to wrongfully hate.
Throughout his speech, Wilders warned against the Islamic “threat to freedom” while being observed by the namesake of the organization, the David Horowitz Freedom Center, who paid to have him speak.
The event, albeit controversial, wouldn’t have caused as much of a commotion had it not been for Horowitz exacerbating the situation when he posted the e-mail address of Temple Muslim Student Association’s president, Monira Gamal-Eldin, on his Web site Oct. 15.
As a result, the senior international business and risk management major received hate mail in her inbox.
Despite receiving messages like, “go back to the sandbox you came from,” Eldin is soldiering on and working on an upcoming event to help people understand the meaning of Islam.
“He’s demonizing a group of people, making us feel like we are the enemy when we’ve been raised in these countries, when we’ve been part of the American society,” she said. “That’s where the line between free speech and hate speech comes into play.”
And Wilders definitely comes across as trying to demonize Muslims. In his anti-Islamic documentary, Fitna, Wilders presents the growth of the number of Muslim citizens in the Netherlands from 1909 to 2004 in a bar graph. The increasing bars treat the growth of the Muslim population as an awful epidemic, essentially dehumanizing them.
Wilders uses the Muslim immigration to Europe throughout the years to gain notoriety and exploit the fear of a sector of European society, said William Hitchcock, chair of the history department.
“A few Western Europeans, especially politicians, view immigration as a wedge issue,” Hitchcock said. “They don’t know how to deal with it.”
“There are few people who will exploit that concern and fear for a [political purpose], and this guy is merely one of them,” he added.
What ever the political reasons for his claims, the fact is Wilders made hateful and threatening statements toward a group of people that makes up part of Temple’s student body.
Although some students shouted personal opinions instead of asking questions at the event, many impassioned attendees did everything in their power to engage Wilders in dialogue and defend Islam.
In doing so, Temple students proved they were aware of his tactics and that hate is not a value with which Temple will be associated.
Josh Fernandez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.