A group’s speakers on campus brought about a protest.
Dean of Students Stephanie Ives foreshadowed the inevitable contention in Kiva Auditorium at the Islamic Apartheid Conference, sponsored by Temple University Students for Intellectual Freedom, yesterday, April 23.
“I ask you all to keep the principles of free speech and civil discourse in mind tonight,” Ives urged the packed auditorium prior to the conference’s start.
Featuring controversial panelists Robert Spencer, director of the blog “Jihad Watch,” Pamela Geller, former-Muslim Nonie Darwish and Sudanese refugee Simon Deng, the conference addressed issues such as honor killing and Jihad in the Arab-world, and specifically focused on Islam’s contribution to said issues.
TUSIF, formerly TU Purpose, has hosted Spencer, Geller and Darwish at past events.
Claiming the religion is an oppressive, violent force in a global discussion, Spencer and Geller specifically have been the subject of heated debate, and have often been referred to as anti-Muslim.
“We have a variety speakers [tonight] who will explore how Islamic law, in its traditional formulations… is an instrument for the oppression of women, non-Muslims and even non-Arabs,” said Spencer in his introduction.
In the week leading up to the event, the panelists’ presence garnered outrage from several campus and non-campus groups, including Occupy Philadelphia, Occupy Temple, and Students for Justice in Palestine.
To express their discontent, students and community members organized protest efforts that involved a pre-event rally and walk-out.
Sara Mohamed, a junior psychology major and officer of the Muslim Students Association, said she considered the conference a complete disregard of Muslim student’s rights, and was unsettled that her own university would host such an event.
“I saw this as being a flagrant violation of our rights…hate speech is not welcome here, and we want to make that loud and clear with this demonstration,” Mohamed said. “Temple is condoning this without saying so.”
As protesters filed in, the conference began with remarks from the TUSIF president and founder, Alvaro Watson, who addressed the discontent and began the conference with aggressive responses to protesting Muslim students. Amidst heckling and jeers, Robert Spencer took the microphone and grew visibly frustrated, as challenging yells from the audience consistently drowned his remarks out.
“Why are you being so rude? Why don’t you respect my freedom to speak?” yelled Spencer, as protesters stood and filed out mid-way through his discussion.
The activists, many holding signs reading, “The Muslims are coming!” and “Robert Spencer’s Hate Speech Inspires Mass Murder,” congregated outside of Ritter Annex to rally as the conference continued indoors.
Inside Kiva auditorium, Pamela Geller, co-founder of the Stop Islamization of America, spoke on the oppression of women that, she said, is often a sanction of Islamic practices under the Sharia law.
As the audience continued to challenge her, Geller pushed forward with talk of honor killings, genital mutilation and other practices undergone by Muslim women.
“My concern is the growing dehumanization and diminishment of women in the west under the Sharia,” said Geller, adding, “If you are silent, then you are an accomplice.”
Amidst rising tensions, the panelists’ question-and-answer session elicited confrontations between presenters and attendees, as well as within the audience. As the volume increased, Spencer continued to denounce audience members.
“This is a university; doesn’t anyone know how to think anymore?” Spencer yelled to the restless crowd. “Are there no discussions here? Are you all just automatons and they feed you this crap and you buy it? You can’t think at all.”
Spencer’s remarks, said protesting students, pointedly substantiated their discontent with the conference, Temple and TUSIF.
“In my experience with the events and panelists that [TUSIF] has hosted, it is the absolute antithesis to intellectual freedom,” said senior political science major Brianne Murphy. “This is not moderate by any means, and it’s unacceptable, especially for a university that goes under the moniker of diversity.”
As the conference wrapped up, Spencer and his fellow panelists were hurried to waiting cars. Noticeably aggravated, Spencer expressed his discontent with Temple students’ behavior as he was escorted out.
“Most of them are thoroughly propagandized and indoctrinated,” he said. “They have no sense of the importance of respectful dialogue.”
Alvaro Watson, though, considered the event a success, despite the negative responses.
“Events like tonight, it starts a conversation where there wasn’t one before. It’s a conversation that’s important,” Watson said. “I think the whole point of having the event is to share ideas, and exchange ideas from as many parties as possible. So that happened.”
Ali Watkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.