Stop Islamization of America speakers ignited student debate.
Student group Temple University Purpose is no stranger to controversy, which was evident as the organization was protested once again for an event it sponsored Thursday, Oct. 7.
TU Purpose invited Stop Islamization of America founders Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller to speak at the Student Center about Park51, the controversial proposed mosque at ground-zero in New York.
TU Purpose was the center of wide-spread controversy last year when it invited Dutch politician Geert Wilders, also known for speaking against Islam, to speak on Main Campus.
Lilian Wehbe, a senior sociology and political science major and member of the on-campus International Socialist Organization, which led the protest of the TU Purpose event, said TU Purpose’s actions in bringing anti-Islamic speakers to campus is not a coincidence.
“We were the leading organizers around this event today, to protest Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer and especially TU Purpose for bringing anti-Islamic speakers here the second year in a row,” Wehbe said. “This is by no means a coincidence.”
“The speech that Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer leads is hate speech, not free speech,” Wehbe added.
Alvaro Watson, the president of TU Purpose, said the event was intended to open dialogue on Main Campus about the mosque.
“[The intent was] to explore the nature and implications behind the ground-zero mosque from one point of view, since the second point of view was shot down,” the first-year graduate sociology major said.
Watson said the event was one-sided, but only because the Muslim Students Association refused to take part by providing a speaker from the opposing viewpoint.
“Before this semester began, I reached out to Heidar [Albandar], the president of the Temple University Muslim Students Association,” Watson said. “I wanted to have at least two sides to this event.”
“I find it more appropriate to have the MSA come up with their speaker. So I reached out to him, and we met up, and we discussed the possibility of co-hosting an event,” Watson said. “He wanted nothing to do with it.”
While Watson said the MSA’s providing of a speaker would have been ideal, he still sees the event as a success.
“A heated discussion, that’s a sign [that] you’ve gotten people to think, to want to engage in discussion, to want to know what is going on,” he said.
Watson said he anticipated protestors at the event.
“That’s your right, I respect you for that,” he said. “To me, that shows that you care about something, regardless of whether or not we see eye-to-eye on it.”
However, Watson said the protestors were not respectful in their tactics, such as calling TU Purpose members “bigots.”
“They were saying that we wanted to get rid of all Muslims, all Arabs … not at all,” Watson said. “Perhaps Wilders said that in his speech last year.”
Charles Brown, a freshman ISO member who was present at the protest, said TU Purpose was promoting anti-Islamic feelings.
“At Temple, we don’t want bigots here. We respect everyone. We don’t want to have a group that promotes anti-Islamic feelings or anti-Arab feelings. Temple should welcome everyone, and we want to show that we are not a racist community,” Brown said. “We love our Muslim brothers and sisters.”
Watson said the Religious Studies Club suggested TU Purpose and the MSA give each other clearance or approval of speakers before bringing them, or even pick each other’s speakers, which he called ridiculous.
“They’re insane, they’re in la-la land,” he said.
“I think that’s what Temple University is, including the Religious Studies Club, a Disney experience,” Watson said. “They think everything is just going to be OK, if you just leave it alone.”
However, Wehbe said the message Geller and Spencer preach only promotes discrimination against Muslims across the United States.
“They are dehumanizing and demonizing billions of people for the actions of 19 individuals, 14 individuals of which were from Saudi Arabia, which is our great ally,” she said.
“These things have to be questioned,” Wehbe continued, “because this dehumanization process is strategic in legitimizing the wars abroad and the billions of dollars spent on the wars abroad, and the soldiers dying and the civilians dying.”
“People minimize it to there were 17 [hijackers] that took down the towers … [so] how can you blame … an entire religion because of 17 hijackers? And true, that’s a valid point, but you don’t know how many there are out there,” Watson said.
Watson said despite protestors’ claims, TU Purpose is not an anti-Islamic organization.
“I think it’s unfortunate for others to think that [we may appear anti-Islamic],” Watson said. “I can see why they may think that, but it’s unfortunate, because we are completely not.”
Angelo Fichera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.