Controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders will make his Main Campus debut tonight – but only after losing a student sponsor and almost being canceled.
Wilders, known for his inflammatory statements about Muslims and Islam, was originally sponsored by Temple College Republicans and TU Purpose, a newly-formed social and political group.
Late last week, however, Temple College Republicans pulled its sponsorship. Barry Scatton, president of College Republicans, said in an e-mail to The Temple News that his organization no longer supported the event and “strongly disapproves” of TU Purpose continuing its sponsorship of Wilder’s appearance.
The two organizations originally made the decision to cancel the event at a meeting with Student Activities on Friday, Oct. 16, Scatton and others close to the situation said. Temple’s Muslim Student Association met with Student Activities earlier the same day to express its concerns about hate mail it received.
Monira Gamal-Eldin, president of MSA, said after her name and contact information, along with the MSA statement, were posted on Web sites, she received “enough [hate mail] to feel threatened. I received messages from as far as Australia.”
Vice President of TU Purpose Brittany Walsh said after discussing the decision to cancel the event, TU Purpose’s executive board decided to continue its sponsorship. Without a student sponsor, Wilders would not have been able to appear on Main Campus through the event.
“[Our purpose is] to unite people of opposing views, different ideologies and different religions to discuss these very relevant and emotionally driven social issues,” Walsh said.
“We don’t agree with everything he has to say, and we don’t think the Quran should be banned,” Walsh said. “We certainly don’t harbor any ill will against the Muslim community.”
The event caused a considerable stir on campus after it was announced. MSA released a statement denouncing the event, which read, in part: “The Muslim population at Temple feels attacked, threatened and ultimately unsafe” that Wilders was invited.
“We have decided not to protest the event [by] picketing. We are trying to approach the event intellectually and not emotionally,” Eldin said.
Walsh said TU Purpose members realize there is a chance the event will divide the student body.
“I think [that is] always a concern any time you talk about an issue that people have strong opinions on either end,” Walsh said.
Strong opinions were on display at Temple Student Government’s meeting Monday, Oct. 19. Half a dozen students holding signs opposing Wilders’ appearance were in attendance. During the emotional meeting, Eldin read a statement about her religion, and the Senate voted unanimously to adopt a resolution condemning Wilders.
“I think Barry [Scatton] did the noble thing. He felt horrible that so many people got physically and intellectually threatened by this man,” Eldin said.
Contrary to buzz surrounding the event, Assistant Vice President of University Communications Ray Betzner said Temple Police had no role in canceling the event.
The university also released a statement saying it respects “the right of our student organizations to invite people who express a wide variety of views and ideas.”
Stephen Zook can be reached at email@example.com.