Armed with pre-written questions, activists and students gathered last night at a panel held under the auspices of "Islamo-fascism Awareness Week" in a crowded Mathematics building classroom.
The panelists, Ibn Warraq, Christina Sommers, and Phyllis Chesler, were invited to speak by the College Republicans as part of David Horowitz's week-long teach-in. Upon entrance, audience members walked between security guards from Public Safety. As expressed in their questions following the panel, spectators expected the panelists to project Horowitz's views, and were surprised to see they had diverging views of their own, referencing Edward Said, celebrated former English professor at Columbia.
"Said encouraged self-pity among the Arabs, making self-criticism of Arab society impossible," Warraq, scholar and founder of the Center for Inquiry for the Secularization of Islamic Society, said. "He intimidated Westerners, Said, who were afraid to say anything critical ... People were terrified of being called 'Orientalist.'" Warraq also questioned Said's status as a scholar of Muslim studies.
Chesler, author of "Women and Madness" and professor emeritus at the College of Staten Island, noted that Warraq's critiquing Said at Columbia University, where Said used to teach, is significant. "Said perpetrated this massive ... world-class hoax funded by Columbia."
She added that the Middle Eastern Languages and Studies Department would never host such a panel because Columbia is a "university that has been hijacked: Palestinianized, Stalinized, Edward Said-ized ... so that the rights of free speech and academic freedom does not apply to those who tell the truth about Islam."
Chesler, citing a speech at Barnard during which her comments sparked a "near-riot," said that her views about the oppression of women in Muslim countries are not embraced by academics because human rights activists turn a blind eye to injustices committed by people of color. She cited genital mutilations, honor killings, dress codes, and rape as injustices occurring in Muslim countries.
Sommers, former professor at Clark University, spoke about conservative feminist reforms in the Muslim world. The movement "celebrates womanliness as a virtue, is faith-based."
When an audience member asked about President George W. Bush's Iraqi constitution and as to why it lists Islam as the official religion, Chesler pointed out that she never had a say. "Being on the left in America, you have to ... conform to the total party line. ... If I'm going to be making common cause with people who have different views, that's great."
After a spectator asked about the use of the term "fascism," Warraq explained that while the term is often misused to represent anything evil, scholars analyzed the Koran and agreed that if the letter of the law is imposed, it is considered fascist. "We're talking about the use of force ... to suppress other people," Sommers clarified.
Chris Kulawik, CC '08 and president of the College Republicans, said he was pleased by the "incredibly civil debate."
"People came here expecting ... tiny Horowitzes," he said. "What they saw were diverging ideas."
Other students disagreed with the panelists and the premise of the event and Awareness Week. "It's terrifying that 'Islamo-fascism Week' is going on across the country," Lucero James, a student at Medgar Evers said. "We need to expose the truth of the program and reveal the lying."
Mark Goret of the New York City Office of the Comptroller said he was surprised by the civility of the discussion: "I guess people here learned a lesson. You know, from the minutemen."
Joy Resmovits can be reached at email@example.com.