Student groups rally for peace, tolerance

by Tom Ford

With 30 to 40 members gathered behind them, leaders of five University student groups delivered a statement from the steps of Nicholson Hall on Friday expressing abhorrence of last week’s terrorist attacks and sorrow for the victims.

“In a tragedy that has left no religion, ethnicity or culture untouched, we pray for the swift recovery of those alive and of peace in the lives of those in mourning,” read Taquee Khaled, president of the Muslim Student Association, from the prepared statement.

The statement was the joint work of the Muslim, Arab, Somali, Pakistani and Malaysian student associations.

As the groups delivered the statement, approximately 200 students and community members congregated on Northrop Mall for a rally to denounce anti-Arab discrimination.

Members of a group that calls itslef the Anti-War Committee passed out fliers denouncing University connections to corporations such as General Electric and TCF Bank, which, they say, “fund Israel’s campaign of racist policies against Palestinians.”

Koby Nahmias, a University doctoral student from Israel, was offended by the fliers.

“This is exactly what I think is wrong,” Nahmias said.

When he picked up the bullhorn to address the rally, he denounced the fliers and urged the crowd to unify. Several attendees were disgruntled by his speech.

“I don’t feel like the campaign should be stopped because of what happened Tuesday,” said Alice Kloker, a spokeswoman for the Anti-War Committee. “We’re not going to let them make us depoliticize this.”

Arif Iftekhar a representative for the Muslim Student Association, said he wanted the statement to express three points: Muslim students are grieving for the victims of the attacks, Islamic religion does not condone the acts, and citizens and the government should not respond by targeting people or nations not responsible for the assaults.

“There is nothing in the Islamic faith that justifies the killing of innocent people to further any cause,” Khaled said.

Iftekhar said that while some Muslim students are naturalized Americans, many others were born and have always lived in the United States.

“I think Muslims in America were affected in the same manner as non-Muslims,” said Noreen Haq.

Haq said she is a native American who has several friends and family members in New York.

“We’re a part of this community, and we’re a part of building this nation,” Haq said. “We’re not apart from it.”

Although no violent incidents have been reported on campus, some Muslim students said they fear for their safety and have dealt with comments and dirty looks.

Sulieman Nader, a student from Jordan and president of the Minnesota International Student Association, said he’s become more cautious since the attacks. He’s stopped wearing a traditional Muslim red-and-white scarf because he doesn’t want to be singled out.

“What kills me is the assumption that all Arabs are terrorists,” Nader said. “I do disagree with a lot of policies, but I like this country. Otherwise, why would I be here?”

Nahmias said the president of the Arab Student Association didn’t show up at the rally because he didn’t want his picture to appear in newspapers. He feared he would be discriminated against if people associated him with the group.

Some Muslim student groups have reported receiving threatening e-mails and phone messages.

A member of the Arab Student Association who wished to remain anonymous was using his personal phone number as the group’s office number. After two offensive phone calls, the ASA removed the member’s number from the Campus Involvement Center Web site.

However, the member did say that the ASA has gotten more phone calls and e-mails in which people expressed their support.

Muslim students are not the only campus community members to express safety concerns.

Nahmias, president of Friends of Israel, said he is disgusted by media messages – including a column in the Sept. 12 Daily – which have blamed the attacks on the United State’s support of Israel and accused Israel of atrocities against Palestinians.

He said he fears a backlash against Jewish students because of those “inflaming” messages and that many Jewish students on campus are “very cautious.”

Later Friday, a meeting of students, student groups and University officials – including representatives of University police, Boynton Health Service and the equal opportunity office – was held at the Humphrey Center.

Julie Sweitzer, campus director of equal opportunity and affirmative action, said the meeting allowed students to voice concerns and let students know what resources on campus are available for help and protection.


Tom Ford welcomes comments at [email protected]