Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Not talking back to Nonie Darwish

Kesher Talk blogged Forty years ago the leaders of a revolutionary movement

which had already killed millions of people in its quest for utopia gave a talk at a university, and students and faculty listened with respect. Then they verbally demolished the speakers, not by shouting them down or insulting them, but with repeated knowledgeable soft-spoken questions which exposed the weaknesses in the speakers' arguments.

Last week at Brown University, the cutting edge of the Ivy League, a speaker was canceled. Muslim students were too afraid of her to attend her talk and try - if they disagreed - to expose any weakness in her arguments. Unfortunately, this kind of cowardice and repression is is all too prevalent in Muslim organizations, especially on campuses. But in this case the Brown chapter of Hillel - the international Jewish campus organization - and the Brown women's center joined with the Muslim student organization in refusing her a forum. The Hillel Rabbi supported that decision....

This controversy has already created a stir, because the main page of the Brown Hillel website carries a letter from Rabbi Eisenberg defending her decision. The letter is one vague feel-good sentence after another, and it's hard to figure out just what happened and what her position is. She applauds Darwish and praises Brown Hillel for supporting Israel advocacy on campus and bringing in controversial speakers. But then she casts Darwish as too controversial, because her writings criticize Islam,
Do Jews object if they hear someone criticize Islam?
and Jewish students would be offended if the Muslim student group brought in a Jewish speaker who demeaned Judaism.
Would they riot, and burn buildings, and cut people's heads off.
Then she praises the Brown administration for helping to bring Darwish to Brown. Does that mean Darwish is going to speak after all?

BTW is this the same Brown Administration which capriciously suspended the campus Christian organization this year?
Probably. Schools rarely worry about offending Christians.
I have some questions, not just for Rabbi Eisenberg but for all Brown student and faculty:
1) Does the Brown Muslim student group have the same compunctions about bringing in a Jewish speaker who criticizes Judaism?
2) If they planned to bring one in and the Jewish students protested, would the Muslim students defer to them?
3) Has a Jew ever been silenced on a college campus for misrepresenting or denigrating Judaism?
4) Is the problem just that Darwish criticizes Islam, or that she compares it unfavorably to Judaism? For example, this appreciation of the self-reflection demanded during the High Holidays, contrasted with the shame/honor imperative of the Islam she grew up with. Is it that Darwish criticizes the Arab Middle East, or that she defends Israel?
Probably both.
5) Is it an acceptable stance at a university supposedly committed to the free flow of ideas for either group to have veto power over the others' invited speakers? Whatever happened to reasoned disagreement? If Darwish is saying things that aren't true or are unfair, let the Muslim students attend her speech and respectfully ask her tough questions.
That would be interesting to see. A proper, peaceful debate about the differences between Judiasm and Islam.
In addition to posting her tribute to Jewish culture, Kesher Talk has written before about Nonie Darwish here and here and here.

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