By Kyle Goon, Adele Hampton, Marissa Lang
Diamondback Online - The University of Maryland's Independent Daily Student Newspaper
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Palestinian students and supporters were confronted with malevolent opposition Tuesday in the form of posters bearing vivid anti-Palestine propaganda that students said made them feel threatened, though it did not stop Palestinian Solidarity Week from continuing last night.
University officials and University Police are conducting ongoing investigations into the incident, though they do not know who is responsible for making the posters. The event prompted a campuswide e-mail from university President Dan Mote yesterday in which he encouraged an "open dialogue" that promotes tolerance.
One such flier depicted a woman, wearing a traditional Muslim burqa and holding an AK-47 in one hand and a bomb-toting baby in the other. "What did she teach her child today?" was written above the picture.
This poster and others like it were found after Tuesday's "What would MLK Say About Gaza?" event, which was hosted by several student organizations. "We were expecting some disagreement, but we never expected Islamophobic messages," said senior government and politics and Spanish major Sana Javed, who is also a member of the Muslim Students' Association. "We don't know where it's coming from, so we can't really point any fingers. It could get worse. I'm really appalled."
Senior dietetics major Gisica Abdallah was at Tuesday's event - which was held in Jimenez Hall - when her friends brought the posters to her attention. She initially dismissed them as a one-time thing, but when she got to McKeldin Library, she noticed signs covering the outside and lobby of the building. "They were everywhere," Abdallah said. "The hatred that was portrayed, that was the most hurtful thing."
Abdallah then began tearing down as many signs as she could before running to the Stamp Student Union, where she brought the fliers to Vice President for Student Affairs Linda Clement.
"[The posters] made a number of our students feel very uncomfortable," Clement said. "We have been doing things all day to investigate the incident. ... We have people examining surveillance tapes in the union and will be working with University Police to try and figure out who did this." Clement added that because the topic is so controversial, it is possible that someone from outside the "university community" is responsible for posting the offensive fliers.
"It would be a real shame for people to think that this is something that needs to be rectified within our community," Clement said. "What the reality is, we just don't know yet. The posters were put in very public places, not in residence halls or places where access is limited to students and a few other people."
Abdallah echoed Clement's sentiments and does not place blame on any specific student organization, adding the fliers were most likely the work of individuals.
"I don't think any student organization can stoop to this level," she said. "There were just some angry people [Tuesday] night, and this is what they did." University Police spokesman Paul Dillon said police have also started collecting information about the incident. "We heard about it this morning and we've been talking to some individuals, seeing what we have," Dillon said. "We're trying to gather those initial facts before we start looking for people or reviewing [surveillance] video."
But no student victim had gone directly to police as of last night, Dillon added. The fliers, which were in violation of the university's policy on free speech, are also being condemned by some Jewish student organizations as well as the university's Hillel chapter, who is sending out messages condemning the fliers. "There's such a thing as free speech," Clement said. "But when you post things anonymously and make others feel threatened, that's not free speech." Despite the posters - which many students described as "menacing" - Palestinian Solidarity Week went on last night with an event. The event, which explored some of the issues facing the Palestinian people, was "heavily staffed" and was monitored to prevent other incidents from occurring, Clement said.
Speaker Mauri' Saalakhan, the author of the book The Palestinians' Holocaust: American Perspectives, addressed a lecture hall filled with students about Palestinians' "right to defend themselves" against Israeli occupation, though there was much debate among attendees about whether or not Palestine is an "occupied state."
But Saalakhan also added that while he recognizes Judaism as a legitimate faith, he condemns Zionism and Americans for being "too fearful and too ignorant to explore the conflict."
Some organizers said that Saalakhan's controversial message went against their goal of promoting a positive dialogue about the conflict. "Christians, Jews and Muslims have a right to live in equality," Saalakhan said. "But Israel has no more right to exist than the apartheid [had]." Palestinian Solidarity Week aims to give a voice to the unheard Palestinians on the campus, which organizers said is necessary because of the university's large Jewish population. Javed added that because many on-campus organizations and students are pro-Israel, the thoughts and struggles of Palestinian students are "drowned out."
"We just want to present the Palestinian story and show that there's another side of the story," Javed said. "It's all under the umbrella that Israel is defending their land. We've completely missed out on the whole other half of the story."