Event sparks free speech debate among campus community

On April 11, a forum featuring Elan Journo, fellow and director of policy research at the Ayn Rand Institute; Daniel Pipes, writer, founder and director of the Middle East Forum; and Larry Greenfield, political commentator and columnist, was held in 1001 Giedt Hall to discuss conflicts in the Middle East and their stance on current issues on Islam.

The event, titled “Islamists Rising in the Middle East: Where next for America?” was hosted by the Ayn Rand Society at UC Davis. Students, faculty and staff gathered in the audience and were able to submit written questions as well as stand up and pose verbal questions to the forum speakers.

Speakers stated that extremist Muslims aim to exercise their right over non-Muslims and women.

Organizers and audience members had concerns of potential disruptions or quarrels involving speakers, but the event ran smoothly.

Among the audience were Arab and non-Arab students, including fourth-year biological systems engineering major and former president of the Arab Student Union Ahmed Desouki.

“I am extremely offended. [The speakers] were talking about my country and my state as if they are experts on it. Everything was misinformation, false,” Desouki said. “I definitely feel that we are misrepresented on campus and by the administration.”

Speaker Journo told TheBlaze.com before the event that the speakers relied on the University and security to uphold the freedom of speech of the panelists by preventing any potential disruptions from audience members.

“It is ludicrous, if it were not so sad, that public discussion of the Islamist movement is somehow a taboo. This is the ideological movement behind al Qaeda, Taliban, Muslim Brotherhood and Iran. Surely the more people learn about it, the better,” he said.

The Ayn Rand Society did not receive any funding from the campus for this event, according to a letter by Ralph J. Hexter, provost and executive vice chancellor.

In response to letters from the campus community, Hexter sent out a letter on April 11 on behalf of Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi. In the letter, he stated that the administration abhors “hateful” speech based on individuals’ religion and national origin, including that directed at students of Middle Eastern descent or Muslim and Jewish students.

“We want you to know that the University is deeply committed to providing a safe educational environment that is free of unlawful harassment for all of our students, and has been proactive in addressing the event this evening,” the letter stated.

Hexter also said that there would be staff from Student Affairs, the campus engagement team and Aggie Hosts in attendance to address any concerns, disagreements or violations of campus protocol.

Four ASUCD senators, Alyson Sagala, Armando Figueroa, Reuben Torres and Yee Xiong, submitted a letter to the Chancellor on their concerns about the event.

“We acknowledge that free speech is a cherished civil right, but hate speech and racist mischaracterizations of demographics’ entire cultures and life histories are not conducive to an academic environment that promotes a safer campus climate,” the letter stated.

JESSICA GRILLI and MUNA SADEK can be reached at campus@theaggie.org. KELLEY DRECHSLER contributed to this article.

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