It is no surprise that students at Stanford University disrupted best-selling author Robert Spencer's lecture on November 14. Given the lead-up to his talk -- "Jihad and the Dangers of Radical Islam: An Honest Discussion" -- the scenario was scripted in advance, with the encouragement and support of the school's administration.
As soon as the Stanford College Republicans invited Spencer, founder of the website Jihad Watch, to speak on campus -- as part of the Fred. R. Allen Freedom Lecture Series, sponsored by the Young America's Foundation -- a concerted campaign was launched to prevent him from being allowed to set foot on the premises. Stanford students, faculty members and administrators published a steady stream of articles in the student publications the Stanford Daily and Stanford Review, claiming not only that Spencer was unqualified to speak to them -- despite frequently addressing FBI, Joint Terrorism Task Force, military, and other government groups for years -- but also pronounced that his presence threatened Muslim students on campus; that he enabled anti-Semitism; that his message deprived Muslims of "personhood;" and that he was endangering students by replying to their attacks on his website.
When that effort failed, they employed other means to intimidate Spencer and the students who wished to hear what he had to say. Not only did hundreds of protesters cause a disturbance outside the venue, but another 150 entered the auditorium, played Arabic music loudly to drown out what Spencer was saying, and then staged a mass walk-out minutes after the event began.
Two Stanford administrators present -- Nanci Howe, associate dean and director of student affairs, and Snehal Naik, assistant dean and associate director of student affairs -- not only nodded approvingly at the walk-out, but actively aided it, first by denying entry to many students who actually wanted to attend the event, and then by not allowing them to enter after the walkout, despite the fact that the auditorium was largely empty. They also forbade the hosts from live-streaming the talk on the Internet.
According to one report of the event, published in the Stanford Review the following day:
"[T]he protest was a deliberate attempt to block students from engaging with Spencer in any capacity. If you personally do not wish to engage with the man, fine, power to you. But preventing others from doing so is shameful."
Stanford University associate dean and director of student affairs, Nanci Howe (front left), pats on the back a woman who is walking out of Robert Spencer's speech in protest.
Meanwhile, another event took place on campus -- "Stanford Against Spencer: A Rally Against Islamophobia" -- timed to coincide with Spencer's talk. In the Facebook invitation to the rally, the "coalition of concerned students and organizations that formed in response" to Spencer's lecture referred to him falsely as a "self-proclaimed Islamophobe and co-founder of two known hate groups," while lambasting him for responding on his blog to the barrage of defamation to which he had been subjected by Stanford students and faculty during the past few weeks.
In "An open letter to the College Republicans regarding Robert Spencer," printed in the Stanford Daily on November 8 -- penned by a "coalition of concerned student groups" -- Spencer is accused of being "an established Islamophobe, and "Islamophobia" is described as:
"more than just anti-Muslim sentiment, [but] institutionalized through U.S. foreign policy (the ongoing "war on terror") and immigration policy (Trump's xenophobic Muslim ban), extending its violent impact on people from and in Muslim-majority countries."
In other words, supporting the eradication of global terrorism constitutes "Islamophobia" in the eyes of the signatories of the letter, all far-left organizations -- such as Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, Students for Queer Liberation, Students Against Militarism, Student And Labor Alliance and Students for the Liberation of All People -- known for their radical views and responsible for the often violent curtailing of the free speech of anyone who disagrees with their politics at universities across the United States.
Furthermore, to justify their call on fellow students not to "engage with [Spencer], even if you are critical of [his views], because engaging in a conversation about Islam with a known Islamophobe is a contradiction," the authors of the letter referred to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as their key source of information. The SPLC, which has been discredited widely for its left-wing bias and unreliable designation of conservative groups on its "hate list," was also quoted by a Pakistani Muslim student at Stanford, who wrote about being "afraid" as a scarf-wearing Muslim on campus. Of course, this is ludicrous, as no Muslim has ever been harmed on the Stanford campus, while in the student's native Pakistan, Christians are persecuted by Muslims on a daily basis.
The reason for having to smear Spencer was clear. Portraying him as someone who has led to the killing of Muslims was the way to try to have him banned from the campus, without abandoning the principle of free speech. Yet no student or faculty member produced a shred of evidence linking Spencer to violence against Muslims at Stanford or anywhere else. All they were able to produce as "proof" of Spencer's incitement was the same libelous blurb on the Southern Poverty Law Center website.
This did not prevent four graduate students (three of them doctoral candidates) -- Joshua De Leon, Umniya Najaer, Jason Beckman, and Jamie M. Fine – from complaining that Spencer had "endangered" the life of a student, by exposing a video of the boy tearing down posters advertising the lecture. The claim was completely nonsensical, of course. In the first place, the student was the one who shared a video of himself on Snapchat removing the posters; Spencer merely re-posted the clip. Secondly, as Spencer responded to the barrage of criticism he received for this:
"I have never called for or condoned violence against any individual. If this Stanford fascist is harmed by anyone, it would be a disgrace, and the perpetrator should be prosecuted. However, [he] is not really in any danger. The College Republicans at Stanford are not neo-Nazis, contrary to the defamation in this latest Stanford Daily piece. Nor am I..."
What De Leon, Najaer, Beckman and Fine failed to mention was that a mere few months earlier, at the end of May, the Stanford student senate voted to fund an on-campus speech by the son of Palestinian terrorist Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences in an Israeli jail for orchestrating three deadly attacks.
The May 25 event -- "Dignity Hunger Strike: Aarab Barghouti on Palestinian Political Prisoners' Demands for Dignity" -- was hosted by the Stanford chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine and co-sponsored by many of the same organizations that protested Spencer's November 14 appearance: Jewish Voice for Peace, STATIC magazine, International Socialist Organization, Students Against Militarism, Student And Labor Alliance and Students for the Liberation of All Peoples.
It is noteworthy that one Jewish student senator at the school told the Stanford Daily why he supported giving a platform to the son of a convicted terrorist, the point of whose lecture was to blame Israel for the alleged plight of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners:
"In the interest of full transparency, I am personally very deeply concerned with the content of [Barghouti's] speech, but I need to make sure that I afford equal access to freedom of speech to groups, even those who I deeply disagree with."
The irony did not escape Spencer, who pointed out:
"There was no uproar when Aarab Barghouti spoke at Stanford. No calls for cancellation or boycott. No statements from administrators offering support to students who found Barghouti's presence disturbing. No protests. No safe spaces opened. No hysterical attacks on Barghouti in the Stanford Daily. No calls by dorm staff to report students who put up posters advertising Barghouti's event.
"Likewise, when the SJP [Students for Justice in Palestine] co-hosted an event at Stanford featuring Mads Gilbert, who supports the 9/11 jihad attacks that murdered 3,000 people, no one at Stanford got hysterical and called for cancellation, boycott, punishment of the students supporting the event, etc."
Yet Stanford's vice provost for student affairs, Susie Brubaker-Cole, and its dean for religious life, Jane Shaw, wrote a blog to reassure the anti-Spencer students that, in spite of the university's "commitment to freedom of expression," it is
"compelled to call out the fact that Mr. Spencer has a track record of actions and speech that motivate hatred towards Muslims, contradicting our university's values of inclusion and respect for all peoples and faiths. We acknowledge the emotional impact of Mr. Spencer's visit on university community members, and we are actively developing supports for the Muslim community before and after his visit."
In conclusion, they said:
"We also recognize that anti-Muslim racism and other forms of bigotry are systemic and require long-range and comprehensive approaches. We reaffirm our support for the Muslim community, and ask all to stand with us in speaking out for a mutually supportive society where all experience care and respect."
It is a travesty that Stanford's administration has no compunction about asserting that Spencer "has a track record of actions and speech that motivate hatred towards Muslims," and that "anti-Muslim racism [is] systemic." Spencer's work focuses on the way in which jihadists use the Koran and other Islamic teachings to justify terrorism and incite Muslims to violence. This is something that Muslims and non-Muslims alike should at least wish to learn about, if not embrace; they certainly should not view it as an affront.
As for the claim that "anti-Muslim racism" is rampant: the only places in the world where Muslims are slaughtered for the way in which they adhere to Islam, or are deemed not to practice it properly, are dominated by Muslims. Anyone teaching or attending an institution of higher learning as illustrious as Stanford should know that.
Ruthie Blum is the author of "To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring.'"