Letter to the Editor: Muslims can think for themselves

Omar Shanti, McCormick senior

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The following letter is written in response to the Assistant Dean of Weinberg Mark Sheldon’s letter, revealingly titled “The walkout’s purpose was derailed by anti-Israel sentiment.” This title does not only reinforce the erasure of the Palestinian people and of the continual punishment inflicted upon them by Israel but also deploys a common trope of colonial paternalistic thought by defining and then explaining the walkout’s purpose to the organizers themselves. In so doing, the author perpetrates the very actions he wrongly levies against Students for Justice in Palestine — “deception and co-option.”

To introduce oneself as someone who “does not think criticism of Israel equates automatically with anti-Semitism” does not say anything –– it is not a mark of progressiveness, liberalness or anything other than the most rudimentary exertion of logic. If one acknowledges the distinction between a state and its citizens, then stating that those who are anti-Israel are not anti-Semitic becomes completely redundant.

As a Muslim student at Northwestern who had no input in the planning or execution of the event, I felt neither “deceived” nor “disappointed” by the banner’s inclusion in the protest but genuinely touched. In recognizing that the ban is not a stand-alone incident and comes amid burning mosques, ferocious violence and malicious hate speech targeting Muslims, one understands that this demonstration isn’t solely about the ban. Rather, it is about the dominant mainstream Islamophobia that has produced it and that continues to suffocate Muslim communities across the country. The event was never planned with the sole aim of delivering a message to President Trump but rather to “shed light on the American Muslim experience at a time of heightened bigotry and hate.” Coyly suggesting Muslim students police their protest, so their actions can be used to send whatever political message one happens to be on board with, is merely to tokenize Muslim bodies to deliver one’s own private agenda. This is not to stand in solidarity with those actually affected.

Given Israel’s creation, and subsequent illegal ban of, Palestinian (predominantly Muslim) refugees, their apartheid system of discrimination on the basis of religion (particularly Islam), their repeated raids on the religion’s holiest sites, the war crimes they have committed on a number of majority-Muslim lands and countless other atrocities that constitute a settler-colonial ethnic cleansing of the majority-Muslim Palestinian population, why should Muslims be silenced on Israel when discussing Islamophobia?

In an event focused on protesting the Muslim ban, why should we ignore Israel’s indefinite illegal ban on Muslim Palestinian refugees? Why denounce mention of Palestine in “a space centered on Muslim voices on campus?” It is shocking that, in the protest, amid waves of marginalized and disenfranchised bodies working to end the myth of American exceptionalism, one can manage to promote Israeli exceptionalism! Again, unfortunately, the selective “solidarity” governing Sheldon’s letter is betrayed by his implicit suggestion that we should ignore intersectionality. Sheldon’s implicit motives for attending the march are shown not to be about Muslims but about a personal political agenda that circumvents Muslim experiences entirely. While the author’s rationale for the letter may be held by many on campus, it certainly was not this rationale that motivated the march nor was it ever implied to be by the organizers.

I thank the author for attending the march and for sharing his views with us for public engagement. However, it’s a shame that his letter dismisses wholesale the clear and simple underlying message of many students’ brave, powerful, and articulate speeches: this ban is just a symptom, not the illness.