March 30, 2019

Islamophobia at the Law School

Anti-Muslim sentiment is not confined to New Zealand. Hatred is spewed at our Law School, too.

Update, April 2, 2019: Several errors that affect the op-ed's core argument have been brought to The Maroon's attention since publication. Due to the number and scope of errors, and in order to remain transparent, The Maroon has not corrected the errors within the article, but has listed errors and quotes that were taken out of context at the bottom of the article.

Update, April 5, 2019: Following the publication of corrections on the article, the author has published an addendum clarifying the article's intent and claims.

As the headlines broke describing the massacre in New Zealand this month, our newsfeeds were immediately filled with messages of public denunciation and outcry. In a rare moment of bipartisan consensus, everyone seemed to be condemning the violence. Muslims like me went to Friday prayer on March 15 with heavy hearts that were slightly buoyed by these messages of support we received from different communities. The value of this solidarity cannot be understated. 

But what good is the dam built after the flood? Heartfelt responses following a massacre won’t bring back the victims and won’t make their families whole again. The truth is we can’t defeat white supremacy on our own, and many “allies” who claim to support us have done far too little to stand with us when we needed it most. Instead of merely asking what can be done retroactively, we need people to challenge the racist ideas and policies that contribute to a culture that makes Islamophobic violence more likely. The shooting may have happened in New Zealand, but the rhetoric espoused by violent Islamophobes is not unfamiliar to those us who have spent enough time at the Law School.   

In case this is too vague, let me provide a few examples of what this solidarity could have looked like on our campus.   

Last year at the Law School, the Federalist Society invited Earl Maltz, “a distinguished Professor of Law at Rutgers University” to debate the merits of the Muslim ban. I remember getting the e-mail advertising their event and sincerely wondering what there was to possibly debate. At the time, I thought too highly of my peers to believe that they would fly a 70-year-old man halfway across the country to defend what is obviously a racist and violent policy. 

My optimism, however, was seriously misplaced. When Maltz showed up, wearing his Sunday best and speaking to a packed audience, he unashamedly asserted in his talk that allowing Muslims into the U.S. is simply dangerous. Muslims from “certain countries,” he argued, are “more likely” to be connected to terrorist group, and therefore, it is “rational” to ban them.

Not only were these statements factually incorrect, but they were also incredibly harmful assertions to peddle in today’s political climate. They represented low-hanging fruit for white supremacists looking for an excuse to justify their racism and violence. In fact, the New Zealand shooter cited Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” Given Trump’s continued endorsement of a Muslim ban, it is clear that defenders of blatantly Islamophobic ideas are inextricably linked to violence against Muslims.

I remember burning up listening to this nonsense, but when the floor opened up for Q&A, no one spoke up to challenge his horrendously ignorant remarks. This was a missed opportunity for an “ally” to show up in support, but since no one else seemed willing to say anything, I raised my hand to comment. I told Maltz that according to his logic, we ought to ban white men who are responsible for about 60 percent of mass shootings in the U.S. I barely finished my sentence before another Muslim student vigorously clapped her hands in agreement. Evidently, this broke the decorum. The moderator for the talk immediately chastised that student for her lack of “civility.”

“Civility?” I thought. Refugees are detained at airports, and asylum seekers are now being turned around at ports of entry—talk about civility. To add insult to injury, the Muslim ban exclusively targets countries that have all been victims of U.S. military operations. We trap them in open air prisons after we bomb them. Civility is an interesting word to use in this context.

Maltz sidestepped my question. The talk ended, without further controversy. There were no public denunciations after the event, and few private ones to my knowledge.

A few months later, the Edmund Burke Society decided to host another debate on the topic of immigrants and Muslims. Only this time, they framed their position in the following question: Should the U.S. continue to serve as a “porcelain receptacle for other nations’ wretched refuse” or should “the United States again put America first?” Seeing these messages literally plastered across our law school, Muslim law students immediately recognized this dehumanization as the first step towards justifying violence against our communities.    

However, once again, these statements initially went unchallenged. It took the courage of another Muslim law student sending a school-wide e-mail objecting to her family being referred to as “trash” to provoke any kind of condemnation. But even then, a professor at the Law School defended the Edmund Burke Society, and the administration itself simply wrote off this serious instance of racism as a matter of civil discourse, or lack thereof.  

And if this wasn’t enough to cap off my first year at the Law School, the Federalist Society then elected the student who was in charge of publishing the Edmund Burke flyers to be their next president, a strange way to reward someone responsible for causing such pain. True to character, one of his first acts as president was to honor Trump’s Solicitor General Noel Francisco. Francisco is the man who defended Trump’s Muslim ban in the Supreme Court. This didn’t faze Tom Miles, the dean of our Law School, who welcomed Francisco with open arms in an act of “slobbering deference to power.” What message does that send to the Muslim students who are directly impacted by the policies this man supports? You cannot denounce the violence in New Zealand while simultaneously celebrating the men who inspired it.  

Each of these events at the Law School represented a chance for people to challenge the white supremacist ideals that incite hateful attacks, but the silence was deafening. That’s why the chorus of support we are receiving after the New Zealand massacre rings strangely hollow. In addition to thoughts and prayers, we need people to recognize that purportedly civil or academic policy positions can be blatantly racist and violent. It’s a slippery slope when it comes to saying Muslims are inherently dangerous to then supporting banning, invading, and shooting us down in our mosques. 

I am aware that even mentioning members of the Law School in a discussion about a massacre that occurred in New Zealand will undoubtedly infuriate many. They’ll say I am unfairly blaming people for an act of senseless violence they have no concrete connections to. However, I am writing this op-ed specifically in this context because I hope it serves as a learning moment. Muslims at the Law School have spent the past two years protesting ideas and policies that we knew would lead to violent consequences. A law school as acclaimed as our own should have no further role in legitimizing speech that justifies bigotry and violence. 

We ask that the next time a person with seemingly impeccable credentials and a suit and tie walks into our classrooms and tries to justify racism against any minority group, don't be silent. We need to see solidarity before a racist massacre, not just after. The victims of these policies can’t do all the heavy lifting, and as the New Zealand massacre reminded us all, the costs of remaining silent are unbearably high. 

Osama Alkhawaja is a student at the Law School. 



This article originally contained numerous errors.

The article looks to two examples of recent events in support of the argument that the Law School lacks solidarity in the face of Islamophobia.

The first event in question was presented not only by the Federalist Society, as the article originally stated, but also by the Muslim Law Students Association, American Constitution Society (ACS), Black Law Students Association (BLSA), Latino Law Students Association (LLSA), International Law Society (ILS), Human Rights Law Society (HRLS). 

The article took several quotes of Professor Earl Maltz and assembled them into one misleading quote, which reads: Muslims from “certain countries,” he argued, are “more likely” to be connected to terrorist group, and therefore, it is “rational” to ban them. This misrepresents Maltz’s comments. Maltz argued that the travel ban passes the rational basis test – a legal standard for judicial review, used for determining a statute’s constitutionality. Maltz also did not assert, as the author had paraphrased, that “allowing Muslims into the U.S. is simply dangerous.” Maltz was careful to address specifically the ban’s legal standing – questions of whether the travel ban could be substantiated based on legal standards such as the Lemon test and the rational basis test. In his opening statement, Maltz stipulated: “I am not expressing any view at all, pro or con, about the travel bans.” 

The author stated that when a student clapped during the question and answer session, “The moderator for the talk immediately chastised that student for her lack of “civility.”” It was not the moderator, but Professor Aziz Huq, the professor arguing against the travel ban, who spoke up. Huq did not reference “civility,” but said “shush, let him answer.”

The second event referenced by the article, an Edmund Burke Society debate, was not, as previously stated, “on the topic of immigrants and Muslims.” Muslims and Islam were never singled out in the controversial Whip Sheet, the promotional material which circulated prior to the event; the topic was immigration generally. 

The Maroon regrets these errors, especially as the op-ed’s argument relies heavily on inaccurate information conveyed by these errors.

Lastly, a note: The comments section on this article was closed prior to these errors’ being brought to The Maroon’s attention, due to incoherent and threatening posts.

Comments have been closed.