Letter published in the UCLA student newspaper the Daily Bruin:
Friendship can be forged under the most unlikely circumstances. Therefore, we formally thank the David Horowitz Freedom Center for providing us with this opportunity to find common ground against a common problem.
On Oct. 13 , the David Horowitz Freedom Center published an ad in the Daily Bruin titled “Not All Fears Are Phobias,” wrongly identifying Islam as a perpetrator of terrorism worldwide. By submitting the ad to our campus newspaper, the DHFC sought to bring its politics of division and fear to our campus community. Instead, it became a rallying point between two populations with viewpoints that often conflict. J Street U at UCLA and the Muslim Student Association have joined in solidarity to demonstrate to campus that we must rise above messages that intend to tear us apart.
No, really. This wouldn’t have happened if you had not published this. David Horowitz, you are truly a peacemaker.
The ad presents one step in a campaign to isolate the American Muslim community, all but labeling the entire community a security threat. The David Horowitz Freedom Center attempts to legitimize a policy of exclusion and suspicion of American Muslims and galvanize a susceptible population against them.
The Horowitz ad has made students on campus feel uncomfortable, upset and unsafe. While Muslim students feel it attacks their personal identity, others see the ad as unrepresentative of their values. This ad creates an environment where a specific community feels unsure of whether it can express its identity without fear of backlash or condemnation. The university has an obligation to protect its students in this capacity, especially when UCLA is among the most diverse campuses in the United States.
The campus Muslim community expressed widespread dismay and unease over the message embedded in the ad. They were outraged at being implicated in the actions of extremists, a tiny percentage of the overall population. Many members of the MSA felt unsafe and wary of a campus that might have endorsed a blanket criminalization of a religion rather than attributing blame to the individuals who committed the crimes.
If the David Horowitz Freedom Center really wanted to combat extremism, it would be urging us to communicate and learn from our classmates instead of preaching a dogma of intolerance. In actuality, placing the ad encourages the spread of extremism, divides our community and leads to demonization of student populations.
How can an organization that is against anti-Semitism condone Islamophobia? We feel that anyone against the former yet allowing the latter is applying a double standard to our neighboring communities. From J Street U’s standpoint, the Jewish values that we have been brought up on will not allow us to condone the oppression of any society, for our community is not exclusive to this experience. Our religious and ethnic memory is stained with millennia of oppression, and we pity those who have not learned from it. Our community suffered greatly, and we will do whatever we can to make sure others do not have to.
The solidarity shown by non-Muslim students for fellow Muslim students has helped to mitigate the dismay experienced by the MSA and wider Muslim community. Several members of the Muslim community stated that they felt reassured by the display of shared sympathy and very much appreciated the verbal expressions of support. The MSA and J Street U at UCLA decided to take this opportunity to collaborate and show the campus that personal friendships and logical arguments always trump fear.
It’s not only about the Jewish and Muslim communities. No community on or off campus should be demonized or disrespected. Instead of fostering fear and rejection, it’s our duty to try to understand each other’s cultures or viewpoints. The great thing about UCLA is the diversity of its student community. It takes special courage to approach the “other,” but it is always worth the risk.
J Street U and the Muslim Student Association at UCLA envision a campus where we’re not afraid to share our experiences, our cultures and our identities. Everyone does not need to agree, but everyone should be allowed to present their own viewpoints. The kind of ad that propagates fear of the “other,” but doesn’t allow that “other” community to speak for itself, is not what we need on campus. We don’t want a campus where people are scared of each other and where students are discouraged from interacting with people whom they disagree with or see as different. With this collaboration, we have taken our first step toward realizing this vision. We invite the campus community to join us.
This message is a joint response from J Street U at UCLA and the Muslim Student Association, written in collaboration between Fowzia Sharmeen, Jared Schwalb and Gabriel Levine, a UCLA alumna, fourth-year student and third-year student, respectively.