Temple unites against Islamophobia

Neha Sobti reports on how Temple University students and their allies organized against an anti-Islam conference featuring several notorious bigots.

Several hundred people gathered to protest the Islamophobes at Temple University (Neha Sobti | SW)Several hundred people gathered to protest the Islamophobes at Temple University (Neha Sobti | SW)

ON APRIL 23, 100 Temple students and their allies united in protest against the "Islamic Apartheid Conference" hosted by the Temple University Students for Intellectual Freedom (TUSIF). The event was sponsored by the right-wing David Horowitz Freedom Center and featured notorious Islamophobes Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer.

The stated mission of TUSIF is to fight for human rights and combat the "intellectual intolerance" they claim is rampant among leftist and Islamic "extremists." While TUSIF has in the past hosted events scapegoating the poor, this event was aimed at demonizing Islam as a faith that supposedly engages in "Islamic apartheid" and "Islamization"--what the David Horowitz Freedom Center defines as the violent replacement of a country's or region's customs, norms and laws with Islamic sentiment.

All the panelists were self-proclaimed anti-Muslim spokespeople, prompting outrage among Temple students. Pamela Geller is the director of Stop Islamization of America (SIOA). Robert Spencer is the founder of Jihad Watch, an anti-Muslim website that demonizes Islam as a religion of terrorism.

Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian white supremacist who went on a murder rampage last summer, praised both Geller and Spencer in his manifesto published online.

The response protest was organized by Temple students in less than a week and was endorsed by over 15 organizations across the city, including the International Socialist Organization, Muslims for Progressive Values, Occupy Philly, One People's Project, Philadelphia International Action Center, Student Labor Action Project, Students for Justice in Palestine and the Temple College Democrats.

Protesters chanted, "Hate speech is not free speech!" and "Sexists, bigots, antigay; right-wing bigots go away!" while waiting to enter the event. Inside, debate broke out in response to Horowitz's speech. One man stood to point out a mistake in Horowitz's racist analysis of Islam.

Soon after, the protesters stood in silence, holding signs with phrases such as "Ignorance is the enemy, not Islam"--and then walked out of the auditorium. A rally with speeches was then held outside.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

TEMPLE STUDENTS have organized in protest of Islamophobic events in the past. In 2010, a group of around 50 activists protested Geller and Spencer speaking on Temple's campus for a similar event.

However, this recent protest showed clear growth in the anti-Islamophobia and anti-racism movements. The movement has not only grown in numbers and support, but also in its political critique. In 2010, the Muslim Student Association (MSA) chose not to participate in order to stay politically neutral. On Monday, MSA board members were front and center, leading the struggle against racism.

In the wake of Trayvon Martin and Shaima Alawadi solidarity protests, protesters at Temple connected the struggle against Islamophobia to the struggles of Black Americans, Arab Spring revolutionaries and Occupiers all over the world.

A Christian minister gave an impromptu speech, saying:

I am astounded that Arab Spring is not recognized by the folks inside here as a democratic movement that has inspired the whole world. And Occupy is just one expression that we owe to our Muslim brothers and sisters who fought much greater fights than us. We can take courage from our Muslim brothers and sisters, and go on and fight as courageously as they have to overthrow the kinds of powers that they have shown that people together can do.

A member of Students for Justice in Palestine and Occupy Temple said:

While [the Islamophobes] are a small group, the ideas that they advocate are not marginal. In fact, the ideas that [TUSIF] advocates [are ones] the U.S. government relies on to carry out imperialism abroad and economic oppression at home...and at home when they cut our funding for schools, health care, and education.

They hope that we will be divided and unable to present a united fightback against their oppression and exploitation. What we did with this demonstration is show them that we won't be fooled. We are going to organize and fight back, and any time these bigots have an event, we will have a massive response.

Protesters voiced a real feeling of progress and hope during the action. The growth of the movement against Islamophobia in the past year and the centrality of solidarity within the critique of all current movements against racism are inspiring.

One Muslim Student Association board member told the crowd, "Enough is enough. Today will not be known in cyberspace as the day Temple hosted a known hate group and a panel of xenophobes. Today will be known as the day Temple students united...and put a stop to the ignorance being spread at our university."