We won’t tolerate hate at USM

November 21, 2016

Two members of the University of Southern Maine (USM) Student Senate were forced to resign after they tried to cover up their knowledge of Islamophobic graffiti scrawled in the campus Senate chamber. Students from the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and other campus groups led a boisterous protest in early November and have vowed to oppose all instances of racism on their campus. Here, SocialistWorker.org publishes a statement passed unanimously by the USM Socialists and the Portland branch of the International Socialist Organization in solidarity with the MSA.

ON NOVEMBER 2, a student wrote the phrase "Deus vult" on multiple surfaces in the Student Senate office one day after five Muslim students took applications for joining the Student Government Association. "Deus vult" is Latin for "God wills it." The phrase has its origins in the Crusades of the Middle Ages and is linked to violence against Muslims.

More recently, it has been adopted by a growing alt-right movement and is heavily associated with Islamophobia. This October, the phrase was spray-painted on two mosques in Fort Smith, Arkansas, alongside swastikas and the words "go home." There is no question that "Deus vult" is meant to connote hate towards Muslims.

Two officers of the Student Senate were found to be attempting to cover up the incident in an internet messaging conversation that was made public. Students responded quickly to protest their leadership's racist and inadequate response to the graffiti. The protests were part of an two-hour-plus meeting of the Senate, with a long string of student speakers demanding the resignations of the entire board. This resulted in the resignation of two student senators. These senators were found to have used Islamophobic language to dismiss the incident, including a pig emoji and mocking reference to sharia law.

University of Southern Maine Student Body President Humza Khan
University of Southern Maine Student Body President Humza Khan

These events occurred days before the election of Donald Trump, a man who ran on a platform of Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment, promising to deport immigrants, build a wall on the Mexican border, and ramp up the military and police. Like many people in this country, we were horrified by the results of the election and felt intense sadness, anger and fear about the meaning of these results for the years ahead.

Soon after the election, we received the news via social media that Humza Khan, student body president and president of the Muslim Students Association, had received a message from a right-wing organization, Act for America, challenging Khan to respond to a collection of Islamophobic claims and suppositions regarding the Muslim Student Association.

Unfortunately, the Islamophobic incidents on the USM campus are not isolated. Since the election of Trump, there has been a dramatic increase in reports of threatening graffiti and directed assaults on minority groups and women across the entire country, with a focus on immigrants, Muslims and people of color. For just a sample from the thousands of incidents that have occurred since the election: A man at the University of Michigan demanded a Muslim student remove her hijab or be set on fire; Trump's name was written on the door of a Muslim prayer room at New York University; and San Jose State University reported a woman having her hijab ripped off and used to choke her.

USM Socialists and the Portland branch of the International Socialist Organization unequivocally denounce the Islamophobic incidents on our campus and beyond. As socialists, we believe that Islamophobia, while often perpetuated by working-class people, only serves the ruling class in its project to secure profit, build empire and prevent a unified resistance of working-class people. We know that Islamophobic acts most affect Muslims, endangering their very lives and forcing them to live in fear. We also believe Islamophobia and racism are weapons against all working-class people, regardless of race or creed, because these ideologies are used to divide movements and prevent the working class from building a multiracial, unified challenge to capitalism and austerity.

We will not let the right have a foothold in our university! Big, combative demonstrations, like the kind that occupied the Student Government Office, are exactly the kind of response we need to fight back against right-wing forces wherever they appear. A recent statement from the university president refers to some student demonstrators taking a vocal stance against bigotry as uncivil, intimidating, and disrespectful. We profoundly disagree and wholeheartedly support the student demonstrators who occupied the Senate and continue to forcefully confront racism and xenophobia.

The USM Socialists and the International Socialist Organization believe that "an injury to one is an injury to all." Islamophobia is an ideological weapon used to prevent the organizing of a multiracial, revolutionary force capable of transforming our system from one based on war, exploitation, and greed, to one based on meeting human needs in a just and democratic society. As socialists, we condemn these incidents and stand in solidarity with Muslim students at USM and Portland's Muslim community.

We urge all students to participate in the ongoing discussions and actions to support Muslim and immigrant students and students of color at USM, building alliances that protect and fight for human needs while coordinating to fight effectively against instances of xenophobia and racism on campus and beyond.

Solidarity and respect,
USM Socialists
Portland branch of the International Socialist Organization

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