December 3, 2018

GUEST ROOM | Dangers of Cornell Students Leading Islamophobic Panels

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On Nov. 27, a group that calls itself “Ithaca Coalition for Unity and Cooperation in the Middle-East” held a movie screening at the Cinemapolis located in the heart of downtown Ithaca. The cost of admission was free, but what wasn’t free was the hour of my life wasted giving this group a chance, only to be fed unadulterated Islamophobic bigotry. This group claims to have an interest in promoting peace in the Middle East yet a glance at their Facebook page and website reveals that most of their events and posts are singularly focused on Palestine. More specifically, on delegitimizing the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and extolling the virtues of the State of Israel (which has been alienated by the majority of the international community for repeated violations of Palestinian rights).

In keeping with its history of smearing Palestinian solidarity activism, ICUCME chose to screen, Crossing the Line 2: The New Face of Anti-semitism in College Campuses, a movie produced by a company whose founder and CEO, Raphael Shore, has also produced such classics as The Third Jihad: Radical Islam’s Vision For America and Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West (if you’re a white supremacist these films are must-have’s). Crossing the Line 2 claims to be dedicated to exposing the growing anti-Semitism on college campuses. While a laudable goal, it became immediately apparent in the first few seconds of this film that that wasn’t its true motivation. Not even a minute in, the film begins by showing a group of Muslims yelling “Allahu Akbar” and Muslim women in hijab holding a Palestinian flag alongside a man holding a flag with the shahada, Islamic declaration of faith, inscribed on it. Beginning any film with images of angry Muslims on American streets yelling the most misunderstood Islamic expression in the West, bearing headbands and flags with Arabic writing on them, it becomes immediately apparent who this film is trying to cater to. Richard Spencer would be proud.

Going along with the “Creeping Islamization of America” theme, this film mostly features brown or visibly Muslim Palestinian solidarity activists with no references whatsoever to the actual Nazis that have been descending on college campuses (see: Charlottesville). It includes a digitally edited scene of a Muslim-American imam who appears to be calling for an Islamic State in Palestine (when from the full context of his speech he was calling for a bi-national Palestinian State with Jews and Muslims living alongside each other). Several more scenes of crowds of Muslims yelling Islamic slogans are used, again without context. This anti-Muslim tirade of a film ends with a picture of smiling IDF soldiers, armed, in military uniform as the credits roll onto the screen. No doubt this helped to assuage the fears of the by-now-terrified audience members that there are white men with guns who are willing to control their Muslim problem for them, or “mow the lawn” as Naftali Bennett, leader of Israel’s ruling coalition would put it.

One of the very worrying things about this group’s presence in our Ithaca community is that it has enlisted support from Cornell students. At the event Tuesday, 2 of the 3 people on the panel for the discussion portion of the event were current Cornell students. No opportunity for discussion of the Islamophobia inherent within this film was offered. Instead, the discussion immediately jumped to how anti-Semitism is a recurring problem within Palestinian solidarity spaces on college campuses, including apparently at Cornell. As a member of such spaces, I agree that there’s always room for learning more about anti-Semitism on our end and we do actively work towards educating ourselves on the clear-cut separation between Zionism and Judaism. However, while we have committed a lot of time to talking about anti-Semitism through our events and meetings, there remains little-to-no introspection among the pro-Israel community at Cornell and elsewhere about the rampant, unchecked Islamophobia within their ranks.

It’s unfair for us, as Palestinian solidarity activists, many of whom do come from Muslim backgrounds, to have to constantly be on the defensive of exaggerated charges of anti-Semitism while our accusers actively perpetuate Islamophobia. For all the pro-Israel community likes to talk about double standards they seem pretty willing to ignore it when it’s Muslims in the cross-fire. In the future, I hope students at Cornell with its very active pro-Israel community will consider carefully the kinds of events they choose to support or cosponsor, because their actions don’t just reflect on them. Muslims of the Cornell community, and the Ithaca community more broadly, deserve better. We shouldn’t have to walk into a public movie screening with hope and leave feeling disgusted, hurt and angry.

Nima Homami is a graduate student at Cornell. Guest Room runs periodically. Comments may be sent to [email protected]