March 11, 2024

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | We Must Have Integrity During Times of Controversy

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Re: “The Coalition for Mutual Liberation Threatens to Harm Cornell From Within” (opinion, March 8)

According to the Cornell Standards of Ethical Conduct, “an environment that encourages the highest level of integrity from its members is critical to the university.” Integrity here demands further clarification. Oxford Dictionary defines integrity as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles” (I do not want to sound too lawyerly, but please bear with me). Honesty with moral principles requires us to speak up when witnessing moral wrongdoings. Protest is one way to do it. Writing is another way. There is no right or wrong way to speak up, as long as respect is maintained as a higher value.

A corollary to respect is offering a constructive critique. By this token, I do not believe accusing a large and diverse group of students who are showing an honest and serious commitment to Cornell values of “glorifying terrorism” is a constructive critique. Indeed, no one is immune from criticism. Nevertheless, it is needless to say that making false, defamatory accusations against a group of people for speaking up against the horrifying scenes we are witnessing in Gaza, Sudan and in other places in the world, clearly eliminates beforehand any honest attempt to reach an understanding. If anything, it strives to silence and outcast instead of engage and respect. While one does not have to agree with every voice heard, one should be conscious of how their opposition manifests. 

Integrity also demands self-reflection. No one wants to believe they are wrong. I understand that. But a constant attempt to set aside the possibility of being wrong, again, violates integrity. As such, one can disagree with some views, while also reflecting on their own personal views. Integrity should not be a zero-sum game. Criticizing Israel for its conduct in the current war on Gaza does not make you antisemitic. It does not make you a Hamas supporter either. Grieving for the victims lost during the war, in and out of Gaza, is not equivalent to supporting either side to the conflict. Similarly, arguing that the concept of martyrdom is synonymous with encouraging deaths serves as pure intellectual laziness. Martyrdom is a dense concept that captures poignant meanings. Diluting it to what is perceived by the observant as incitement to terror is not what Cornell teaches us to do.

Having strong moral principles demands moral consistency. Opposing the Oct. 7 attacks requires also opposing the ongoing war against Gaza. Moral consistency and honesty — the pillars of integrity — further stress the concept of humanity. While allegations of rape against Hamas should be taken seriously, so should the killing of thousands of women in Gaza. It is that simple. Those who do not have moral qualms about the war, or any war for that matter, are in grave danger of descending into callousness. As important — if not more — as preserving a political consciousness, is knowing when to prioritize our shared humanity.

Finally, integrity demands choosing words carefully. While it is our duty to offer a constructive critique in an attempt to make Cornell a safe environment for all, special prudence should be dedicated to the words we use in doing so. Phrases like “glorifying terrorism, “anti-democratic” and “demonizing students” will not get us anywhere. In fact, they create further unnecessary animosity. Honest and respectful critiques, on the contrary, should serve as our moral compass when facing heavy political issues.

— Mayar Darawsha, grad