The controversy on campus all began with a warning from an ex-Marxist turned right-wing commentator.
David Horowitz, an occasional Fox News analyst and conservative writer, bills “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” as the largest demonstration ever by conservative college students. Horowitz said the week highlights the dangers radical Islamic terrorism poses to America. The nationwide event, which begins today, will include a guest lecture and the screening of Obsession, a documentary on radical Islamic terrorism.
Horowitz said IFAW is meant to create discourse and provoke a reaction from the “liberal left.”
“On your campus you probably have a Muslim Student Association,” Horowitz said. “I’m sure on campus they don’t go around blowing up things. What they do is attack anyone who tries to raise awareness.”
Horowitz defines Islamo-Fascism as a movement within Islam that seeks to enforce the laws of religion through the state. The Terrorism Awareness Project, with which Horowitz is affiliated, has put out online materials to help conservative college students nationwide begin similar discussions on their campuses.
College Republicans Chair Jerad Ferguson said UCSB’s chapter has arranged for conservative talk show host Dennis Prager to discuss the values that America must exhibit to beat radical Islamic ideology on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in Girvetz Theater 1004.
“We in College Republicans see the ideology of Islamo-Fascism as a danger to the U.S.,” Ferguson, a fourth-year political science and history double major said. “Even if people don’t agree with us, it’s nice to have them voicing their opinions.”
Meanwhile, faculty and various representatives of the campus Muslim community stand ready to counter-protest, levying allegations identical to those of Horowitz that his supporters seek to silence the opposition.
“If the College Republicans support the right of all to be heard we’re happy,” Nancy Gallagher, chair of the history department’s Middle East studies program said. “It’s when they support the David Horowitzes who are leading the campaign to silence their critics that we take issue.”
Gallagher is one of 38 UCSB professors who have signed a letter condemning the term “Islamo-Fascism” because its proponents allegedly group non-state entities like Hamas with majority Muslim states and Sharia law states.
Additionally, they charge that critics of U.S. and Israeli foreign policy are “monitored, harassed and – whenever possible – denied tenure.” They seek a resolution from the Academic Senate on Nov. 8 in support of their views.
Students are also taking part in a counter-protest via a Facebook event that has over 14,000 attendees listed. Its organizers accuse Horowitz of spreading “bigoted information under the auspices of higher learning” and they advise students opposed to IFAW to wear green on Wednesday.
These groups and others will all clamor to have their viewpoints heard this week. According to the Terrorism Awareness Project, IFAW will take place at over 200 universities.
At UCSB, Tuesday’s screening of Obsession at 7:30 p.m. in Corwin Pavilion has provoked the most controversy.
MSA President Faheem Ahmad said he objects to the film’s presentation. He said the analogy between Muslims and fascists raises the possibility of violence against the community.
“One woman in the movie is making it seem as if Muslim countries are destined to be Nazi Germanys,” Ahmad, a fourth-year biology and history double major, said. “That’s not the case. … People walk out [of Obsession] with this hatred and fear towards Muslims.”
Ahmad also said the movie implicitly groups all Muslims into this category, in spite of a disclaimer at the beginning of the film.
“What they do with that movie – and they do it very skillfully – is take real footage and use it to portray an image of all Muslims,” Ahmad said. “At the beginning, it says the majority are peace-loving, but the majority of the movie shows that Muslims are violent and terrorists. At one point in the movie they just drop the pretense that it’s radicalism.”
Third-year political science major Alan Levine, who arranged the showing, said he disagrees. Levine has a fellowship with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, a think tank that aims to combat terrorist ideologies.
“We’re not calling for violence against Muslims or Islamophobia,” Levine said. “I would call on moderate Muslims to not protest this kind of thing. The ones that are giving a bad name to Islam are the suicide bombers and those who harbor terrorists. Moderate Muslims need to say,’That’s not us.'”
According to the Terrorism Awareness Project’s Web site, IFAW seeks to debunk the two alleged “Big Lies of the political left,” which include allegations that President George W. Bush started the war on terror, and that global warming is a greater danger to Americans than terrorism. Horowitz said that in addition to these goals, IFAW also seeks to protest UCSB’s Women’s Studies program.
“I’m sure you can go to a women’s studies class at Santa Barbara and hear about the oppression of women in Montecito,” Horowitz said. “What we’re protesting is the silence of the women’s studies program at Santa Barbara on the oppression of Muslim women, who are victims of these [Islamic] radicals.”
However third-year women’s studies and art history double major Amanda Harness said from her perspective, the women’s studies department is not silent, but rather sensitive to cultural differences.
“Many Americans automatically think Muslim women are oppressed,” Harness said. “But from what I’ve learned in women’s studies classes, America needs to be more cautious with regard to misidentifying oppression versus choice.”