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President's Message: 'Hate speech is not free speech'

 

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April 12, 2002
Dear Campus Colleagues:

A week ago, I wrote the campus to acknowledge the particular challenges of dealing with emotions aroused by the tragic and terrifying Middle East situation and to express the hope that we would -- as we did so well after Sept. 11 -- express our differences respectfully, seeing individuals, not stereotypes or, worse, enemies.

Earlier this week, major campus rallies dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict drew audiences as large as 1000 to Malcolm X Plaza. We had on and off-campus speakers, strong and often hostile words, and a march. In marked contrast to events on other campuses, these were non-violent -- a tribute to many people of differing views who united to make sure this was so.

There was, however, one absolutely unacceptable action. Some of you have heard of it, and I am writing to let you know what happened and how we have responded. A flier put out by several student groups promoting one of the rallies contained an ugly, anti-Semitic section. I do not want to give its words or images further visibility by describing them in detail; suffice it to say that they referred to the ritual slaughter of babies. I have written individual letters to each of the groups and University Dean of Human Relations Ken Monteiro is meeting with them as well. We are repeating a familiar message: Hate speech is not free speech. Anti-Semitism is as ugly and unallowable as racism or scapegoating of Muslims, Arabs, or any other group. None are protected unless all are protected. We remain wholly committed to maintaining this campus as a place where all feel safe and supported.

The following paragraphs are drawn from the letters I sent to the groups:

"I write in disappointment and dismay after seeing the flier promoting the April 8 campus rally. . . The flier contains a particularly repellent example of anti-Semitism. I am referring, of course, to the 'Made in Israel' inset. Its obvious unreality makes it the more inflammatory. This is no political statement. It is hate speech in words and image. In particular, the phrase 'Jewish rites' echoes a type of ugly myth that has been used through the centuries specifically to generate hatred. I understand that when the deep offensiveness of the phrase was pointed out, some members of a sponsoring club did attempt to eradicate the words from already-posted fliers. Nonetheless, hurt and harm had already been done.

"The flier was much more than an offense to the Jewish community; it was an offense to the entire University community and to all that we stand for -- most especially our ability to see the humanity in those with whom we disagree. With communications such as this flier, your group defiles itself, dampens its voice, and distracts attention from the very cause you want to espouse.

" Here, on this multicultural and international campus, you have an unparalleled opportunity -- and, I would say, a particularly strong responsibility -- to show that passion, and passionate differences, can coexist with decency and recognition of our common humanity. In speaking as strongly as I have in this letter, I am doing no more than you asked -- working to eliminate discrimination and combat racism. And this is just as much a protection for Muslims, Arabs, and Palestinians as it is for Jews and Israelis.

"I recognize that these are times of great anguish, as well as anger, and I know that one moment, one flier, does not define this group or its individual members. I have confidence that we can restore the kind of communication that so positively marked the campus [after September 11]."

Sincerely yours,


Robert A. Corrigan
President


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Last modified May 13, 2002, by the Office of Public Affairs