Students at The George Washington University claiming responsibility for anti-Muslim fliers posted around campus this week say their intent was to expose, in a hyperbolic fashion, Islamophobic racism and not to perpetrate it.
Nonetheless, in a time when nooses are being displayed to intimidate minorities, the fliers had students and faculty on edge and propelled them to do more to promote tolerance on campus.
Rumaha Ahmed, a Muslim student at GWU, shuddered when she saw the fliers posted on a bulletin board outside her dormitory. The posters appeared all over the campus Monday morning with the message: DO YOU HATE MUSLIMS? SO DO WE!!!
Campus police quickly removed the posters that were emblazoned with a photo of an Arab, described as the “typical Muslim,” wearing a suicide vest and a hidden AK-47. The fliers stated, “To find more information come to ISLAMO-FASCISM-AWARENESS WEEK!!! For more information contact the Young America’s Foundation.”
Members of the Young America’s Foundation, a conservative group on campus, denied having any association with the posters, and the culprits remained anonymous until a group of seven GWU students sent an e-mail to the The Hatchet, the university newspaper, claiming responsibility for the posters.
“It is to our great dismay,” the e-mail stated, “that the student body and the media missed the clear, if subtle, message of the flier: the hyperbolic nature of the flier was aimed at exposing Islamophobic racism. The poster, even if taken seriously, was not intended to cause any real harm.”
University officials have not taken any action against the group. According to the university’s Assistant Director of Media Relations, Michelle Sherrard, the case is still under investigation.
After the posters surfaced, GWU students of all races and faiths immediately sprung into action calling for an end to hate-based demonstrations.
“The movement to address the posters picked up in a matter of hours. Leaders of various organizations reached out to the MSA [Muslim Students’ Association] to lend their support. We understand that these posters were an isolated act of hate and not representative of the prevailing attitude of individuals on this campus,” says Zahara Ashraf, a native of Pakistan and member of GWU’s Muslim Students’ Association.
Led by the MSA, members of the Jewish Student Association, the GWU College Democrats, the GWU College Republicans and others held a townhall-style meeting Tuesday evening to discuss ways to cultivate tolerance for every group on campus, despite racial, political or religious differences.
Wednesday evening a record-breaking 300 students, faculty and staff assembled in the Cloyd-Heck Marvin Center for the Sixth Annual Interfaith Iftaar dinner, the meal celebrated by Muslims to break the fast during Ramadan, a holy holiday in the Islamic faith.
Sponsored by both the Jewish Student Association and the Muslim Students’ Association, the event sought to bring communities of all backgrounds together for a night of feasting and fellowship.
“We began co-sponsoring this event right after 9/ll. We wanted to bring the Jewish and Muslim communities together. It was the first of its kind. Now, there are similar events throughout the country,” says Omar Woodard, a GWU graduate and founding member of the Muslim Students’ Association.
In an official statement issued Monday, GWU President, Dr. Steve Knapp called the fliers reprehensible and said that there was no place for hatred on GWU’s campus.
During the Iftaar dinner, Knapp reinforced the sentiment, saying, “This Iftaar dinner reflects the spirit of interfaith fellowship that is pervasive throughout this campus. We are ready and eager to learn from each other.”
–Michelle J. Nealy
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