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Terrorist speech threatens, and U-M shouldn't permit it

By Debbie Schlussel


Parents of University of Michigan students and Michigan taxpayers should be outraged by the divestment conference being held this weekend at U-M. While the name and stated goal of the conference is divestment from Israel, that is merely a cover for what will really happen: support for terrorism against Americans and a hate-fest against Jews akin to a Hitler rally in Nazi Germany.

As a Michigan alumna, I respect speech rights of everyone, no matter how odious their positions may be. But free speech does not include incitement to violence, which the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled illegal and not covered by constitutional protections.

Security concerns can trump free speech. U-M President Mary Sue Coleman, by irresponsibly allowing the conference to take place, jeopardizes the safety of thousands of students.

The conference organizer, U-M senior Fadi Kiblawi, wrote in the U-M publication Al-Risalah of wanting "to strap a bomb to one's chest and kill." That Kiblawi remains a U-M student after uttering such a desire, let alone obtaining use of U-M facilities for anything, is incredible. His proclamation is simply a variation of yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater. Ditto for the words and deeds of several conference speakers, a "Who's Who" of supporters of terrorism and violence.

For instance, Sami Al-Arian is a founder and ruling council member of the terrorist group Islamic Jihad, the Tampa Tribune reports. That group murdered American college student Alisa Flatow. A chilling surveillance video of Al-Arian's multiple fund-raising tours of America's mosques shows Al-Arian being introduced as "the president of the Islamic Committee for Palestine, . . . the active arm of the Islamic Jihad Movement." While he and others in the video praise killing Jews and Christians, Al-Arian states, "Let us damn America. . . . Let us damn (its) allies until death." In another speech, he praised a "river of blood that gushes forth and does not extinguish, from butchery to butchery, and from martyrdom to martyrdom, from jihad to jihad."

Al-Arian's words have led to deadly actions. Just 10 days after Islamic Jihad suicide bombers killed 18 people in 1995, FBI and INS agents discovered a letter from him that sought a merger with Hamas and "support to the jihad effort . . . so that operations such as these can continue."

This type of speech and organizing to exhort terrorism is illegal, not just under incitement exceptions to the First Amendment, but under the 1996 Clinton counter-terrorism package, which expressly prohibits contributions to and any facilitation of groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, on the State Department terrorist list.

Other stark examples of unprotected and inciteful speech have occurred at rallies much like this weekend's from some of the very speakers expected to appear here:

At a May 1999 conference in Santa Clara, Calif., Hatem Bazian stated: "The Day of Judgment will never happen until you fight the Jews. . . . The trees and stones will say, oh Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me. Come and kill him!"

In October 1998, Mahdi Bray coordinated and led a Washington rally of 2,000 people, during which he played the tambourine as the crowd repeated, "Let's all go into jihad, and throw stones at the face of the Jews."

On Dec. 22, 2000, Bray organized and spoke at a rally outside the White House at which the emcee and crowd chanted responsively in Arabic: "O Jews, the Army of Muhammad is coming for you!" The Nazi swastika was openly displayed.

Yet these same people are welcomed at the University of Michigan. In an embarrassing lack of leadership, U-M President Mary Sue Coleman sent an e-mail saying she would allow the conference because Berkeley held it last year. But that conference was followed by a year of at least 50 violent incidents against Jews on campus or nearby. If violence follows the speeches in Ann Arbor, the regents and Coleman will be to blame.

Because Coleman is apparently in the habit of copying others -- rather than being independent, responsible and concerned with the safety of students -- why isn't she emulating the leadership of University of South Florida President Judy Genschaft? Genschaft's campus once employed Al-Arian as a professor but later fired and banned him from the campus, citing security concerns and student safety.

Coleman must ban from U-M any conference speakers and organizers who have records of inciteful, violent speech. Otherwise, divestment will certainly be in order -- from the irresponsible University of Michigan.

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