Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Aisha Sultan: SLU Students Walk out of Speech, Stand for University Ideals

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Aisha Sultan: SLU Students Walk out of Speech, Stand for University Ideals

Article excerpt

Learning to respond to offensive even hateful speech should be part of the college experience.

The first column I ever wrote for my college newspaper was to protest a speaker invited to present "the other side" about the war in Bosnia, which in the '90s was as terrible a mess as Syria is now. He was a defender of then-Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, who was later indicted for genocide and war crimes in the Balkan war.

I was horrified that the university was giving a platform to propaganda being used to carry out ethnic cleansing. My column said as much, and I got my first lesson in public pushback from the fraternity hosting the speaker. I decided to attend the lecture and remember my disgust when the speaker said the Breadline Massacre, which had killed scores of innocent civilians in a market, had been staged to create worldwide sympathy for the victims.

It didn't occur to me to boycott or stage a protest since I've long believed in the disinfecting power of sunshine coupled with the power of the pen.

A recent response by students at St. Louis University demonstrated another effective approach.

Months ago, the College Republicans invited Allen West, a former congressman, retired lieutenant colonel and provocateur, to speak on foreign policy. As part of the process of bringing a speaker to campus, the group submitted fliers to advertise the event. When those fliers indicated a talk about "radical Islam," university officials asked them to stick to the proposal they had originally pitched and gotten approved.

West threw an online fit soon after in response. The post, on his personal site, said he was being censored. He slandered the Muslim Student Association as a "stealth jihad radical Islamic campus organization" connected to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Members of the MSA at SLU met with university officials and the College Republicans to explain how his baseless lies smeared them and added fuel to a tense political climate. They pointed out the connection between the vilification of a group and rising acts of violence against that group.

University President Fred Pestello released a statement saying he condemned the claims made against students. …

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