Last Tuesday’s Rally Against Islamophobia was ostensibly successful -- hundreds of students walked out of Robert Spencer’s event and stood in solidarity with Muslim students at the rally. However, though the rally accomplished its goal of denouncing Islamophobia, it also immaturely criticized the Stanford administration and, far worse, dismissed the real threat of anti-Semitism.
The campus community quickly condemned the SCR’s decision to host a speaker whom it claimed would fail to foster a rigorous but compassionate discussion on Islam. At the same time, it failed to condemn the gross mischaracterizations and double standards used by activists before and during the Rally Against Islamophobia. Activists’ criticisms of the College Republicans for being needlessly divisive were immensely hypocritical, as their own strategies only exacerbated existing divisions and did little to promote dialogue.
Though many students powerfully spoke up against Spencer and Islamophobia, others turned to polarizing political comments -- and, in the case of one speaker, perpetuating the hate and irrationality the event was supposed to denounce by delegitimizing the severity of anti-Semitism, both nationally and on campus. The speaker claimed, to cheers from the crowd, that anti-Semitism did not share the same racialized discrimination and widespread acceptance as Islamophobia, an especially shocking statement considering how many Jewish students stood in solidarity with their Muslim peers at the rally. Discrimination against black and brown Muslims for their race in the US today should never justify the dismissal of discrimination against Jewish people. In fact, anti-Semitic hate crimes have recently increased on campus.
Only earlier this year, the ASSU funded the son of a convicted Jew-killer, Aarab Barghouti, to speak on campus on behalf of Students for Justice in Palestine. Even more unqualified than Spencer, his only credential is his father declaring Israel as foundationally illegitimate and spending the rest of his life in prison on multiple accounts of murder. Where was the opposition to ASSU funding, let alone a mass protest, for this event? When activists react to the invitation of an sensationalist but peaceful blogger with hysteria, but fail to condemn the son of a convicted murderer parroting his father’s anti-Semitic beliefs on Stanford’s campus, they begin to lose their claim to righteousness.
Such double standards are even more dangerous considering the Jewish community has earnestly supposed the anti-Spencer movement on campus. The petition for the ASSU to defund the event was widely circulated in email lists within the Jewish community, and an open letter written to the Daily included the Jewish Student Association. Though many on the campus Left praise intersectionality, it seems clear that for many, certain identities matter more than others -- precisely what they accuse conservatives of doing.
Additionally, other speakers at the Rally painted an oversimplified anti-administration and anti-ASSU narrative around the Spencer event, berating the University for allowing it to happen. Conveniently, they ignored California’s Leonard Law, which prevents private universities from restricting students for speech that is protected by the First Amendment. In fact, as President Lavigne and Provost Drell noted in their blog, Stanford’s speech code of the early 1990s was struck down in court under this law. Similarly, some denounced the ASSU’s complicity in allowing Spencer to speak, conveniently ignoring the similar legal pressure it faced and that the petition to cancel funding for the event only circulated after the funds were earmarked, making them impossible to recall.
At its best, the Rally Against Islamophobia was a courageous act of protest and solidarity that affirmed the voices and experiences of Muslim students. At its worst, the rally was alarmingly politicized. It dismissed anti-Semitism, promoted unlawful restriction of free speech, and spread mistruths about an administration that has been remarkably receptive to student concerns. The campus left must hold itself to a higher standard.