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San Jose State MSA Speaks Out Against “Educator”

Never stay silent in the face of falsehood!Having taken extensive notes and recorded this lecture, I found that Esman not only portrayed Muslims as un-educated and as anti-Semitic towards Jews, but she also blamed the Muslims for spreading anti-American sentiments in Muslim countries. Esman had also painted Muslims as physically abusive towards their spouses, and she portrayed Muslim families – women in particular – as oppressive, causing their children to flee from them.

Never stay silent in the face of falsehood!Universities are known as centers of learning – centers that both uncover and spread knowledge. But what happens when you are confronted with a negative message and are being taught inaccurate information? At San Jose State University on September 16th, 2010, this dilemma occurred in the worst of ways. Expert of history Dr. Roth invited a journalist and novelist, Abigail Esman, to speak on extremist Muslims. I attended the event, and I ended up being the only identifiable Muslim in a crowd of 100 people.

Abigail Esman is a Jewish woman who was wearing a pashmina shawl around her shoulders, as if implying some sort of solidarity with Muslims. Her words were the only noise in the room, and they left me speechless and infuriated by the end of the night. Esman claims that extremist Islam is easily understood if you look at the Muslim Prophet, Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny), who was “both a military and spiritual leader”. She stated that “7-10% of all Muslims are extremists”, and that moderate Muslims support the extremist ideology.

Where Esman gets her data and information from was not relayed to the audience.

I looked around the auditorium in which this event took place, and I found a man in an army suit, another proudly wearing his yarmulke, and many white Americans aged 50 and older. There were almost no young students in the room, or people of color. Initially I thought to myself, “This is exactly the kind of crowd that needs to hear both sides of the story.” But then Esman continued: “Education in the arts helps us to build our imagination, it helps people to think abstractly, the whole idea of compassion…when you read poetry you are taught to interpret it. This is something that is not taught in the Middle East and in Muslim countries.”

Esman was trying hard to portray Muslims as simple-minded, uneducated, and easily influenced by anything they read or hear. At one point, she tried to illustrate anti-Semitic tendencies of Muslims towards the Jewish people by sharing a tale of an ex-Muslim woman, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who escaped an arranged marriage. Ali met and asked Esman if she could meet a Jew – and Esman used that to imply that the woman did not believe the nasty things she was taught from Muslims about Jewish people, and wanted to prove that Jews were kind, normal people like herself.

Having taken extensive notes and recorded this lecture, I found that Esman not only portrayed Muslims as un-educated and as anti-Semitic towards Jews, but she also blamed the Muslims for spreading anti-American sentiments in Muslim countries. Esman had also painted Muslims as physically abusive towards their spouses, and she portrayed Muslim families – women in particular – as oppressive, causing their children to flee from them.

CAIR prompted me to complain about this event. I had left the auditorium that night almost heart-broken, realizing that knowledge can be used to manipulate, generalize, and misinform the masses – even in such an honorable institution as a University. I was naïve and expected the Professor who hosted the event to see my side, especially because he was an expert on history. Wouldn’t the professor know about the creative, brilliant minds of the Middle East that prompted algebra, chemistry, and modern-day medicine?

I wrote a letter to the host, Dr.Roth, and to my dismay the professor wrote:

“In response to your letter on behalf of the Muslim Students Association regarding the talk given by Abigail Esman, let me say that the agenda of our University is to allow the free exchange of ideas, not to please you or your organization. If the intent of your email was to try and convince the President or the university to prevent speakers such as Ms. Esman from coming to campus, this is not going to happen. The agenda of our university allows you the freedom to object to what a speaker says, or to invite a speaker who has a different point of view, but the Muslim Student Association has no say in who is, or is not, invited to speak on Islam. Criticisms of Islam, whether extremist or not, or of Mohammed or of any of your religious or cultural views are perfectly acceptable in an academic context.”

Dr. Roth went on repeating himself in case I hadn’t understood him in the first few sentences. I was merely trying to point out the obvious dilemmas in Esman’s lecture. I wanted to be consoled at least once in his reply that he would do justice to the situation and clarify the misrepresentations of Muslims and the Middle East. Instead, Dr. Roth concluded by saying:

“Neither you personally, nor your organization, nor indeed Muslims as a group, have any authority to dictate to me or to the university on matters of Islamic history or culture.”

I am just one voice. I know I can’t change everybody’s mind on the issue of mutual respect and understanding. I have never even been to the Middle East. I am no expert on Islam, history, or even on article-writing. I know now that taking the step to express my thoughts put fire under this man’s feet. He seemed upset and so was I. But the issue remains: are we going to just let educators spread negative messages about Muslims and the Middle East? Are they too prestigious as educators that we don’t have the right to speak out against them? I conclude with this quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

About Arsalan Rizvi

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13 comments

  1. SubhanAllah, this is so terrifying. Because out of all places, we expect the Universities to uphold the sanctity of respect and tolerance. These types of things just breed intolerance; I’m seeing so many Universities accepting speakers like this one and others that come to our campuses and promote anti-Islamic viewpoints and others, such as pro-Israel viewpoints.

  2. May I note to the author that:

    1. I wear a pashmina because I LIKE pashminas. It has nothing to do with Islam, since they are produced in India, not the Middle East.

    2. Unlike her, I DO visit the Middle East. I love the Middle East and its people.

    3. If she wants to know where my data comes from, she can either (1) ask me or (2) look it up herself. It is all legitimate. It is all scholarly. And it can all be verified. How dare she question these points? Why does she not READ MY BOOK which footnotes every last bit of this information? THe book was available for purchase at the event. She could easily have done so, but chose not to. Why? To perpetuate her lies?

    4. Moreover, she did not, to my knowledge, receive permission from Professor Roth to publish his private e-mail on the internet. Not only is this a violation of privacy, but it is a violation of copyright.

    5. Finally, since the author of this rant admits she knows little about Islam (funny, since she calls herself a Muslim — how can she believe and honor what she doesn’t even know anything about?), admits she knows little about history, admits she knows nothing about article writing, perhaps she might try to LEARN SOMETHING from those who have experience, knowledge, and authority in all of these, rather than condemn them out of hand.

    Or is that a Muslim thing, too?

    • The author states that she is “no expert on Islam, history, or even on article-writing,” which doesn’t mean that “she knows little about Islam.” I am a born Muslim and i assure you, she knows more about Islam than I do, and she DEFINITELY knows Islam more than you do Ms. Abigail R. Esman. She may not be a scholar, but she knows what she is talking about.

    • Ms Esman, based on your own website, you have no formal scholarly training about Islam. Then what qualifies you as a speaker on this topic?

      • So, you look like you have three options:

        1. Continue to rant, drawing many people to this site who will only see both you, the author, and those readers who like this kind of exchange as petulant, primitive, and polemicists;

        2. Be mature, apologize for your own mistakes, and calmly deal with the accusations instead of coming across as a cry baby who can’t communicate without insults;

        3. Ignore the whole thing. It will go away. And if you’re really an important thinker, you won’t really care what some kid on a web site thinks of you.

        Your move.

    • Quick disclaimer: I’m the poster formerly named “also known as .” Dot is faster to write.

      Now that’s out of the way …

      Abigail, I was feeling sympathetic to your situation. Not because I support your views — I actually have no idea who you are, even though I have spent considerable time as an insider and outsider studying Islam, in universities and in the traditional seminaries — but because there were so few quotes to back up the author’s assertions that you’re anti-Muslim.

      I said “was”.

      If you have the right to question things, so do others, even if their line of thinking is illogical and crude. Your third point above came across as rather elitist, I’m afraid. Just because something is “scholarly” and “can be verified” does not mean it cannot be questioned. That is a logical fallacy and not part of the scholarly system. EVERYTHING can be questioned, except the right to question things. That is fundamental axiom in universities as well as elsewhere. It is not a Muslim perspective exclusively, but one that is excepted everywhere, except by polemicists.

      Secondly — and this underscores my preceding point — you said “or is that a Muslim thing, too?” after your fifth point. You took a personal disagreement and just attacked one out of every four people on the planet in suggesting that the author’s wrong approach is representative of them. This shows you as a polemicist. To put it more crudely, you sound to me like a partisan hack, Abigail.

      Please, you might have a valid argument that you’re being misrepresented, but you just come across as a bigot by suggesting Muslims are pre-disposed to be ignorant. Why should we listen to you now? We should all be mature about our differences. You just undermined whatever chance you had of drawing me and anyone else willing to give you a chance to look deeper into your ideas.(cont)

      • I mistakenly posted a reply to Najafi110, but it was directed to Abigail.

        Anyway, your fourth point that the email violates copyright is incorrect. Since the author received the email directly, he or she has the right to publicize it. If the author had been bound by the rules of place of employment to not disclose certain communications, he or she could have been disciplined by the responsible body.

        The other part of the issue about the email being an invasion of privacy is similarly unfounded. The person receiving the email has the right to publish such a thing under free speech laws. The only issue, again, would be if he or she belonged to the same business or organization that has explicit rules against such behavior. It might not be the most ethical thing to do in the eyes of some people — something which I personally don’t think is the case — but it hardly a legal issue as you are apparently trying to suggest, Abigail.

  3. May I note to the author that:

    1. I wear a pashmina because I LIKE pashminas. It has nothing to do with Islam, since they are produced in India, not the Middle East.

    2. Unlike her, I DO visit the Middle East. I love the Middle East and its people.

    3. If she wants to know where my data comes from, she can either (1) ask me or (2) look it up herself. It is all legitimate. It is all scholarly. And it can all be verified. How dare she question these points? Why does she not READ MY BOOK which footnotes every last bit of this information? THe book was available for purchase at the event. She could easily have done so, but chose not to. Why? To perpetuate her lies?

    4. Moreover, she did not, to my knowledge, receive permission from Professor Roth to publish his private e-mail on the internet. Not only is this a violation of privacy, but it is a violation of copyright.

    5. Finally, since the author of this rant admits she knows little about Islam (funny, since she calls herself a Muslim — how can she believe and honor what she doesn’t even know anything about?), admits she knows little about history, admits she knows nothing about article writing, perhaps she might try to LEARN SOMETHING from those who have experience, knowledge, and authority in all of these, rather than condemn them out of hand.

    Or is that a Muslim thing, too?

  4. Let me add this, as well: For someone who claims to have taken notes and recorded the event, you obviously paid extremely little attention to the facts. You claim, above, the followoing:

    >>Ali met and asked Esman if she could meet a Jew – and Esman used that to imply that the woman did not believe the nasty things she was taught from Muslims about Jewish people, and wanted to prove that Jews were kind, normal people like herself.

  5. This somehow seems to have been cut off.

    I did NOT state any of this. I stated that my best friend (not Ayaan Hirsi Ali), who is Iraqi and a practicing Muslim, requested, on the moment of her arrival in the United States, to meet a Jew, because she did not believe the things that she was taught by Muslims in her home country about the Jews. (For what it’s worth, Hirsi Ali HAD believed those things until coming to the West.) My friend then specifically went on a campaign to teach her fellow Iraqis in America, who hated Jews, that Jews were kind, normal people llke themselves. I explained this in detail, lovingly, in my talk. That you would choose to distort this is either a deliberate lie on your part or further evidence of your inability to understand what is placed in front of you. Either way, it shows a profound lack of integrity on your part.

  6. Hey Abigail, I hope that’s not how you go about your talks. No wonder people get offended :).

  7. But had the speaker been a Muslim talking about the shortcomings of Jews, there would be outrage! So sad to see this double standard that exists.

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