Letter to the Editor: A response about campus discourse

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Dear fellow Tartans,

The purpose of my letter is to correct a few biases and mistakes evident on our campus and broader community as it pertains to the Israel-Gaza conflict. The Tartan bravely took initiative to release a statement touching on the conflict and addressing the messaging on the Fence. This is commendable given the rise of intolerance towards even neutral speech towards the conflict on college campuses in this country. Although it was an opinion piece, the entire statement was framed by the rise in hate on campus through student experiences. However, I would like to provide a more complete perspective on the matter by making a few important clarifying points that were not addressed last week. There have been misconceptions perpetuated for years in an effort to silence Arab/Muslim voices; in the past few weeks alone, media outlets and platforms have misconstrued the conflict and the people impacted by it to push their agenda. Here are some misconceptions I want to correct:

Israel-Gaza Conflict = Obscure Bank of Information: False. There seems to be a misconception that it is “too much work” to read into the conflict or that there are no accurate numbers to denote the decades-long conflict. Surely a documented death toll of over 9,800 people* (including at least 4,800 children) in Gaza alone and 1,400 people in Israel is worth a few minutes of reading and education. Waiting until the dust settles will not cease the senseless slaughter of innocent lives happening right now. Looking at the weapons and military power on both sides, it’s evident that this is not a war, this is mass slaughter.
Arabs = Muslims: Not Necessarily. The Tartan made a broad assumption that Arabs and Muslims were the same when they categorized all the hate directed towards us as Islamophobic. This is an incredible disservice to the diverse body of students standing up for Palestine.
Muslims = Terrorists: False. Although our communities are frequently portrayed as barbaric caricatures, broadly describing a religion as one for terrorists is incredibly problematic. The formal definition of terrorism from Oxford Dictionary is “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.” Using this definition, it is easier to categorize the crimes committed in this conflict.
Criticizing a government’s actions = anti-Semitism: False. This was one of the most dangerous errors. Allowing a country to cast any criticism of state actions as discrimination shakes the very pedestal democracy stands on. Going so far as to include this in the definition of anti-Semitism is an attack to the principle of free speech. It is one of the core beliefs of this country that government can only be improved via advocacy and diversity of opinion.
Pro-Palestinian = anti-Semitic: FALSE. Supporters of the Palestinian movement have a whole gambit of reasons for their support but the central one is always human rights. It has always come back to the lack of basic human necessities which CMU stands against through its commitment to the UN's Global Goals. In supporting these rights, we unquestionably recognize anti-Semitism as a real issue in our world and will stand with the Jewish community as they fight it.

The next time you read the news, make sure to consider what tropes are at play when the perpetrators and victims are presented. When you stumble across the news that the Frick postponed its exhibit on “10 Centuries of Islamic Art” to avoid creating “insensitivity or offense in the Pittsburgh community,” I hope you pause to wonder how the association of Islam and art could cause such a grave offense. Mayhap you’ll find that it is rooted in the aforementioned misconceptions.

Even on our very own campus, students have been called a whole litany of slurs and yet these people have not faced ANY repercussion. It is impossible for conversations to take place on campus until the safety of all of our students can be guaranteed. Like most Muslims, it is easy to identify me as the “other” — with or without my hijab. Thus, I encourage my dear readers to take a moment to ponder these before you engage in your next conversation on this topic or even as you pay your taxes.

Now, I’d like to pose a few questions that might help students see the other, underrepresented side of the conflict.
What is the exchange rate for lives between ethnicities/races? (Hint: this isn’t the first time the U.S. has been faced with this question.)
When do Islamophobic/anti-Arab remarks made by professors or by students warrant a headline in The Tartan or local news outlets? Is it not enough when Carnegie Mellon professors and alumni harass and are hostile toward students? Even going so far as to call students terrorists/rapists/human animals?
When is it acceptable to condemn violence? When the affected are U.S. allies or when the perpetrator fits the Western terrorist stereotype?
If Carnegie Mellon conducts open discourse on this conflict, will the safety of all students be guaranteed? Is it possible for pro-Palestinian students to speak up, knowing of thriving doxxing registries and the incredible personal risks?

Compassion has been the word of the month, and I encourage everyone to participate as the year and the conflict drags on. I would like to emphasize that compassion does not mean keeping quiet and avoiding conversations — but rather, the opposite. We have an obligation to support fellow Tartans as they and their families are going through some of their hardest times. We have an obligation to call on our University to support students when they are openly harassed on our campus — regardless of “sides.” We have an obligation to end anti-Semitism AND Islamophobia AND xenophobia AND other forms of hate.

A Concerned Student

P.S.: I am unfortunately leaving my name off of this letter out of responsibility towards my housemates who would be directly affected by any backlash. If I am doxxed, stalked, harassed or attacked, as many of my peers in other institutions have been, know that this letter is the very reason.

The numbers denoted for Gaza only represent casualties from airstrikes. Civilians who died due to dehydration, respiratory issues from dust, disease due to breakdown of sewage systems, settler violence, etc. are not included. These numbers are as of Nov. 5, 2023.