A Rutgers Hillel program about abuse of women and children in Muslim countries degenerated into a shouting match as Muslim students challenged the two female speakers, one Jewish and one Muslim, who have separately documented such abuse.
During the question-and-answer period of the Sept. 30 event, Muslim students accused the program’s organizers and speakers of fomenting Islamophobia. Hillel executive director Andrew Getraer stepped in several times to attempt to calm the situation.
The speakers, New York-based human rights lawyer Brooke Goldstein and physician Dr. Qanta Ahme, abruptly ended the program — which had already run more than two hours — as students shouted over one another.
As Getraer tried to restore order, a Muslim student called Goldstein a Zionist, prompting Getraer to ask him to leave. When the student didn’t move, Getraer told several other students to escort him from the Bartlett Street building.
“I wanted to be here among young people on an American university campus,” said a clearly distraught Ahme, the daughter of Pakistani immigrants to Great Britain, who is now based in New York. “I am very disappointed at this discourse between us as Muslims. I will not engage in this deligitimization attempt. It’s very disrespectful to our hosts and other people here.”
Getraer said the hastily arranged program, under the aegis of Hillel’s Center for Israel Engagement, was publicized through social media. The night before, he said, he received “like a thousand tweets accusing me of being a white supremacist racist.”
He said the program was opened to the entire campus community because Hillel thought it would be a subject of concern to all students. At one pointed he tweeted, “Despite protests @RutgersHillel is proud to bring serious discussion of #HumanRights in the MidEast to campus.”
After the program, Getraer said he had learned something about the sensitivities of Muslims from the experience and invited students to stay and continue the discussion. Several Muslim students mentioned they hadn’t realized Jews equated strong anti-Israel sentiment with anti-Semitism.
A number of students, who declined to talk to NJJN, remained engaged in conversation outside the building at 11 p.m., about a half-hour after the program ended.
Maaz Khan, a junior from Edison, said while he did not approve of terrorism and the practices outlined in the program, “We need to make sure there is no Islamophobia on campus.” He said he came out of concern “this would be another venue for bashing all Muslims.”
Goldstein is an author and filmmaker who directs the Lawfare Project, a nonprofit that responds to the abuse of Western legal systems and human rights law. According to its website, it primarily focuses on defending Israel from international legal attacks and fighting uses of international law that “complement” terrorism. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations lists the Lawfare Project as one of its “current initiatives” on its own website.
Goldstein is also founder and director of the Children’s Rights Institute, a nonprofit that tracks violations of children's human rights, primarily in Arab and Muslim nations and by Islamist terror groups. CRI distributes The Making of a Martyr, a film codirected by Goldstein about the state-sponsored indoctrination and recruitment of Palestinian children for suicide-homicide attacks by the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas.
Some students accused Goldstein of bashing Muslims through various print and media outlets and painting some mainstream Muslim organizations as terrorism fronts.
Goldstein told the audience that an atmosphere of “Islamophobia mania” has taken hold. She said individuals and the media are afraid because “every time you speak about these human rights violations you get slandered as racist and anti-Muslim.” The real motive of such criticism “is to stifle public interest,” she said.
‘Violations of sacred beliefs’
In her talk, Goldstein described the recruitment “of innocent Muslim children for homicidal violence” through the Palestinian education system and television.
“They get a child from infancy and teach them the greatest thing they can aspire to is shahidism and the way to achieve that is to kill non-Muslims,” said Goldstein. “Shahid” is an Arabic word for “martyr.” She called such indoctrination “a clear violation of human rights” that was also “rampant” in other countries throughout the Islamic world, including Mali, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Ahme, a human rights activist, wrote In the Land of Invisible Women, based on her experience of living and working in Saudi Arabia, where for the first time in her life, she said, she became a second-class citizen.
“Jihad is not a pillar of Islam,” said Ahme. She asserted that nowhere in the Koran does it mention targeting Jews and cited a verse that specifically states the Jewish people are to be left alone.
Coming from a family whose women have been educated for generations and where tolerance was encouraged as a tenet of Islam, she said her travels to other parts of the Muslim world left her disheartened.
“They were an anathema to everything I believed to be part of Islam,” said Ahme, and “everything my family has held dear for centuries.”
While working in Pakistan she saw practices “that were a violations of my sacred beliefs,” including recruitment of children into terrorism, the denial of education and basic freedoms to women, and persecution of the Christian minority.
Ahme treated children suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome, visited family after family with no adult male in the house because they had been killed or “absconded into terrorism,” and saw the resurgence of polio after the Taliban targeted workers administering vaccines.
“The problem is immense,” she said.