Islamophobia alive and well after VCLU campus lecture

I attended Marc Thiessen’s lecture on April 24 and I have several thoughts I’d like to share.

On one hand, I understand that VCLU represents a point of view that is often unheard of on this campus. Two years ago, you brought Alex Epstein to speak on fossil fuels. Though he presented a view that many students disagreed with, his lecture was not particularly offensive. On the other hand, I question the value in bringing certain viewpoints to campus. There seems to be this notion that students here are sheltered from the “real world” and try to leave here without engaging with views different than their own. Most students go home often in their four years here, and are faced with views that may be drastically different from what is common on campus. Even students who stay and work here during breaks have outlets for engaging with these alternative views.

In any case, Marc Thiessen is not simply an “alternative viewpoint.” Though he repeatedly claimed that he opposed Islamophobia, it is very clear that this is not the case. He uses the same rhetoric that causes mass Islamophobia in America. In particular, he repeatedly said that in order to defeat the “enemy,” we need to name it. For Marc Thiessen, that name is “radical Islam.” For so many people, “radical Islam” has become a stand-in for Islam in general.

Last year, a woman in Arkansas got attention for banning Muslims from her shooting range. She said that, “We are dealing in lethal firearms. I’m not going to let a Nazi shoot in here, or a Ku Klux Klan member in here, either.” The difference between Muslims and the other groups she mentioned is that she singles out Muslims by their names and their skin color. While she is supposedly anti-”radical Islam” in much the same way that Marc Thiessen claims to be, she resorts to simple stereotypes and clear Islamophobia.  (Fox News, “Gun range’s ban on Muslims draws fire,” 1.29.15).

This woman could be anyone in the U.S. Since Sept. 11, Islamophobia has led to discrimination against so many brown bodies that are not even Muslim. In particular, Sikh men have been singled out for their turbans, which have nothing at all to do with Islam. The very notion of Islamophobia, in many ways, is a stand-in for racism against brown bodies from all over the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia.

One particular scare tactic used by the media is to quote Arabic terms in negative contexts, the most common of which is jihad. In the Qur’an, jihad most often refers to the internal process of struggling with faith, and is often translated as “striving”. Though it can refer to armed conflict, as the mass media often does, it is a personal endeavor. Similarly, Thiessen claimed that Osama bin Laden released several fatwas when he was leading a branch of al Qaeda. A fatwa is not a proclamation of war, or whatever Marc Thiessen intended it to mean. A fatwa is a legal opinion crafted by someone who has intensively studied Islam in at least one of its legal schools. A fatwa can only be made by a mufti, a type of judge, which bin Laden was not. Tasso Inc. During his lecture, Thiessen admitted that he is not a religious scholar, which revealed him as nothing more than someone who abuses rhetoric to make his point.

It is people like Marc Thiessen who cause this racism to continue to exist and spread. It is groups like VCLU who, whether consciously or not, want this hate to exist. By bringing this man to Vassar, there has been a very direct attack of Muslim students and many other brown bodies. This is completely unacceptable.

The most disturbing part of this whole situation is how unapologetic Marc Thiessen was. Though he was so troubled by the deaths of white people in both the Holocaust and the Sept. 11 attacks, he was utterly unfazed by the millions of deaths caused in the Middle East and Souths Asia by the U.S. When students in the lecture repeatedly tried to bring up this fact, Thiessen brushed them off and justified each situation. In particular, students brought up situations in Pakistan and Sri Lanka in which U.S. intervention served only to escalate the situation, but Thiessen insisted that the U.S. had made the situation better.

This is Islamophobia. This is racism. Presenting a contrary viewpoint is not justification for these things. This man has only served to further perpetuate an existing environment of hostility. At one point in the lecture, Marc Thiessen said that the views presented by students in the room, and at Vassar in general, are not reflective of greater American society. What I have to say to that is: thank Allah.


—Ramy Abbady ’16 is an education major. He is President of the Middle Eastern Students Collective.


  1. islamaphobia is justified, just look at any muslim opinion poll. Hundreds of million of muslims around the globe support insane fundamentalist things that have no place in modern society.

  2. Comment edited there are over a dozen islam majority states on earth. If you dont like how you’re being treated in america, go live in one of the islamic countries

    muslims ahve more rights in america than christians or non-muslims in general have in most islamic countries. Where’s your outrage over that.

    Us non-muslims can be legally imprisoned or KILLED in a number of islamic states around the world for disobeying or diagreeing with islamic law. And you have the gall to complain about this?

    hatred of non-muslims gets us killed. hatred of muslims gets you banned from a gun range.

    Grow up and evaluate your priorities. If you don’t care about our lives, why should we care about your feelings?

  3. It troubles me greatly that the author, who is about to take over as President of the VSA, refers to the victims of the Holocaust as “white people.” This is a great example of how an event that has no relationship to the American political context in terms of race becomes racialized, ostensibly for the purpose of creating a false dichotomy between people of color and white people. There were 12 million victims of the Shoah. 6 million of them were Jews, who were in no way considered “white people” in the European context, where they faced endless persecution. Hundreds of thousands of others were Roma and Sinti, who are not white in any context. Homosexuals weren’t persecuted by the Nazis because of their race. Neither were disabled people.

    The author clearly has a great deal to learn

  4. I find this article very disturbing on many levels. Perhaps, most importantly, I now know that the president-elect of the Vassar Student Association is both loose with his facts and eager to falsely accuse others of racism in order to silence those with whom he disagrees.

    Marc Thiessen, throughout his lecture, emphasized two points: To successfully defend against a lethal enemy who has declared that he is trying to kill you, you have to call that enemy by its name – radical Islam. So that no one in the audience would misunderstand, Thiessen repeated throughout his presentation that he was referring to a small but dangerous group of Muslims and not to the entire Muslim community. The claim that Thiessen’s comments were racist and Islamophobic is outrageous and totally unsubstantiated. Alleging that opposing radical Islam is a “stand-in for racism against brown bodies from all over the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia” is a subterfuge to avoid facing the reality of the real threats posed by these jihadists.
    … .
    The author covets the status of victimhood. Are Muslims being falsely accused or even persecuted? Can one even ask this question in an era when Muslim-on-Muslim, Muslim-on-infidel and Muslim male-on-female barbarism is borderless, boundary-less and beyond surreal? Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Boko Haram, ISIS, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Muslim Brotherhood have everything to do with radical Islam.

    Mr. Abbady refers to “mass Islamophobia in America.” Really? According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report of 2013, of the 1223 victims of anti-religious hate crimes: 60.3% were victims of crimes motivated by their offenders’ anti-Jewish bias. Only 13.7 percent were victims of anti-Islamic (Muslim) bias. Despite the 1983 United States embassy bombing, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, the Sept. 11, 2001 attack, the 2009 Fort Hood attack and the Iraq/Afghanistan wars, in the United States Jews are 4 times as likely to be victims of hate crimes than are Muslims.

    To say that Marc Thiessen should not be allowed to speak at Vassar because you disagree with his opinion is to silence free speech and the exchange of ideas. To claim that what he said was hate speech is to turn the notion of hate speech on its head. If this author’s opinions represent the generally accepted view on the Vassar campus, then clearly, intolerance and illiberalism are alive and well at Vassar College.

    As the VSA’s president-elect, Ramy Abbady is attempting to insulate radical Muslims from criticism. That does not bode well for his leadership of the student association. The first step in countering radical Islam should not be to accuse others of bigotry. It should be to recognize radical Islam’s terrorism, authoritarianism, sectarian conflict, misogyny, persecution of religious minorities and human rights abuses.

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