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March 29, 2018

Statement by Duke Muslim Students Association

We are outraged, disappointed, but unsurprised by the Duke College Republicans, Young
Americans for Liberty, Alexander Hamilton Society, and Duke Political Union’s decision to
sponsor an event originally titled “The American Muslim Identity: Patriot or Insurgent” on Duke’s
campus. While the Alexander Hamilton Society has revoked their sponsorship in light of our
protest, the fact that they originally felt that this was an appropriate event remains disturbing.

The sponsored speaker, Zuhdi Jasser, treats all Muslims as potential would-be terrorists when
he supports discriminatory surveillance against American Muslim communities by the American
government. Jasser has claimed that “President Trump’s travel ban will prevent Islamic
extremism from entering the U.S.”. He has a history of attacking those Muslims who disagree
with him as being “supporters of violence”, including our own Professor Omid Safi. Not only are
his claims morally disgusting, but his policy positions have been proven harmful over and over
again. While Zuhdi Jasser may claim to speak for us, his words only harm us. He does NOT
speak for us.

Defaulting to the tired binary of “patriot/citizen” versus “insurgent/terrorist” presents a false


dichotomy of Muslim identity, whereby Muslims must always be actively and outwardly
expressing their patriotism and loyalty to the United States or risk being viewed as a security
threat and perpetually “Other”. Other religious actors in the U.S. are never asked to “prove”
themselves in similar fashion - indeed, even white nationalist groups who form militias targeting
and killing citizens and residents of the US are not treated similarly. This rhetoric is not only
blatantly racist, Orientalist, and woefully ignorant - it also reproduces structural violence against
Muslim communities. Due to this discourse, American Muslim students on campus find
themselves unable to access care services, freely traverse their religious identities, or speak
about problems in their communities for fear of having their words weaponized against their
families. (See: Islamophobia Informed My Mother’s Silence On Domestic Abuse — And Mine.)

Ironically, this event is part of Duke’s “Diversity and Inclusion” initiative. The College
Republicans and the co-sponsors of this event made no attempt to consult or include the Duke
Muslim community or Duke MSA in their decision to invite Jasser, informing us only when the
event went live. If they had consulted us, we would have told them that spreading thinly veiled
racist messages about us will not help make Duke a more inclusive community.

We are fully aware of the shallow understanding of Muslims and Islam possessed by a cohort of
our fellow peers and professors at Duke, as seen by how the Duke Political Science department
advertised this event without a second thought. We hold responsible the professors who
sponsored and approved this event to their student groups under the guise of “having difficult
conversations”. The real “difficult conversation” here is how Islamophobic and racist political
speech supported by professors makes students on this campus unsafe. We have all painfully
watched and felt in our communities the effects of Trump’s hate speech: the rise in hate crimes,
the bullying in our schools, and the heightened fear we all feel everyday. And our campus is
certainly no exception. Every one of us has stories about how we have been marginalized time
and time again by faculty, friends, and administrators. Less than a year ago, a Duke Muslim
student was nearly hit by a car for being a so-called “dirty Arab” on Swift Avenue. Three years
ago, Muslim students were shot to death down the road from Duke at Chapel Hill. In the early
2000s, a Muslim student at Duke endured being smeared as a terrorist in the Chronicle Op-Ed
section. When we uplift Islamophobic speech, we encourage and provide the groundwork for
violence and discrimination against Muslims on this campus and Muslims more generally.

Instead of attending this event, we invite students and professors to attend Duke MSA’s Teach-
In Against Islamophobia and Racism in order to un-learn these harmful ideas which are
unfortunately widespread across the political spectrum and frequently taught in classrooms. We
also encourage departments and administration to educate themselves by reading the
Islamophobia is Racism syllabus, in particular the section on Policing, Security, Surveillance,
and Anti-Muslim Racism. We end by calling all Duke students, faculty, and administrators to
push themselves to actually learn about and work with the Muslim community rather than
tokenizing us for their events.