Furor Over Anti-Islam Speaker

At Michigan State, British politician with history of Holocaust denial and racially inflammatory views sets off controversy.
October 29, 2007

The president of Iran isn't the only Holocaust denier to win a platform on an American college campus.

At Michigan State University Friday, Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National Party who was convicted in 1998 for incitement of racial hatred over material denying the Holocaust, was brought to campus for a speech denouncing Islam. Griffin acknowledges having been a Holocaust denier, but says he no longer is one. His party is on record opposing black-white marriages, believing that black people are less intelligent than white people, and saying that ethnic minorities should be limited to 2-3 percent of the population of any given area in Britain.

Griffin was invited to Michigan State by the campus chapter of Young Americans for Freedom. He was supposed to give a one-hour talk about Islam and then answer questions for an hour, but audience members started shouting at him shortly after he started his talk and he shifted to Q&A format so he could answer what was being shouted at him.

The event took place on the last day of (but was not part of) Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, an event organized by David Horowitz to sponsor speakers on campuses nationwide to criticize radical Islam. Organizers of the speech at Michigan State said that while they supported Horowitz's activities, it was "a coincidence" that they brought in their anti-Muslim speaker the same week as Horowitz was planning his activities. Horowitz disavowed the event, but some Muslim leaders said it was a perfect demonstration of their prediction that his activities would make it easier for others to attack Islam on campuses.

"Because Nick Griffin is a known Holocaust denier, people like David Horowitz want to separate themselves from someone like that," said Nada Zohdy, a sophomore at Michigan State who is chair of political action for the Muslim Students' Association. "What Horowitz does paves the way for even more extreme views to be expressed and tolerated -- and to blur the line between an important discussion about threats to our nation and blatant expressions of hatred."

Kyle Bristow, a junior and chairman of the Michigan State group that brought Griffin to the campus, said that he didn't agree with all of the speaker's views, quipping that aside from Pat Buchanan, "there's no one I agree with 100 percent."

He said that because Griffin has "recanted" his past Holocaust denial, that shouldn't be an issue. What should get attention, he said, was that a speaker was shouted down and that organizers of the event were later "chased by a mob with sticks and bats." He accused the Michigan State police of not taking the attack seriously.

The event, Bristow said, was "disrupted by intellectual fascists."

Terry Denbow, vice president for university relations at Michigan State, said that he was at the event and personally called the police when he saw the incident after the speech, and that four police cars arrived almost instantly.

In terms of the event as a whole, he said via e-mail: "The two-hour event was contentious, heated, and surely not, in my opinion, a poster event for civil discourse. The speaker was often shouted AT, but since the scheduled two-hour event lasted two hours, I would not say he was shouted DOWN. No arrests, as far as I know. No removals. To be sure, it was two hours of name calling and shouting and the prepared speech wasn't given, but amid the contentious exchanges, I would say Griffin was able to convey his intended core messages. And I would say the required question-answer component of our policy was met. During the exchanges I heard things I found reprehensible and counter to MSU's values. But bottom line: the marketplace on the banks of the Red Cedar was tested -- and was kept open, safe, and accessible, if not, to me, enlightening or elevating."

The Muslim Students' Association, along with Hillel and the Jewish Student Union, have called for the speech and the speaker to be condemned. Zohdy said that Griffin's appearance made Michigan State seem like "a haven for hate-mongers."

Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week featured speeches by Horowitz at Columbia, Emory and Princeton Universities and the University of Wisconsin at Madison. At Emory, shouting protesters -- most of them apparently not Emory students -- prevented him from talking. James Wagner, Emory's president, sent a note to the campus, criticizing how Horowitz was treated.

"Of all the principles we value at Emory University, the most fundamental is our commitment to the free and unfettered pursuit of the truth in scholarship and teaching.... When protesters repeatedly disrupt a lecture, as they did Wednesday night, resulting in its premature conclusion, they violate this most basic of all tenets in a university community," Wagner wrote. "David Horowitz is a controversial and even, at times, a provocative speaker. However, he was received with unacceptable rudeness when he came to Emory as a guest of a legitimate campus organization, the College Republicans. For our inability to control the reception he received, we apologize."

Elsewhere, there were protests, many letters to the editor, and some complaints that Horowitz was more rude than interesting.

Via e-mail, Horowitz said Sunday that his events served important goals and were nothing like what was organized at Michigan State. "Bringing a neo-Nazi and Jew-hater to campus in connection with Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week would be worse than counterproductive. It's antithetic to the purpose of the event which is designed to expose Nazis and Jew haters. Any attempt to associate me with this creep is a malicious misrepresentation of my efforts." He added that his organization sponsored no event at Michigan State.

He also rejected the charge that his activities promote hate. "There was a lot of hate spewed during Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week -- all of it coming from the left. I was called a racist, a bigot and a fascist, as were my speakers and students. The accusation that IFAW was designed to unleash hate against Muslims is a calculated lie.... You cannot find a single sentence in the thousands we wrote as part of our week or any of the speeches given during the week which would justify the accusation that we were promoting hatred of Muslims. This is a fascist tactic and it would be appalling if you lent any credence to it."

One of the speakers Horowitz did sponsor as part of the week was Ann Coulter, who wrote after 9/11: "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war." More recently she has been in the news for saying that Jews need to be "perfected" by becoming Christian.

Horowitz defended bringing Coulter to campuses.

"She's a satirist, whom leftists like to pretend to take seriously. Saying Coulter wants to convert Muslims to Christianity at the point of a sword is like saying that Jonathan Swift wanted to eat children," he said. "She also did not go after the Jews. All Christians in order to be Christians believe that Christians are perfected Jews. Jesus said this in so many words.... Coulter is a friend of the Jews and is not calling for Jews who do not become Christians to be burned at the stake. Why do liberals think Muslims who regard them as infidels are OK, but Christians who do are not?"


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