Young Americans for Freedom speaker announcement sparks petition to cancel event
“Exposing Radical Islam” event to feature American author and blogger Robert Spencer
UB’s Young Americans for Freedom club (YAF) announced on Monday that it will host an event, “Exposing Radical Islam: The dangers of jihad in today’s world” on May 1 featuring guest speaker, Robert Spencer.
Spencer is a self-proclaimed expert on radical Islam and runs a blog called “Jihad Watch.” He is the author of 16 books including The New York Time’s bestsellers, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad.
Just one day after the event was announced, students and faculty started a petition asking Student Association (SA) president Matt Rivera and other SA members to “rescind their explicit sponsorship” for the event by removing the SA logo from all flyers and advertisements and to abide by their anti-discrimination policy when approving club events.
“We are disheartened that some individuals wish to shut down the event, as public universities are the place for free speech and discussing even the most difficult topics,” said YAF chairwoman Lynn Sementilli.
“Our chapter wanted to host Robert Spencer because of his expertise on Islamic Law and Jihad, having spoken at renowned institutions,” Sementilli said. “We feel that due to the relevancy of the topic in regards to recent events, that it would be beneficial to UB students to hear from someone of his background on the issue of theocratic political movements that institutionalize Islamic law.”
SA will not be spending any amount of student fees on the event, Rivera said. The event will be financed entirely through the national YAF organization, a foundation dedicated to helping college students bring conservative ideas onto campus through events, conferences and internships, according to the YAF website.
Alexandra Prince, a PhD history student, started the petition and has roughly gathered 351 signatures so far.
“Our campus needs to foster religious toleration and literacy – not promote the divisive hate speech of an uncredentialed individual whose views are injurious to a large population of the student body,” Prince said in an email.
Prince said she began the petition to ask the UB community to consider the dangers Spencer may bring to the campus community.
Spencer's works were explicitly cited by terrorist and mass murderer Anders Breivik who referenced his work 64 times in a manifesto before murdering 77 people in 2011, according to The New York Times.
“This is not a case of reviewing whether or not Spencer could incite violence – he already has,” Prince said. “In acknowledgement of this, Spencer has been banned from entering the UK since 2013 – yet the University at Buffalo finds no issue with sponsoring a talk of his on our public campus.”
Samiha Islam, president of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) said she hopes SA officials will “realize the detriment of having such a speaker” attend a UB-sponsored event.
Fadi Suboh, president of Students for Justice for Palestine (SJP) said Spencer is seen as an “Islamophobic” by many Muslims and is known for taking chapters of the Qur’an out of context.
“We, as Muslim SA, are greatly concerned about the presence of Robert Spencer on campus and about the safety of our students here who may feel offended and/or not safe because Spencer might be inciting hate and/or violence from his speech,” Suboh said.
Suboh said it is “amazing” how people who have never studied and don’t even know Muslims, speak about Islam.
“He insists, despite his lack of academic training in Islam, that the religion is inherently violent, because of that, Spencer was banned from the United Kingdom as an extremist since July 2013,” Suboh said.
Suboh said despite his misgivings, he would encourage his peers and fellow e-board members to attend the event to hear what Spencer has to say.
“Shutting down speakers that you disagree with does nothing to bring us together, but only divides us more,” Sementilli said.
*Editor's note: The original article said YAF tried to bring other controversial speakers to UB in the past, such as Milo Yiannopoulos, a British journalist for conservative American news site Breitbart.
Sarah Crowley is the senior news editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org