Democracy Dies When Words on Paper are Just Empty Words

April 23, 2024 Statements

Washington, D.C. | | April 23, 2024 — Amid ongoing protests by pro-Palestinian and anti-genocide student advocates at Columbia and other universities, the White House issued a response condemning violence and physical intimidation against Jewish students. MPAC strongly denounces any form of hate or discrimination on college campuses. However, it comes as no surprise that the Biden Administration consistently fails to extend the same sentiments to students who face repeated violence, intimidation, doxing, and harassment for their pro-Palestinian advocacy. 

This double standard is a clear affront to communities of color who frequently face over-policing and discrimination when it comes to invoking their First Amendment rights. The infringement upon academic freedoms and the assault on free speech unfairly singles out voices advocating for Palestinian rights on university campuses nationwide.

Does the right to protest not extend to the hundreds of students who were forcibly removed and arrested by law enforcement across college campuses for engaging in peaceful protests against genocide? Does it not extend to the pro-Palestinian demonstrators at Columbia who were sprayed with foul-smelling chemicals in January, prompting eight people to seek medical treatment? Or does the right to free speech not extend to Asna Tabassum, the 2024 USC valedictorian who faces exclusion from speaking at her commencement due to her political convictions? 

At Columbia University, students have been protesting for three simple demands: transparency, divestment, and amnesty – all forms of nonviolent resistance that are within the bounds of lawful expression. Witnesses, including the press, cite that they had not observed a single incident of violence or aggression on the lawn or at the student encampment. Notably, individuals who were protesting off university property were said to not be students at Columbia or Barnard

Many students have repeatedly distanced themselves from agent provocateurs and instigators, yet they are met with dangerous accusations of providing material support to foreign terrorist organizations. Jairo I. Fúnez-Flores, Assistant Professor at Texas Tech University tweeted: “Another thing I learned about student movements in Honduras is that the most effective way to discredit and thus fragment them is from the inside. There are infiltrators who will try to cause the movement harm. This is also happening at Columbia.” 

These disproportionate responses based on false narratives fail to protect all students against hate and have lethal consequences. White House statements are selectively issued when there is a tragic loss of life or an incident of an undeniable targeted hate crime such as the 6-year-old Palestinian-American who was stabbed 26 times for being Muslim and the three U.S. college students, who were shot near the University of Vermont while wearing Palestinian keffiyehs. If the Administration issues a response for one incident— they must issue one for all American students. 

Even more troubling is the deliberate conflation of violence and antisemitism with peaceful calls for a ceasefire. This unleashes the national security apparatus and sanctions crackdowns on political dissent within institutions like Columbia University. The perpetuation of these policies reflects the historical discrimination experienced by Americans, especially American Muslims. This systemic bias not only erodes the rights and dignity of students but also cultivates an atmosphere of fear and hostility on campuses. This climate also nurtures a culture of collective punishment, unfairly targeting students based on the alleged actions of a few.

Students should not have to live in fear on their campuses nor should they be dismissed by those who claim to be guardians of democracy and freedom, including campus administration, media outlets, and the leaders of our nation. Students represent the consciousness of our country, and campuses are the ideal buffer to ensure checks and balances hold institutions accountable for their complicity in genocide.

We must hold our leaders accountable as this movement gains momentum throughout the country and support our students in their pursuit of justice for Palestine. 

It’s time we uphold our Constitutional freedoms rather than leave the words as mere ink on paper. Quotes of our founding fathers are memorialized on monuments and enshrined in museums, but they’re not cherished, protected, and nurtured. Democracy dies when words on paper are just empty words.

– Salam Al-Marayati, MPAC President

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