Rutgers community must stand against Rice invitation
Brandeis University reversed its decision to award Ayaan Hirsi Ali with an honorary degree last week because of her Islamophobic rhetoric. The argument for rescinding her honorary degree is hefty, but not nearly as formidable as the argument to rescind Condoleezza Rice’s invitation and honorary degree here at Rutgers. Unlike Rice, Ali is not considered by most of the world to be a war criminal. For a much lesser offense, the Brandeis administration moved forward anyway. At Rutgers, President Robert L. Barchi has confined the debate on Rice’s invitation to a question of free speech in America, instead of the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people who had families, dreams, friends and passions. This neglects the reality of the invitation and simplifies the issue to one that is incredibly narcissistic. Rutgers is one of the greatest universities in the world, and as such, it is imperative that we intellectually engage the question of our commencement speaker as an inclusive, thoughtful community. With this in mind, we must also remember that some of our own community members are deeply hurt and personally affected by the Iraq War. The invitation to Condoleezza Rice began on the foot of exclusivity and disregard for consciousness and justice on this campus.
As a graduating senior, my commencement was ruined the moment I found out Rice was this year’s speaker. I find it difficult knowing that my soon-to-be alma mater is honoring a woman who is complicit in some of the worst human rights violations. This is a level of dehumanization that I never foresaw from the current Rutgers administration.
Let’s think about this objectively. The United States was adamantly against the utilization of chemical weapons in the Syrian crisis and threatened to take military action if a solution was not reached in which such weapons would no longer be used. Ironically, the Bush administration used chemical weapons in Fallujah, Iraq. This is an overt double standard. As Americans, we must hold ourselves accountable to our own standards of morality — otherwise, the rest of the world will not respect us. Rutgers will become a propellant of this hypocrisy if we invite and honor Condoleezza Rice. We have the power as a university community to make the choice to rescind her invitation or welcome her. Her invitation is not set in stone. With the stroke of a pen, Barchi can rescind her invitation and her honorary Doctor of Laws degree. For justice, we must stop at nothing, and we cannot forget why she has done more harm than good.
To be a war criminal is a dishonor. This title is reserved for those who commit crimes against humanity. Holistically, this is not just in reference to the usage of chemical weapons in Fallujah. It includes the usage of the term “collateral damage” to decrease the number of reported deaths, the Abu Ghraib prison and the Iraqi refugee crisis, in which more than 4 million Iraqis have no permanent home, and millions of Iraqi children were left parentless as a result of the war. These children have no homes, and since the country is still in shambles, there is no education system and no mechanism to ensure that the youth of Iraq will ever find the opportunity and hope that we have in abundance. We must have more compassion and empathy when discussing this issue.
Are we as Rutgers students going to sit down and give Barchi and the Board of Governors the right to assert that her invitation is impossible to rescind? Barchi frankly does not speak for me or for many of us. This decision alone, and his adamant unwillingness to introduce debate as a means to actually rescinding her invitation, essentially highlights his callousness — the same callousness that could push the Board of Governors to send a war criminal an invitation to speak at our University’s commencement.
Ask yourself this question: Does Rice really deserve an honorary degree? Disregard Barchi’s email in which he asserted that he would not compromise on his decision to invite her — the power should be in our hands to decide whether or not she is welcome to speak at our commencement on May 18. At the heart of this question is whether or not we will stand up for
what is right. All human life is precious and invaluable. We hold the ones we love as close as we possibly can. This invitation ignores the idea of loving one another, no matter where they come from. At Rutgers, I believe the love I’ve received here has brought me to where I am today, up until this moment at the very end of my four years on the banks. In the words of Cornel West, “justice is what love looks like in public.” This cannot hold more truth than in these moments leading up to this year’s commencement. We can choose to love those we’ve never met by respecting their dignity and loving their humanity, or we can choose to ignore them and honor a woman who, along with the rest of the Bush administration, took it away from them.
Rutgers, we can do better than this. And by better, I mean that we can make a difference in our world — together. Rescinding her invitation does not look nearly as bad as inviting Rice to speak in the first place. In fact, in 20 years, our university will be commemorated for retracting the invitation because it was the right thing to do, in the same way we are commemorated for being the first public university to partially divest from Apartheid South Africa. Back then, we did the right thing, and the entire world reveres us for it. The movement to divest came from the students and faculty who tirelessly pushed for what they believed in. It seems that Barchi and the Board of Governors threw these principles out of the window when they decided to invite and honor Rice. We, however, have not.
Sherif Ibrahim is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in political science and English.