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COMMENTARY: Response to Obama at commencement reveals hypocrisy of No Rice protestors

Last November, I published a commentary on the double standards and hypocrisy of the No Rice protests. I was then criticized for being too preemptive, and supposedly misrepresenting them, which are accusations that I believe are facetious and exemplify the double standards employed by No Rice. I debated waiting before penning this commentary — perhaps No Rice would act after all. However, I realized delay allows the inconsistency between their actions against Dr. Rice and inaction toward President Obama.

To clarify my previous editorial, it is my opinion, and that of the Rutgers University College Republicans, that we respect the Office of President of the United States and President Obama's right to speak at Rutgers' 250th anniversary commencement. We will not allow political disagreement to interfere with the freedom of opinions and ideas expected of a university environment. Furthermore, it is a mark of maturity to respect others, even those with whom we may vehemently disagree. What we oppose is the double standard practiced by affiliate organizations and members of No Rice, protesting against one commencement speaker based on policy but not against another with similar policies (and reneging on promises of impartial humanitarianism). This is not an issue of ideology or the targeting of specific individuals, but a blanket grievance against those who choose to act in an inconsistent manner when confronted with the disparity of their actions.

Let us remember what No Rice said about President Obama speaking at commencement. Statements by their leaders include “I don’t care if it's President Obama drone bombing ... or if it’s Condoleezza Rice ... what is wrong is wrong (and) the president gets no pass from me or anyone who was involved in the No Rice protests.” By virtue of their own commitments, they must protest against President Obama’s commencement speech or step down from their moral high horses.

In April 2014, affiliate organizations of No Rice wrote a letter to President Robert L. Barchi arguing the University should consult with groups whom Dr. Rice’s actions may have affected because they felt the invitation was “insensitive.” Yet when they had the opportunity to express dissent, they issued no response to the public invitation from President Barchi, nor the one from Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) nor the one from the New Jersey Congressional delegation. For a speaker against whom they committed to protest. If these attempts to seek approval from the student body do not represent "acknowledgement of the feelings" of those who may feel insulted by the selected speaker, then there is nothing No Rice will find acceptable. It appears the only purpose for their letter was to establish false grounds for the protest of Dr. Rice, not to enact legitimate change in the speaker selection procedure.

No Rice criticized my previous editorial for being too preemptive, which may be a legitimate attack had they not needed to move the factual goalposts. Even before my editorial was written, and long before the response, there were formal invitations for President Barack Obama to speak at commencement, as mentioned in the preceding paragraph. I have to applaud this criticism for claiming these invitations did not exist. The mental gymnastics required to ignore not just one but three invitations represents a concerted effort to distort the truth and shut down critique without legitimate discussion. By claiming they could not act until the announcement, they attempt to excuse action until the latest possible moment, perhaps in the hope we might forget their promise of non-partisan protest.

No Rice also attempted to obfuscate their movement’s original purpose. They allege their only concern was the honorary degree and honorarium provided to Dr. Rice, not the commencement address going as far as to say “Rice is free to speak at the University whenever she wants”. This is a clear falsification of the documented purpose of No Rice, which numerous sources corroborate as rescinding the invitation for Dr. Rice to speak at commencement. The previously mentioned letter states they wanted "her invitation to be rescinded." To me this seems more than just wanting an honorary degree revoked. Their verbal protests primarily comprised of language directly opposed to Dr. Rice, rather than just the honorary degree. Further, one of the leaders of the No Rice protest, Sherif Ibrahim stated “(Rice) should not be held up as the standard to which graduating students should aspire, which a commencement speaking invitation directly implies." It appears they are now trying to backtrack their words and retroactively change the purpose of their original protests in an attempt to save face and discard blame from themselves, pointing it towards others for supposed misrepresentation.

From its inception, No Rice was designed to abridge Dr. Rice’s freedom of speech — a rather ironic use of their own right to speak and protest. Any reasonable observer could conclude that the motivations of No Rice appear to be tainted with partisan bias. This double standard is detrimental to the University community and precludes real political dialogue among the student population. We hope those involved in perpetuating this hypocrisy apologize for misleading the University community and for the unfair standard to which they held Dr. Rice.

Najum Junaid is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in cell biology and neuroscience and political science.

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