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COMMENTARY: Lisa Daftari is Islamophobe, threatens safety of students

A petition went live approximately 48 hours ago, calling for the cancellation of Lisa Daftari’s University-funded talk on “Radicalism on College Campuses” over concerns of her Islamophobic rhetoric. In such a short time, this petition has accumulated more than 1,300 signatures and widespread support.

Daftari, a foreign policy reporter who establishes her “journalism” in particularly orientalist and reductionist ideas, has engaged in a vicious flurry of tweets to express her indignation of students’ concern. She insists she is a serious reporter. She insists that she is not an Islamophobe, tweeting that “To call me ‘Islamophobic’ is a joke.”

But Wednesday morning, Daftari refused to acknowledge that Islamophobia exists in the first place. A supporter of her work tweeted at her. They said, “Islamophobia is a word created by Islamists/Jihadis/lefitsts/ to influence and exploit idiots and the ignorant for world domination and imposing Sharia and to keep the sane voices like yours from speaking out against the virulent ideology of islam.” Like many ignorant tweets before it, this one could have been dismissed as typical trolling, but Daftari retweeted it with an affirmative “Pretty much.”

For someone who insists that she is not an Islamophobe, it is concerning that she does not believe it exists in the first place.

Conflating Islam with extremism is not only erroneous but harmful to the physical welfare of Muslims on campus. Hate-mongering under the guise of free speech, as Daftari does, directly affects the safety of Muslims on campus. Muslim women at Rutgers have had slurs shouted at them while walking out of student centers on campus, being called “ISIS suicide bombers.” Beyond vitriol, Muslim women have had their headscarves torn off on campus. Anonymous flyers have been found on campus calling for the eradication of Muslims in America. 

And false equivalencies between mosques and ISIS recruitment — debunked in 2015 by an Oxford University study that found “radicalization rarely occurs in mosques” — perpetuates an environment that threatens Muslims and leaves us fearing for our own safety.

Daftari’s implication that Islamophobia does not exist denies the legitimacy and validity of the hate and violence that Muslims experience on a daily basis, on and off campus.

For a university that prides itself on inclusion and diversity, it is disturbing that Undergraduate Academic Affairs has organized and sponsored — with our University funds — a speech by an individual who perpetuates irrational, baseless and simply dangerous opinions about the religion of Islam. For a department of academics at a top-tier research university, it is disappointing that no research was done into the background of this speaker. It is disheartening that an academic department is willing to give a platform to an individual who perpetuates myths instead of facts. And it is dismaying that the University’s regard for the well-being of its students is an afterthought.

Rutgers' Muslim Public Relations Council works to foster a safe and comfortable environment for Muslim students on campus. 


*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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