COMMENTARY: Lisa Daftari is not Islamophobic, deserves to speak

Student activism has met a new low. On Monday night, a petition began circulating around Rutgers groups calling for journalist Lisa Daftari’s talk on Oct. 16 to be cancelled due to her perceived Islamophobia. By Tuesday afternoon, this dishonest petition had more than 1,000 signatures. Daftari, an accomplished foreign policy analyst who has spent her career covering ISIS and counter-terrorism, is far from an Islamophobe — her work is incredibly important to the lives of the countless Muslims who fall prey to ISIS. Student activists’ attempts to take her quotes out of context are shameful, dishonest and contrary to the purpose of a university, which is to educate and expose students to new ideas.

The petition takes issue with a speech Daftari gave at a Conservative Women’s Network event, hosted by the Heritage Foundation and the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute. The petition claims she said, “Islamic terror takes its guidance and teachings from the Quran, which is Sharia law.” The petition distorted Daftari’s words — she actually said, “What ISIS claims to be doing is to take the Quran and its teachings and Sharia law ... in a very literal way.” This is unfortunately true. Members of ISIS have a distorted view of Islam — the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, literally has a PhD in Islamic Studies. Nothing about this statement is Islamophobic. It is also worth noting that Daftari is a foreign policy analyst, not a scholar of Islam — she is more interested in the motivations of terrorists than analyzing if their motivations are actually accurate according to religious text. That being said, she still made it clear in her speech that ISIS has a fringe interpretation of Islamic text that does not represent the majority of the community.

The petition also grieves what Daftari said of ISIS’s recruitment techniques, “When you go to the mosque and you’re part of a community, and you want to feel important and relevant, and want to give back to the cause — (ISIS) recruits you. You say — I can be an ISIS wife.” This is a true technique ISIS uses — and Daftari was clearly talking about the wives of jihadis, not American Muslims. It is a fact that ISIS uses their own religious interpretation to convert innocent and nonviolent Muslims across the world into becoming extremists. If anything, her statement is humanizing and reminds us that anyone in an insular tight-knit community can fall prey to extremism. It is a statement about ISIS’s recruitment techniques throughout the world, not a statement about American Muslims.

The petition continues, “Sign this petition to tell Rutgers that we will not have our hard-earned tuition dollars be spent for bringing this bigot to speak at Rutgers.” It is ironic that left-leaning student activists who call for minimum wage increases are suddenly fiscal conservatives. In reality, Daftari’s speaking fee probably costs as much as a first-year meal plan — who knows, maybe she is giving the lecture for free as a Rutgers alumna. Even more ironic is the fact that the petition calls her a bigot, which means a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices. By spreading lies and false allegations in order to silence her, it is clear that Daftari’s protesters are far more bigoted than she is.

If students have concerns about what Daftari has said in the past, they should attend her talk and ask her questions instead of attempting to silence her. Or they should at least watch her entire speech at the Conservative Women’s Network event instead of taking her words out of context. I have not read everything Daftari has written over her career, but I truly doubt she has said anything Islamophobic. I saw her speak at a student conference in April 2016. She was a warm and kind person who gave an engaging talk — though I have a more libertarian view of foreign policy, I found her very informative. Her face lit up when I told her I went to Rutgers and she asked me if I knew her journalism professors. My heart breaks for her when I see Rutgers students villainizing her and taking her statements out of context. I understand why Muslim students would be wary of Islamophobes speaking on campus, but Lisa Daftari is far from that — she is a highly respectable journalist who deserves to be heard.

Andrea Vacchiano is a School of Arts and Sciences senior double majoring in political science and history. 

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