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COMMENTARY: Rutgers must put fundamental values above mob rule

The quote used in the petition to cancel Lisa Daftari's speech is as follows, “Islamic terror takes its guidance and teachings from the Quran, which is Sharia law.”  The proper quote is “What ISIS claims to be doing is to take the Quran and its teachings and Sharia Law.” The removal of the word claims changes the meaning of the entire sentence, self-evidently. The individual whom started the petition has taken a moral high ground on an issue denouncing ISIS and converted a group of people into a mob whom is afraid the denunciation of ISIS could snowball into violence against Muslims, as if this were not a conclusion of an out-of-control positive feedback loop, but a totally rational conclusion.

It is nothing short of an individual’s double-think, converted to a crowd’s group-think, propagated through a medium of virtue signaling. In today’s age with the levees of social media broken open, it is undoubtedly difficult to contemplate complex subjects with appropriate nuance. I have no doubt of this — dare break rank and contemplate any space in the middle, and you will be alienated (and attacked) by both sides. We have been turned into a nation of zero-sum thinkers, where no nuance is permitted. But, if I understand the gripes of the group forcing the cancellation of this event appropriately, it is that we cannot admit to ourselves there are horrors in the world because if we do, the group sharing the demographic of the people who commit those horrors would be held accountable. But it is conversation with which this retaliation is avoided. It is through conversation that high-pressure situations like these are provided an appropriate release valve. Without proper public discourse, eventually the situation will grow and grow, until one side says, “I have something to say" and the other, “we will not let you speak.” I will leave it up to your imagination to see what follows.

If you are afraid to admit there is a group of Islamic terrorists, with whom the country is at war, you need to look no further then across the Hudson where the remembrance of the Twin Towers was shining bright a little more than a month ago, on the 17th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001. Denying this fact, does not make you a fighter of freedom, but of a people whom deny reality. The irony of an American Institution which has repeatedly confirmed its commitment to Free Speech (University President Robert L. Barchi May 7, 2014 and former University Chancellor Richard L. Edwards Feb. 12. 2016) barring the denunciation of ISIS, whose long list of heinous crimes including, but not limited to, genocidal behavior against LGBTQ individuals, Jews, Catholics, ethnic minority’s like Kurds, Yazidis and women, is not lost on myself or anyone acting in good faith (and I assume not on yourselves either).

None of this even considers the role a publicly funded and cornerstone institution of free speech plays in this debacle. Allowing public discourse of religion to be barred directly conflicts with the Founding Fathers of this nation’s social fabric. Critiques on no religion shall be held above the law or public discourse, and by extent any public university acting in good faith has a duty to uphold these values. I care deeply for my alma mater, as I know we all do, but as political activist and philosopher Thomas Paine would say, these are the times that try men’s (institutions) souls. If Rutgers should continue, as we all think it should and hope it will, for another 250 plus years with an equally as celebrated a history, it must in times of conflict put values above mob rule. 

Matthew Della Bella is an Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy alumnus.  


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