Rutgers student starts online petition against upcoming speaker, foreign-affairs journalist

<p>In a statement made on its Twitter account, Rutgers Undergraduate Academic Affairs stood by its decision to bring Lisa Daftari, a Rutgers alumna and journalist, to speak on campus as part of its Speaker Series program.</p>

In a statement made on its Twitter account, Rutgers Undergraduate Academic Affairs stood by its decision to bring Lisa Daftari, a Rutgers alumna and journalist, to speak on campus as part of its Speaker Series program.

A Rutgers student has started an online petition aimed at preventing Lisa Daftari, an investigative journalist who makes regular appearances on Fox News as an on-air political analyst and serves as founder and editor-in-chief of The Foreign Desk, from speaking on campus on Oct. 16.

The event, which is hosted by Rutgers Undergraduate Academic Affairs (UAA), is titled "Radicalism on College Campuses," according to the event page. It is planned to take place from 7 to 8 p.m. in the Douglass Student Center. 

In a statement to The Daily Targum, Daftari said she will be talking about free speech on campus.

Adeel Ahmed, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and co-president of RU Progressive, started the petition, which as of yesterday had 1,270 signatures.

Ahmed did not respond to a request for comment by time of publication, but on the petition he critized Daftari for what he claimed to be Islamophobic and hate-mongering speech. 

"To call me an 'Islamophobe,' is slanderous and preposterous," Daftari said to the Targum. "If those students took the time to look at my background and the breadth of my coverage, they’d see that not only am I Iranian, but I’ve dedicated my time to mainly defending human rights in Muslim countries on TV, radio, on D.C. panels, government briefings and even at the United Nations where I spoke about the plight of Syrians recently."

Ahmed said that Daftari said the following in a speech at The Heritage Foundation :

“Islamic terror takes its guidance and teachings from the Quran, which is Sharia law.” Ahmed said she went on to say, “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.'” 

Ahmed said that he considers this statement to be hate-mongering because it equates Muslims everywhere with ISIS, according to the petition. He said this type of speech is harmful and claimed it is just a sample of what Daftari has said. 

Daftari responded and said the quote Ahmed referred to was part of a larger talk.

"The quote they have attributed to me is part of a much longer talk about ISIS recruitment practices in which I recommend working together with the Muslim communities in America to isolate extremism," she said. "I have always differentiated between Muslim people versus the distortion of Islam in politics and radicalism."

Rutgers has had its share of petitions and protested speakers before. More recently, in February, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) withdrew its invitation from a Rutgers—Newark career fair after the student group RU Dreamers started an online petition that received 139 supporters, according to the Targum.

"Ironically, my talk is about free speech on campus, and my purpose is to talk about the importance of dialogue, tolerance and listening to the ‘other side’ rather than shutting them down," Daftari said. "They don’t even know what I will say. They just want to silence me."

UAA said the goal of its Speaker Series is to invite speakers on campus that will spark a dialogue about what students are learning in the classroom, the current cultural and political climate and encourage civic engagement, according to a Twitter post.

Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Academic Affairs Ben Sifuentes-Jauregui said Daftari provided UAA with information saying the talk will be ‘focusing on free speech’ and facilitating a conversation around the question ‘how can we use our college campuses as a place for learning, thinking and leadership rather than violence, hatred and radicalism.'

“If these issues are not brought to the forefront and given a chance to be debated, then they may continue to stay buried,” he said. “Bringing a professional to campus who can help us speak interest on the topic and call attention to a particular issue is important.”

Editor's Note: This article was updated to provide comments from Undergraduate Academic Affairs.

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