Stephen Lawrence is refusing to bow to intimidation. Would that we had 300 million more people like him in America. “Criticism of Saudi students sparks protest at Wilkes: Students object to a letter in the Times Leader portraying Saudi students as a potential danger,” from the Times Leader:
WILKES-BARRE — A letter to the editor in Sunday”s Times Leader blasting Saudi Arabia and criticizing the paper’s decision to run a story about Saudi Arabian international students at Wilkes University sparked a protest at the college Wednesday.
Nearly 300 students attended the hour-and-a-half exposition outside the Henry Student Center Wednesday afternoon to protest the letter written by Forty Fort dentist Stephen M. Lawrence referencing 9/11, honor killings and the treatment of women and Christians in Muslim states.
“It is said we are having a clash of civilizations, but as we can plainly see, only one side is civilized,” he wrote. “Wake up Americans. We are letting the barbarians in and we must be diligent.”
The letter responded to an April 9 story that followed 15 Saudi Arabian students” acclimation into an American university.
Interviewed Wednesday, Lawrence stood by his views, calling the religion of Islam “a political and religious system that is against everything that Western values stand for.”
Salman Punekar, 19, a business major at Wilkes University and a naturalized American citizen of Saudi Arabian decent, organized the peaceful protest that drew out many students on the final day of classes. He said he learned about the letter earlier this week and began circulating e-mails to fellow students.
“His statements undermine American values,” Punekar said of Lawrence. “I”m a naturalized citizen now and there’s no difference between me and anybody else. We came out here so that he (Lawrence) knows there’s a strong opposition to his views. He’s exercising his freedom of speech and so are we.”
Fair enough. But I wish Punekar would expand on his statement that “there’s no difference between me and anybody else.” If he is trying to tar Lawrence as a racist, and making a counter-racist statement, his assertion must be accepted as true while his implication about Lawrence’s remarks must be rejected as false. For Lawrence plainly spoke about the teachings that Saudi students may have imbibed in Saudi mosques, not about their race. And his questions deserve answers. No attempt is made to determine what Muslim students studying in the U.S. believe about jihad, Sharia, and Islamic supremacy. Since Khaled Sheikh Muhammad and so many other jihadists have studied here, is that really wise?
Or does Punekar mean that he accepts American values of pluralism, and the indefinite peaceful coexistence of Muslims and non-Muslims as equals? If so, he should regard the ways in which jihad terrorists behave as just as abhorrent as Lawrence does, and he should say so plainly and stand with Lawrence against this barbarism, recognizing that it is not unreasonable to ask whether Saudi students hold such views.
Punekar and friends also circulated a petition questioning Lawrence’s statements and the Times Leader’s decision to run his letter. Punekar said he received 350 signatures by 1 p.m. He plans to send copies of the signed petitions to Lawrence and the paper….
Lawrence said he pulls much of his information about Islamic societies from the Internet and books written about the Quran. He wrote that 14 of the 19 suicide bombers in the 9/11 attacks were from Saudi Arabia and many of them came to this country on student visas. He sees a risk in other extremists falling through the system’s cracks again….
Communications studies professor Evene Estwick, a former international student from Barbados, is one of several Wilkes faculty members who oversee the university”s international student program. She said that while many of the items cited in Lawrence’s letters might be facts of life in some Islamic states, they don’t represent the majority population of Muslims and people from Saudi Arabia.
“In the way you can’t blame individuals for actions of an entire group, you cannot judge an entire country based on the actions of several people,” she said. “Just be mindful. We”re all different.”
Sure we are, Evene. But what about the ideology? Does the fact that we are all different, and each wonderful in his or her own way, somehow make a totalitarian, genocidal, supremacist, expansionist ideology disappear?