This article originally appeared on the web site of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.
The scene was the George Washington University campus in the heart of Washington, D.C. The event was focused on a highly sensitive subject likely to stir passions: it was called Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, a national event initiated by controversial author-activist David Horowitz. The event’s co-sponsor was a national organization for conservative students, the Young America’s Foundation (YAF).
The posters advertising the event were crude and offensive. They said, “Hate Muslims? So Do We!!!”
At first glance, it appeared as if the posters were indeed the work of the YAF. The only clue that the posters were part of a deception to discredit them was in the fine print, and subtle to boot: “Brought to you by Students for Conservativo-Fascism Awareness.” That is, it was the only clue if you accept the premise that conservatives are by nature racist, and not clever enough to hide it.
Otherwise, people not prejudiced against conservatives could have guessed, from the clownishly exaggerated racism displayed, what the posters really were – a political hoax intended to smear conservatives. These hoaxes are a growing campus phenomenon: college conservatives apparently do not perform enough of the anti-social acts desperately needed by the left to validate their hatred of the right and to fuel public outrage at conservatives. Therefore, campus radicals occasionally seem compelled to perform the misdeeds right-wingers would commit, were the right-wingers actually the hate-filled racists the left assumes they are.
The posters were hung up on October 8, several weeks before “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week.” The following day, a group of seven radical students wrote a confession to the student newspaper. They proudly proclaimed their responsibility for the posters, which also included other comments derogatory to Muslims and Arabs.
The derogatory comments did not express the opinions of actual YAF members, as subsequent interviews with members of the YAF leadership revealed.
“We wanted to raise awareness about the oppression going on every day in the Islamic world,” explained Sergio Gor, student president of the YAF’s George Washington chapter. He insisted, however, that the week was not an indictment of the whole religion or of the Arab people. Instead, according to Gor, the event sought to publicize the threat posed by a small, violent minority of Muslims, both inside and outside the Islamic world.
“We made it very clear, right from the start, that we were condemning only a small portion of the Muslims, the small group of radicals who have hijacked their religion,” Gor explained. “We’re bringing in Muslim speakers,” he added. Several of the speakers were formerly abused in prison for everyday activities Americans take for granted. One woman was flogged 300 times for wearing nail polish, and an Iranian student was tortured for protesting the lack of free speech on campus in his homeland.
Ron Robinson, the national president of the YAF, said his organization has been inviting Muslims to the George Washington campus, where their national summer convention is frequently held, since 1983: “One of our speakers that year was a seventeen-year-old Muslim who was over here receiving medical treatment for injuries he got as a member of the Mujahideen fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. We also helped to send a team of Doctors without Borders to Afghanistan.”
Robinson dismissed the attempt by a small group of students at George Washington to present the YAF as anti-Muslim as a complete distortion of the facts. “It’s ironic, almost comical to me. We’ve been around for 38 years, and they had to concoct an incident because they couldn’t find anything to pin on us in all that time, ”said Robinson, national president of the YAF. “We’ve got a stronger history of working with Muslims than most liberal groups.”
Robinson says it is not conservatives but the left that wants to divide people into groups based on their ethnicity. “The left is preoccupied by race. They want to create one race-based group after another on the campus.”
The reactions by the George Washington University administration, before and after the perpetrators of the hoax confessed, also indicate that many in academia think the worst of conservatives, without any factual grounds for these beliefs. “They (administration officials) told us they found it hard to believe it wasn’t us. We felt like we were immediately on trial. There was no presumption of innocence,” Gor said. “When they thought it was us, it was considered a hate crime. When they found out it was done by liberals, they considered it ‘satire.’”
He added that the actual university charges against the seven students are minimal. “I think they’re charged with ‘unlawfully putting up posters’ and ‘using the university logo inappropriately.’” Their conduct will not be judged by the administration, as is the case with serious infractions, but by the student judiciary. “It mostly handles stuff like campus alcohol violations,” Gor explained. “They (the admitted perpetrators) are going to get a slap on the wrist.”
Despite an official apology to the YAF by the university administration, Gor said that many students on the campus continue to identify his group with the posters. And the perpetrators saw an affirmation of their belief that conservatives are racists, even though the YAF never took part in the activities they were accused of. The confession signed by the seven students called the hoax a “creative political action [that] was part of the rich American tradition of raising awareness, in this case, about Islamophobia. We exposed the upcoming Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week …for the celebration of racism that it is.”
The seven guilty students obviously consider the YAF an enemy. They have also forgotten the most basic advice from the seminal work on combat, Sun Tzu’s “Art of War,” to “know thine enemy.” If they did, they might discover that the members of the YAF, whom who they so viciously slandered and demonized, are not the racist ogres they assumed. They might find instead that YAF members are actually decent young people who have the sense to fight what is truly evil and not waste their time inventing evil where none exists.