CAMPUS CORRESPONDENCE : Howard University Is No Bastion of Anti-Semitism
A legacy that took 126 years to build is crumbling before the nation’s eyes. The reputation of Howard University as a historic and prestigious African American institution has been damaged by charges of run away anti-Semitism on campus.
The origin of the controversy is not hate-ridden teaching in the classroom, but a guest campus speaker, Khallid Abdul Muhammad. What the Nation of Islam leader said last February has sparked a nationwide debate on freedom of speech and black-Jewish relations.
Muhammad, along with Malik Zulu Shabazz, a law student at Howard, spoke about black empowerment and the atrocities inflicted upon people of African descent. They said Jews were prominent players in the slave trade and were responsible for African Americans’ low socioeconomic status.
Since then, Howard has been continually attacked for permitting such a fiery, outspoken and, in some cases, hated speaker to appear on university property. The damage to the university’s reputation has been immense.
Since Muhammad’s speech, Howard has been portrayed in the media as a Jew-hating campus. As a result, some prospective students have shied away from attending classes at Howard, various aid programs have been threatened with curtailment and some graduates have even encountered a steady stream of rejections when applying for jobs. All this because everyone thinks Howard holds Jewish-hate rallies.
News programs, such as CBS’s “Eye to Eye with Connie Chung,” have given the issue national exposure. But their coverage has not fairly represented Howard students, faculty, staff and administrators. For example, when “Eye to Eye” aired in late March, Howard was again swept up in controversy because the show’s producers chose to air the opinions of only two students, both of whom sided with Muhammad and both of whom have strong, biting beliefs about Jewish-black relations. The damaging and lasting impression was that the two spoke for everyone at Howard.
This could not more untrue. Howard has Jewish benefactors, students, faculty and supporters. It has always prided itself on being not only the “mecca” of higher black education, but also an institution that embraces diversity, whether of cultures, religions or beliefs.
Muhammad was just one of many who annually come to Howard to speak. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders and Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown have both been invited to speak, as well as Muhammad, a second time.
Furthermore, not all invited speakers are university sanctioned. The Shabazz-led Unity Nation, not Howard, asked Muhammad to speak. Still, college students should be allowed to make up their own minds about whether they want to hear someone like Shabazz speak.
For the foundation of an institution of higher learning is freedom of expression. This ensures that students are exposed to a wide range of ideologies and theories. Howard prides itself on fulfilling this mission, which makes a Howard education more valuable.
Black-Jewish relations is an important topic, but they will not improve so long as the context of discussion is finger-pointing at universities for permitting controversial people to speak to students on campus. The media would do better to devote its resources to exposing the real causes of racial and social injustice.
In any case, it is time to put this affair to rest. Blacks and Jews are fighting over who has been oppressed more and whose holocaust was worst. Everyone on both sides needs to realize that neither group can continue accusing the other if any progress is going to be made toward ending injustice.
Blacks and Jews have a lot in common. Once their shared experiences are expressed by members of both groups, we can begin to stop pointing the racist finger of blame.*
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