Another day to keep in our hearts

09-14-2010

On Sunday, Sept. 12, I became aware of the desecration of a Quran near the East Lansing Islamic Center. The timing of such an act certainly wasn’t random, coming as this community and nation observed the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

I conveyed to the president of the Islamic Center and to our Muslim community my profound regret that this offensive act took place in our community, and I condemn this act of bigotry and intimidation in no uncertain terms. What occurred is a violation of the spirit of MSU and of the East Lansing community at large, both of which embrace diversity and inclusiveness as core values.

While we cannot diminish free speech rights, it is unfortunate that the anti-Muslim sentiment we hear nationwide is fueled by a small, strident group of self-aggrandizing individuals, such as those misguidedly calling for burning the Quran on Sept. 11. While they encourage such acts within our communities, we should not exaggerate the importance of the lone event here—or of the anonymous perpetrator or perpetrators. That would be playing into the hands of those forces that would like to divide us on the basis of religion and race.

The university community has a long history of coming together to extend support to victims of discrimination and bigotry. I would like to do the same once again on behalf of MSU by assuring the Muslim community at large, MSU’s Muslim students, faculty, and staff members, and the Islamic Center in particular that MSU’s commitment to the principles of diversity and inclusiveness remains unshakable.

My administration has joined our Muslim Studies Program to sponsor the appearance on campus Sept. 23 of Dr. Ali Mazrui, the Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities and director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at Binghamton University, State University of New York. This distinguished scholar will deliver a public lecture titled "In the Shadow of Islamophobia: The United States and the Muslim World," at 4 p.m. in Room 303 of the International Center. I encourage all who wish to support tolerance and discourage divisiveness to attend.

Terrorism can steal into our midst in many guises and mouthing many creeds, but always it is infected by ignorance, rage, and narcissism. The perpetrator in the recent instance chose an act of vandalism meant to offend, and perhaps, to engender fear. Yet its anonymity is merely an acknowledgement of its own cowardly shamefulness.

Those who act so don’t get it, but perhaps our community’s demonstrations of solidarity with our Islamic neighbors will give them a clue. And we’re far from alone. Gainesville, Florida, another mid-state college town that found itself host to a small, vocal incendiary fringe group, similarly has repudiated its local haters.

As we remember the events of Sept. 11 in this country, and reflect on the tenor of these times, we also should bear in mind––and in our hearts––the meaning of another important day on our calendar. It is September 17, Constitution Day.

The centrality of our diversity and the freedom to practice our civic and faith-based conscience is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States. In this culture of many, you can verbally shake your fist and be judged only in the court of public opinion. But as a nation of laws, there also is a line between lawful expression and illegal intimidation, and once crossed, a different court holds sway.

Rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to peacefully assemble and seek redress of grievances, all of these are our common birthright, whatever our religion or heritage. It’s hard to know anything as an actual right until it is tested, and such is the case with today’s heated cultural and religious rhetoric. But the sharpest, toughest steel blade is forged in heat, hammered, and folded upon itself time and again, each difficult fold adding to its resilience and temper. If our people are our alloyed steel and the course of events a hammer, the Constitution is our anvil.

At Michigan State, we observe Constitution Day every year with a series of programs across campus. The MSU Main Library this year hosts an exhibit drawing from various parts of our collections to reveal the diversity of scholarship and popular views and uses of the Constitution from its ratification in 1787 to the present.

Carillonneur Julia Walton will play patriotic music at 4 p.m. Friday as MSU joins in “Bells across America,” sponsored by the Lansing Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

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