Outcry over Dr. Bazian’s alleged anti-Semitic social media retweets cause school to postpone event
By Benjamin Noel
Last week, the Muslim Student Association (MSA) had to indefinitely postpone an event with a guest speaker, Dr. Hatem Bazian, slated to speak on the topic of Islamaphobia. He planned to detail his research on the matter as well as inform the Muslim community how to address and report incidents. The MSA had to postpone the event, awaiting the school’s final say, because the school “received some additional communication from staff and faculty who were concerned about the speaker.” The outcry stems from Dr. Bazian retweeting cartoons deemed antisemitic.
On September 2, Dr. Bazian retweeted a cartoon image of an IDF soldier holding a Palestinean man’s heart, which the San Francisco branch of the ADL retweeted and judged as antisemitic, claiming it invoked blood libel. Dr. Bazian defended his retweet with multiple sources on Israeli organ harvesting of Palestinians, backed with work from Nancy Scheper-Hughes, director of the UC Berkeley doctoral program of Critical Studies in Medicine, Science, and the Body, as well as numerous reports including an interview with the former head of an Israeli forensic laboratory. One of his linked sources states: “Israel harvested organs from bodies in the 1990s without permission of family members, the former head of a state-run forensic laboratory said in a newly released interview” (CNN).
While the school must take into account the whole picture of a man before allowing him to speak freely to students in any capacity, be it inside the classroom or at a public event on campus, the claims against the professor aren’t substantive enough on their own to rule him and his speech unfit for Saint Mary’s students. Additionally, Dr. Bazian was set to speak on the topic of Islamophobia, not the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Dr. Bazian’s talk on Islamophobia comes at a crucial time, 20 years after the attacks on the Twin Towers. Post-9/11, Islamaphobia saw an exponential increase as “anti-Muslim hate crime incidents spiked after September 11th, 2001, jumping from 28 incidents in 2000 to 481 in 2001” (NBC). This 1600% jump in anti-Muslim hate crimes has since decreased, but to this day has never reached pre-9/11 lows. And with the Israel-Palestine conflict breaking news again earlier in the year, tensions are high, and it is important people are well educated not only on the conflict, but the effect charged rhetoric can have on innocent civilians.
While Dr. Bazian was not planning to speak on the Israel-Palestine conflict, concerns about his character were what unfolded a series of meetings, and the indefinite postponing of his talk. The initial meeting to discuss the concerns around the speaker involved President Plumb, Interim Provost Corey Cook, VP of Mission Francis Sweeny, Senior Diversity Officer Kathy Littles, VP of Student Life Life Anthony Garrison-Engbrecht, and a representative from campus communications. Now, administrators are discussing the specific speaker, as well as creating policy for future “controversial speakers.”
The results of these conversations, as of this writing, seem to be inconclusive one way or the other. Administrators no doubt have a tough decision on their hands. On one hand, giving Dr. Bazian a platform can give way to an unsavory reaction from students, not to mention concerned parents. But conversely, introducing a controversial speaker into the mix of otherwise relatively tame conversation may be a fruitful endeavor in heightening the quality of discourse held amongst students.
Given the underlying hot button topic, the school did its best to avoid conflict within the student body. Throughout this process, communications with the student body have been vague, leaving most students scratching their heads at administrators’ emails regarding an unnamed speaker. As of now, students’ voices do not have a large role in the process for vetting guest speakers, something that may start to change soon. Vice President of Student Life, Anthony Garrison-Engbrecht believes in “including student voices in this conversation, including things like reviewing and finalizing the guest speaker policy.” More student involvement in these matters would call for a high level of responsibility, civility, and maturity from the student body, but may ultimately lead to a higher quality of conversation on controversial topics.
“We at Saint Mary’s adamantly support academic freedom, the freedom of faculty, students, and College personnel and programs to pursue knowledge without undue or unreasonable interference.” -President Plumb
While the school has chosen to err on the side of caution, the current speaker policy states, “As a Catholic, Lasallian institution, our mission challenges us to pursue truth wherever it can be found.” The quest for a worthwhile truth necessitates the desire to have controversial yet critical conversations; for a belief unquestioned is not worth much.
This is a developing story.
Melanie Moyer '22,