Much like our fellow Yalies in the Buckley Program, Muslims on campus believe in the value of free speech. In fact, we are proud to be a part of the Yale community because of the culture it promotes, one that protects student freedoms. We know that our university stands up for its students and encourages them to act on their values — in faith and ideology.
But when the Muslim Students Association learned of the Buckley Program’s decision to host an event with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, we and many other groups decided to write a letter expressing our concerns.
We understand that many Yalies are questioning the letter we released and our process for verifying signatories. We want to take this opportunity to tell the story of our reaction to the announcement of Hirsi Ali’s visit, from the beginning. We have no reason to hide what has transpired and we encourage those hearing rumors to reach out to us for the truth.
We first heard about Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s visit to campus through a member of the MSA. We were surprised to see that a group of our fellow Yalies would invite a speaker so well-known for her hate speech and assumed that they must not have been aware of the extent of her intolerance.
At a meeting with the president of the Buckley Program, I expressed my concerns about the speaker and explained how offensive many people find her commentary. I explained my view that Hirsi Ali does not have the scholarly credentials to speak on Islam and asked that the event be limited to subjects she can speak on from her personal experiences. I also requested that another speaker be included in the discussion with Hirsi Ali to provide a more balanced talk. I would like to clarify that I certainly was not asking for a disinvitation or cancellation.
Ultimately, the MSA decided to draft a letter expressing our concerns about Hirsi Ali’s visit. We did our best to be deliberate and fair in reaching out to organizations and asking them to sign the letter.
We first asked club presidents to tentatively add their signatures after we had explained the situation and released a portion of the letter. At the time, we did not send out the full document, as it was still undergoing edits. We then invited all club presidents who had tentatively signed the letter to a meeting at which we planned to finalize the letter by making appropriate edits and discussing any concerns club presidents voiced.
We notified all groups that had tentatively signed that we would send the final version of the letter, with requested edits, by 12:00 a.m. that night. All clubs were told they had until 1:00 a.m. to take back their signatures before the letter would be released, and we had confirmed at the meeting that the late timing would not be an issue for signatories.
We put in a sincere effort to respect the requests of all groups that raised concerns and we did our best to accurately represent everyone involved. Because of the countless emails we had been receiving, we may have miscommunicated with some groups that had provided tentative signatures. We are truly sorry for any trouble this may have caused and we have already sent out a number of emails clarifying and apologizing to the relevant groups.
Could we have sent additional confirmation emails to signatories? Probably. Could we have arranged for an alternative meeting time for those student groups that could not attend to review the letter? Most likely. As a group of full time students with less than two weeks to coordinate with over 100 people, we were doing our best to handle email after email on this issue. It was very difficult and we ask that our fellow Yalies understand that.
We are encouraged by the amount of solidarity that our classmates have shown throughout this endeavor, and we are overwhelmed by the support our peers and staff have given us. We are inspired by the number of Yalies who decided to stand up for a cause, regardless of whether they had personal ties to it or not. We believe that we have taken steps to promote student activism, and we hope our classmates continue to unite around causes that help further coexistence and freedom of expression on Yale’s campus in the future.
Abrar Omeish is a sophomore in Branford College. Her views do not represent those of the Muslim Students Association. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.