The Alexander Hamilton Society at Duke has partnered with Duke College Republicans and Young Americans for Liberty—Duke Libertarians’ rebranded organization—to bring Zuhdi Jasser to speak at Duke, causing waves of outrage from Muslim students on campus. Dr Jasser, M.D., is apparently a “recognized expert on Islamism,” and is scheduled to speak about the supposed “responsibility of American Muslims,” among other topics related to the on-going, reactionary, Bush-era political project of constructing narratives of omnipotent Muslim extremism. What exactly American Muslims are responsible for doing remains dubious, but the purpose of the event is not: conservatives in the Duke community are once again supporting a one-sided “discussion” that ignores the humanity of students on campus and hypocritically bucks their own calls for robust dialogue on campus.
These types of disingenuous characterizations of Muslims as extremists and the shameless beating of the domestic war drum have been felt close to home many times. In 2015 three Muslim students were murdered in Chapel Hill, their lives cut short by a horrific hate crime that authorities initially claimed was a simple parking dispute. Just a month before their murder in 2015, Duke rescinded the decision to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer once a week, groveling to Rev. Franklin Graham’s classically overblown fabrications regarding attacks on Christianity. A decade previous, Duke graduated Stephen Miller—now known as the crafter of Mr. Trump’s unconstitutional travel ban—who had been previously recognized on campus as a far-right commentator who praised America’s “glorious history of settlers” and formed a group that held an Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week on campus in 2007.
The student organizations hosting the Jasser event originally titled it “The American Muslim Identity: Patriot or Insurgent?” This was an unabashedly dog-whistle heading implying a false dichotomy that Muslim-Americans are either unshakable nationalists or militant terrorists in need of further state surveillance. This type of rhetoric isn’t only transparently counterfactual it carries real, material consequences. Violence against Muslims has increased 91 percent since President Trump took office and birthed a very public resurgence of foaming-mouth, far-right extremism. Nevertheless, the conservative student groups have decided that bringing Zuhdi Jasser to campus to offer his prejudiced view is an effective way to “promote dialogue” on campus.
However, these organizations aren’t making a singular, isolated mistake. Their promotion of these dehumanizing values exists within a larger timeline of conservative groups on campus using their funding to make Duke a more hostile place. In 1963, Governor George Wallace of Alabama—who infamously called for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”—spoke in Page Auditorium and just last year, eugenicist and discredited academic, Charles Murray was booked to speak despite his thoroughly debunked and pseudoscientific work. The Alexander Hamilton Society, Duke College Republicans and Young Americans for Liberty could have strayed from history and taken concrete steps to improve this event by, for example, having made the event a panel or roundtable where Jasser’s comments wouldn’t be presented as an unequivocal truth. These are groups which claim to value dialogue, yet don’t attempt to create discursive spaces and shut down the comment section on the Facebook event page at the first sign of dissent.
Furthermore, these student groups should take time to reflect on how inviting Jasser to campus questions the humanity and safety of their fellow students. However, in the likely event that these organizations don’t realize the danger in their misinformed fabrications around Islam, other Duke students are obligated to take a stand. Undergraduates have an incredible access to brilliant Islamic scholars on campus—all with far more insight into Islam than a regressive cardiologist—who can offer students an avenue for their learning. Additionally, Muslim students have shown their dedication to donating their time for education and myth-busting with events like the Teach in Against Islamophobia and Racism. This type of jingoistic and ultranationalist rhetoric is by no means a stranger to Duke’s hallowed halls and we have a duty to our Muslim peers to confront it whenever it rears its head.