Dear President Hartzell,
It is our pride as Austinites to celebrate the great contribution of UT Austin in spreading knowledge, teaching generations, and conducting national-recognized research. It is also a privilege for us to live in Austin, a diverse city that has welcomed hundreds of refugees in the past few years and has been celebrating its freedom of speech and richness of cultures.
However, as a leading advocate for justice and mutual understanding and as a natural ally of groups that advocate for justice and human rights in America and all countries around the world, we are compelled to express our shock and disappointment at your October 17th letter regarding the current situation in the Mideast. It was a one-sided message that failed to acknowledge the suffering of the Palestinians under a brutal terrorizing occupation. Such a unilateral message can harm not only the unity and wellbeing of students, but also the reputation of the university.
We are NOT writing this letter to justify any violence against civilian people. Like all Americans, we mourn the loss of all innocent lives that have been taken and we denounce violence against all civilians. And we thank you for your commitment to a violence-free campus and your assurance of protection for all students including Palestinians and Muslim students. We just question the selective condemnation even though over the past 75 years, the Palestinian people have experienced severe suffering, displacement, and a 15-years of siege and blockade in Gaza, a small city that has a restricted access to basic human needs such as food, clean water, electricity, and medicines. Gaza, a city of a 2.3 million population which half of them are children under 14, was described as the largest open-air prison in the world by Norwegian Refugees Council and other human rights organizations. However, Gaza and Palestine have never earned the support that is shown now for Israel despite the well-documented war crimes against Palestinians of all faiths according to Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights, B’Tselem. As we read your words regarding redoubling the teaching and research effort, we remembered what Margaret Macmillan, the Canadian historian, once said” We can learn from history, but we can also deceive ourselves when we selectively take evidence from the past to justify what we have already made up our minds to do”.
We ask you to reconsider your message to the students knowing that many of them have lost relatives and friends in Gaza and Palestine. We ask you to acknowledge the ongoing challenges of prejudice and Islamophobia that Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, and Brown students face on and off campus. And we ask you to adopt a more balanced view of the Mideast political and human crisis according to the UN Human Rights experts. Only then, we can create a welcoming and safe learning environment for everyone.
Saying that, we acknowledge our shortcomings in outreach efforts in the past and we would like to invite you to meet with the Muslim community leader at UT mosque, Nueces Mosque, which has been operating peacefully in your backyard since 1977. We also invite you to attend two movie/documentary screenings coming soon in Austin next month. First one is “An Act of Worship” which explores the past 30 years of American Muslims experience with Islamophobia, discrimination, and mental health while gently aligning the Muslims’ experience to the political climates. The second one is “A Town Called Victoria” which tells the tragedy of the burned Mosque in Victoria town in Texas. Exploring the complexity and nuance of the tragedy, it shows how a biased stance can put on fire while kindness, understanding, and justice can rebuild and heal wounds collectively.
CAIR-TX Austin Team