What occurred on UCM’s campus the night of Nov. 2, presented a rare opportunity for students to be exposed to two viewpoints on almost the same issue: How should America deal with Islam and Muslim culture? Prior to Nov. 2 I was indifferent to this topic and did not give it much attention. Yet, I attended both events. I neither totally agreed or totally disagreed with the arguments given by each of the two speakers, who appeared to carry very different perspectives about America, Islam and its future in the United States. In this article, my intention is not to discuss the politics of the two events, nor to assess the validity of their opposing arguments. What I intend to highlight is my experience as a UCM student who interacted with both events.
I must admit, all along, I wished to attend Allen B. West’s presentation covering radical Islam. The topic – as advertised around campus – aroused attention with sensitivity, and controversy between people. Not until one afternoon before was I informed of another presentation by Dr. El-Bayoumi of the Council On American Islamic Relations on “Islamophobia,” which would be taking place across campus. I had always been told, and never realized until the next day, the value in being a college student. Now, I can live in UCM as a “market of ideas,” as one of my professors described it on the morning of Nov. 3.
As the evening of Nov. 2 unfurled I started at the Allen West presentation. I felt very uneasy arriving to my destination. I heard rumors about the possibility of protests by people opposed to his presence, which gave me a heightened sense or anxiety. I even recalled the stories by my father about riots that he lived through at UCM in 1992 when he was a student living in the dorms. The room was hidden in a corner of the Union, and I had a hard time finding it. The audience was composed of a mix of students, alumni, elderly, a few children and an array of ethnic variety.
Shortly after Allen West began to speak, protests began with the slogan “American fascism number one terrorism” and others hurled at West himself accusing him of fascism and terrorism. Quickly, supporters of West responded yelling “USA” and even “Trump,” and the room erupted into a screaming match to see who could win. A taser was pulled out by a woman in the crowd, and some people became concerned for their safety. The protesters eventually left, with applause from West supporters, as West was escorted out of the room which brought calm to the situation.
A moment later, the speech continued, but in a tense atmosphere caused by what had happened minutes earlier. Later, I left West’s room heading to the James C. Kirkpatrick Library. On my way, I could still see some of the protesters moving through campus and sharing their views once again, I could also see some of the university police and the Safe Team stationed in some areas of the campus.
When I first arrived at the Dr. El-bayoumi presentation, I was still on edge. The room had a substantially larger audience, and more of a sense of spontaneity and equality among the participants. Unlike where I was moments earlier, the environment here was more stoic, it also became clear to me that one thing was in common between both events: Both supporters in the audience (UCM Republican Students on one side, and UCM MSA Muslim Students on the other) had tremendous respect to their guest speaker. Despite their apparent differences, I saw many similarities between the audiences of both events. In both locations, people were curious and passionate to learn about the debate.
As of me, I strongly support both sides of the America and Islam issue. First, I like to live in a community full of debate, discussion and even controversy. Second, because I fully realize Islam – like any other religious tradition having moderates and radicals – has now become a part of this society, and whether we like it or not, we have to discuss ways to Americanize this relatively new addition to our society.
Sophomore sociology major