What’s up with Harvard and terrorism?
BY SETH GITELL
THURSDAY, May 30, 2002 — Imagine you’re one of the thousands of people who lost a loved one on September 11. You go to attend your college graduation. The student graduation speaker delivers an address titled, in part, " American Jihad. " Some graduation day.
That’s exactly what will go on across the river at Harvard next week. The Boston Globe reported on the saga yesterday, and Matt Drudge has linked to a Reuters story about it as well. While the student speaker, Zayed Yasin, who grew up in Scituate, plans to focus on the peaceful and personal aspects of " jihad, " an Arabic word that has been translated both as " struggle " and " holy war, " he has also spoken out in favor of and helped raise funds for the Holy Land Foundation (HLF), an American-based charity that has donated money to Hamas, a group known for conducting violent jihad. President George Bush himself announced back in June that the charity’s " money is used to support the Hamas terror organization. "
Yasin’s defenders, such as Richard Thomas, chairman of the classics department and a member of Harvard’s commencement-speakers selection committee, maintain that the student has prepared " a wonderful speech about the struggle and the etymology, and starts talking about his own profile and the need for everyone in the class to struggle to do what’s right in the world. " He adds that Yasin does take pains to distinguish personal or inner jihad from the " misunderstanding or corruption of the term. " Whether Yasin plans to deliver an unbridled condemnation of terror, including that inflicted by Hamas — which is responsible for so many suicide bombings in Israel — is unclear.
Benjamin Galper, another Harvard senior, who grew up not far from Yasin in Brookline, is organizing a petition urging the speaker to condemn both violent Jihad and groups (such as the HLF) that have helped fund terrorism. Galper, noting that many faculty members have signed a petition urging Harvard to divest from companies that do business in Israel, such as McDonald’s and IBM, makes the point that something is askew at Harvard when it comes to condemning terror. " It seems that much of the discourse from the faculty on the divestment campaign and the activity of students has been tacit support of terrorism, " Galper says. He adds that this is particularly out of step with the mood of much of the campus, where students have lost loved ones, including parents and close relatives. Another Harvard student was even in the Park Hotel in Netanya for a Passover seder this spring, when a terrorist bomber detonated explosives killing himself and 29 others in the process. The attack prompted Israel’s incursion into the West Bank. (Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack.) That argument, says Galper, did not move faculty members who helped select Yasin’s speech.
The goings on at Harvard are not the most outrageous of those occurring on America’s campuses. But the school still represents the elite in this country. The last time America fell victim to a surprise attack, Pearl Harbor, Harvard rallied behind the war effort. The school enabled students to prepare for war while enrolled. Evan Thomas, author of Robert Kennedy: His Life, writes that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wore his Navy uniform to class. The walls of Memorial Hall are filled with the names of Harvard graduates slain in American wars such as the Civil War and World War II. Many of the students seem to be firmly behind the war on terrorism. The same cannot be said of many on the school’s faculty, who still seemed trap in the Vietnam era.
Issue Date: May 30, 2002
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