Listen, My Children...

Every Little Helps

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

On False Students


The big news at UT is that a Pakistani student faked a transcript and doctored friends' in order to enter the country. When questions arose, he vanished. Now that it has come to light, Pakistani student groups are hiding as well.

One very perceptive Muslim student harshly criticized that move on the news today. She pointed out that the group had even extra need to stay present and visible rather than furtive. I agree -- hiding, instead of distancing themselves from the student and openly emphasizing that this should not reflect on Pakistanis, seems to imply that they agree or that they are afraid others among them will be found out.

Back on Sept. 11 two years ago, Harvard was in the middle of its activities fair. Down the aisle of religious student groups was Hillel, right next to the Harvard Islamic Society. Come the news, before anyone credible had claimed responsibility, while the students were rushing around trying to grasp what was happening, the other religious student group leaders were still sitting at their tables, grim-faced, handing out their leaflets. The HIS table was conspicuously empty; it will likely be years before they will sit near the Jews again. (Similarly, the Society of Arab Students during the past two years has refused frequent requests from the Harvard Students for Israel for joint events.)

I had heard the news half an hour beforehand; I calmly proceeded to register for the semester before it sank in. Went to check the website of The Hindu to find out the actual story, such as it was, because of course CNN et al were clogged. Went out past the activities tables again, intending to do my regular yearly gathering of information from every student religious group, surprised at HIS's absence behind their flag. A few minutes later, I finally realized what had happened, and ran home to the TV I'd bought the day before -- stopping, like every other American who'd ever smelled tobacco before, for cigarettes -- my first in years, my last as well. If you think it's the end of the world, what does it matter?

Once it had all come down, and we were beginning to realize the magnitude of what had happened, Harvard did what Harvard students do and began to relieve the tension by organizing things. By then, we had a pretty good idea it was the work of someone using Islam as their reason for action. Harvard's Christian groups wrote all the other religious groups on campus, inviting them to immediate group prayer and requesting their presence at an open prayer gathering that night. Most groups came; HIS declined to attend. Several of us emailed members and begged them to come and show their presence.

They responded with several reasons, largest among them being fear of angry students. Now, the only religious bigotry I heard in those first few days was from two South Asian students, at least one of them (the one wearing a skullcap) likely Muslim, talking about how the US deserved what it got for letting the damn Jews seduce it into supporting Israel. Anyhow: after quite a few emails explaining that, when people attacking America say they speak for all good Muslims, and other Muslims don't say they disagree, it would be rather understandable if people aren't sure whether or not said other Muslims disagree. A week later, the HIS website finally had a statement expressing disapproval.

Frequently repeated over the course of that week, both in Harvard discussions and over emails (and outside the University), was the claim that it was hateful and discriminatory to ask or expect Muslims to say they disagreed. Now, after the recent Episcopal election, every Episcopalian is asked whether or not he agrees with the ordination of rejoicingly homosexual bishops. Is that hateful and discriminatory? No, it's a reasonable request for information by people unsure of where their friends stand on issues where both sides claim to speak for the whole. Even without being asked, Christian organizations, both student-run and real-world, frequently disavow all support for people who kill those who carry out abortions. Is the assumption that a Christian might support what the killer says all Christians should support a hateful and discriminatory assumption? Not if it comes from true ignorance of the stance and concern for the future. If you have only a vague idea of what Christians believe, you have no reason not to believe the fellow who claims to speak for all Christians. If you have only a basic knowledge of Islam, you have no reason not to believe the people who claim to speak for all Muslims. If you want people to know what you believe, for goodness' sake, tell them!

So, UT Pakistani students: one fellow has faked his papers; when he gets found out, he goes into hiding. When the FBI comes on campus, the Pakistani student group goes into hiding -- how could they not think that would look like they have something to hide?? If you are open and honest, show yourselves; if there is any possible way in which you could be associated with those who have done wrong -- and they obviously assumed they would be associated with those students -- then don't hide and confirm people's ideas! Explain why you believe that person has unambiguously done wrong and then explain that you are different, it's that simple.

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