Why We Invited Asra Nomani to Georgetown

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On Wednesday evening, Asra Nomani, author, activist and former Wall Street Journal reporter, will appear at Georgetown University for a conversation with Jacques Berlinerblau, director of the Center for Jewish Civilization.

In recent days, students have argued that Ms. Nomani should be disinvited from speaking at Georgetown. One student wrote that there are not even two sides to consider in this debate. Another suggested that Ms. Nomani’s views on Islam and politics constitute “hate speech.”

Had we not heard them before, we’d be surprised by these complaints.

In 2015, Ms. Nomani was disinvited from speaking at Duke University, when some students accused her of holding Islamophobic views. She was later re-invited, after campus officials called the incident a “misunderstanding.”

While the arguments associating Ms. Nomani with the “soft Islamophobia of Western expectations” are entirely debatable and tenuous at best, the case for disinviting her is almost indefensible. 

Disagreement is at the heart of a university’s intellectual culture, and Georgetown should be no exception to this rule. Speakers should not be banned from a university community, even if some find them offensive.

“A university is many things but central to its being is discourse, discussion, debate: the untrammeled expression of ideas and information,” Rev. James Walsh, S.J. wrote in the preamble to Georgetown’s speech and expression policy.

Yet, Ms. Nomani was not invited to Georgetown simply because her speech is protected. She was invited because her voice is valuable, and her perspective is both unique and compelling.

When the news broke about the public feud between Asra Nomani and Georgetown Professor Christine Fair, we searched for a way to bring civility to the conversation. In a debate marked more by sharp words than substantive discourse, we hoped to engage this community in real conversation.

With these intentions, we invited Professor Fair and Asra Nomani to a public conversation hosted at Georgetown University. After all, if they could engage in this debate over social media, they should be bold enough to do the same in public–openly and without apology.

Ms. Nomani accepted our invitation. Unfortunately, Professor Fair declined.

In an email that she later posted to Twitter, Professor Fair told us that the focus of our event was “preposterous” and that she would not “give a femtosecond of [her] precious time” to engaging with Ms. Nomani.

We were disappointed by this and other responses from the Georgetown community.

On Wednesday evening, the Bridge Initiative will host a concurrent event titled “A Conversation on Islamophobia & Anti-Semitism.” While we recognize the concerns raised by some members of this community, we firmly believe that these efforts to counter program our event are counterproductive.

It is especially troubling that a research center at this university would actively work to discourage students from engaging in this conversation. Those who disagree with Ms. Nomani about her religious beliefs or political choices should not be afraid to listen.

For these reasons and others, we invited Asra Nomani to Georgetown and will continue to invite speakers to this campus that force students to engage in constructive and sometimes challenging conversations.

We encourage you to join us on Wednesday evening to listen, to ask questions and to decide for yourself what you believe.

That is what a university committed to open discourse requires of us all.

Editor’s note: The authors find the Bridge Initiative’s scheduling a concurrent event to be counterproductive, not the event itself.

3 COMMENTS

  1. To The Georgetown Review, Thank you for the honor of the invitation, the grace of your integrity and the clarity of your intellectual and moral courage. You are the civility we should all seek to create in the world.

  2. Thank you for demonstrating the backbone to withstand the forces that want to restrict intellectual discourse. My respect for Georgetown University and The Georgetown Review has increased, and my hope for a better world — one driven by reason — has increased, too.

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