What's the right thing to do when war rages and kids are dying half a world away?
Students at Chapman University's Dale E. Fowler Law School started planning a symposium back in the spring — an annual project of the student-run Diversity and Social Justice Forum, which seeks to avoid the echo chamber of ideas and provide a forum for a wide range of voices.
All this planning was to culminate on Thursday, Oct. 12, with a keynote speech on "Islamaphobia and Intersectionality in the Law in the United States" by Khaled Beydoun, a law professor at Arizona State University. Beydoun is also the author of "The New Crusades: Islamophobia and the Global War on Muslims" and "American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear."
Last weekend, Hamas attacked Israel. Israel responded. "They want you to believe that: Arab = Muslim = Palestinian = Hamas," Beydoun posted on X (formerly Twitter). "This enables the mass bigotry and racism we're witnessing now. Orwell would be proud."
Also: "Children dying on either side is abhorrent. It's that simple."
Officials at Chapman worried. Having Beydoun speak in the current climate could be seen as insensitive and could even be unsafe, students were told on Tuesday, Oct. 10. Beydoun's speech would be dropped, but the event would move forward with panel discussions.
Some students were aghast. They mounted their best case to have the symposium continue as planned, with Beydoun. On Wednesday, Oct. 11, Fowler Law School Dean Paul Paton sent an email to students saying the entire symposium would be postponed until the spring, when the situation in the Middle East will have hopefully calmed down and Beydoun's speech might be better received.
This outraged some students even more. It sends a troubling message that critical conversations and diverse perspectives can be set aside in the face of adversity, and that meaningful discourse is expendable in the face of challenging circumstances, one of them told us.
Yes, they understand the sensitivity of what's unfolding in Israel and Gaza. But times like this are precisely when we need to have difficult conversations and consider different viewpoints, they said.
Chapman's Paton said the decision was made after "extensive and thoughtful consultation."
"As a community of law students, law professors and alumni committed to the rule of law, our members — whatever their political perspective — have been outraged and saddened by the violent attack by Hamas on Israel last weekend and its aftermath," he wrote to the law students.
"We understand Professor Beydoun's disappointment at the postponed opportunity to promote his work and the short notice of this decision. ... We are deeply concerned about the significant potential for Professor Beydoun's message and the related panel discussion not to be received appropriately; interpreted solely through a lens of current events; or worse, to be actively disrupted at this student-run, student-led event."
Paton personally extended the offer to reschedule to Beydoun "at a time when there is a climate more favorable to civil discourse."
"Our primary concern remains squarely on the physical and mental welfare and safety of our students, and want to ensure that the time, energy and effort of the Diversity and Social Justice Forum Symposium student leaders have put into organizing this academic symposium will be realized as the success they originally envisioned. Chapman remains committed to academic freedom and free speech and to student conduct policies, which stipulate that harassment, discrimination and the promotion of violence have no place in our community."
It's unclear if Beydoun will agree to come in the spring. His spokesman said he's inundated with requests right now.
Meantime, Beydoun is passionately trying to counter the notion that all Gazans, all Palestinians, are terrorists. "There would be no Hamas without the occupation," he posted. "There would be no ISIS without the illegal war in Iraq. Vile actors are born from even more vile acts and the contexts they sow."
His voice certainly provides food for thought. What do you think? Did Chapman do the right thing?