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“Radical Islam,” an event planned for Tuesday evening by the Cal Poly College Republicans, has stirred up controversy on campus.
The College Republicans typically bring one speaker to campus each quarter covering a number of topics, such as college culture and the Second Amendment.
They decided on “radical Islam” for this quarter because they haven’t covered it before, said Nate Honeycutt, psychology senior and Cal Poly College Republicans president.
Originally, the College Republicans wanted David Horowitz to speak, but he was unable because of medical reasons. Instead, he recommended Robert Spencer, an author best known for his criticism of Islam.
The Muslim Student Association (MSA) expressed their concern about the topic and speaker to the College Republicans in an email, biomedical engineering senior and MSA President-elect Munir Eltal said.
Eltal told the College Republicans that Spencer is not qualified to speak on Islam because he only has an master’s degree in religious studies and he doesn’t speak Arabic. They also had issues with the topic of the event.
“Calling it ‘radical Islam’ as opposed of ‘radical Muslims’ fails to disassociate the entire religion from the fanatics who will take the scripture and abuse it,” Eltal said.
Eltal and the MSA are mostly concerned with people who haven’t been exposed to the religion of Islam before. If they are only getting one side of the story, they might be incited to violence or other abuse against Muslims on campus, he said.
“For us, this is the equivalent of inviting a KKK member to speak on MLK’s legacy,” Eltal said. “Is that really the best way to present the material? I think it’s going to rile some people up.”
Honeycutt said the speaker will not encourage violence, and added that the College Republicans are working to clear up misconceptions about the speaker and their club.
“Our group does not sponsor hate speech, we don’t affiliate ourselves with hate groups, and it’s not something that is a value that we ever want to affiliate ourselves with, and it’s not a value our speaker is affiliated with at all,” he said.
The MSA invited the College Republicans to meet and talk about the event. Several board members form each club attended the meeting, and they discussed possible solutions to the issue.
For MSA, the ideal situation would be to cancel the event, Eltal said. But because that’s not a feasible solution, they suggested having a panel discussion instead, in the hopes of providing a balanced view.
A supporter of the College Republicans suggested an event in which two people debate issues back and forth. Ultimately, though, the club decided they had invested too much time and money to change the event.
There will be a question-and-answer period at the end of the event, Honeycutt said, which will provide opportunities for dialogue.
Honeycutt said he understood their concerns, and tried to reassure them about the speaker’s intentions.
“Our speaker isn’t going to talk on things that would incite violence,” he said. “Our speaker is critical of the radical extremists, terrorists, and is also critical of the moderate Muslims who refuse to do anything about the radicals. For some people, that is very offensive, but offensive speech isn’t hate speech, and it isn’t something that can be censored.”
However, Eltal still holds his concerns, saying the speaker will seem credible to the audience whether or not he is citing valid information.
“There’s a guy on the podium, and ultimately, he’ll hold all the authority,” he said. “The audience, who are they going to believe? The college student, or the guy they paid to come here? It doesn’t reflect equally on either side.”
Eltal thinks the event has broader implications on campus, and hoped to set a precedent by meeting and having a conversation with the College Republicans.
The College Republicans offered to co-host an event in the future with the MSA, Honeycutt said, but they haven’t heard back yet.
Honeycutt doesn’t know how large of a turnout the event will have, but said the College Republicans have heard from several people upset about it. It’s disheartening, Honecytt said, to hear what people say about the club and its members’ personal values.
“We would hope that people actually come and hear our speaker, come and meet us, before they start calling us names,” he said.
The event is tonight at 6:30 p.m. in Warren J. Baker Center for Science and Mathematics (building 180), room 101.
A previous version of this post said the College Republicans advisor suggested an alternative to the original event. It has been changed to a supporter of the club.