Rutgers University invited Lisa Daftari to speak to students about the threats radicalism poses to dialogue and learning on campus.
“I was going to speak about freedom of speech, and how we have to go beyond protest,” Ms. Daftari said on Friday. Her talk, “Radicalism on College Campuses,” scheduled for Tuesday, October 16, was sponsored by Rutgers’ office of undergraduate academic affairs.
Ms. Daftari, a Rutgers graduate who grew up in Paramus and now lives in Los Angeles, was looking forward to this homecoming.
Since graduating with a triple major in Middle Eastern studies, Spanish, and vocal performance, Ms. Daftari has won journalism awards and crafted a career as a journalist and public speaker. The child of Iranian Jewish immigrants, she has focused on human rights abuses in the Middle East.
But radicals threatened to protest her speech.
And then Rutgers canceled it.
Planning for the speech began more than a year ago, with an invitation from the office of Ben Sifuentes-Jáuregui, the university’s vice chancellor for undergraduate academic affairs. (Dr. Ben Sifuentes-Jáuregui did not reply to an email asking for comment for this story.)
Then on Monday, one student launched an online petition against Ms. Daftari. In the petition, Adeel Ahmed described Ms. Daftari as “an unapologetic Islamaphobe” — a charge she heatedly denies.
The petition singled out a sentence about ISIS recruiting in a talk she gave to the Heritage Foundation. “I have always differentiated between Muslim people versus the distortion of Islam in politics and radicalism,” Ms. Daftari told the Daily Targum in response to the petition.
On Thursday, the Rutgers University Student Assembly got involved, passing a bill denouncing the invitation. According to the university’s student newspaper, Targum, the bill was drafted by the Assembly’s Student Affairs Committee, with help from student groups including the Muslim Student Association, the Muslim Public Relations Council, and the Latino Student Council.
The Rutgers administration learned that students opposed to the talk would be attending, and they began to get nervous about providing security.
So on Friday, the university announced the talk had been “postponed.”
“LET’S BE CLEAR- this was not a ‘postponement,’” Ms. Daftari tweeted to her 35,000 followers. “That is public relations talk for a cowardly CANCELLATION. @RutgersU told me the event was canceled.”
“I feel robbed,” Ms. Daftari said Friday afternoon. “Robbed of the opportunity to speak, to be heard. The students who sought to silence me didn’t know anything about my background, or my talk. They just wanted to silence me.
“I didn’t expect to have to defend these allegations,” she said, of the claims that she opposed Islam. “Once they were made I would have liked the opportunity to speak to the students and be given a platform to share the ideas I originally had intended to share.
“To have a small number of students acting very thuggishly triumph over those students who wanted to come hear me speak — that’s very upsetting. As an Iranian female, I’ve always been proud to live in the United States and have the opportunities I have. That freedom was stripped from me. I was not able to exercise my first amendment freedom.”