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 last Friday. That was four days before the announced date of her talk, “Radicalism on College Campuses,” which was scheduled for Tuesday, October 16, and was to be 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.
Ms. Daftari went public with the story last week.
And on Monday, Rutgers wrote her to ask to reschedule the talk for November — and sent a copy of that letter to the press.
“Rutgers University would like to eliminate any confusion about its invitation for Lisa Daftari to speak on campus,” Rutgers’ director of public and media relations, John Cramer, wrote. “The University has offered several dates for her to come to campus in November. The University’s position on the free exchange of ideas is clear; the ability to respectfully present, discuss and debate matters in the public interest is at the heart of what every great university does. Such free and respectful discussion is fundamental to Rutgers’ core values and is practiced every day at Rutgers.”
Ms. Daftari, however, was having none of that.
“To come back after the damage has been done to my reputation and suggest that this was some misunderstanding and to continue with the premise that the event was merely postponed,” Ms. Daftari wrote to Rutgers, and copied to the press, “lacks the integrity and respect that I would have hoped for from my alma mater.”
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. Sifuentes-Jáuregui did not reply to an email asking for comment for this story.)
Then, last 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.
The Rutgers University Student Assembly got involved, passing a bill denouncing the invitation. According to the Targum, the university’s student newspaper, 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 later. “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.”