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Oregon State Student Group Stands Up For Arab Journalists Amidst Calls To Disinvite Them From Event

A student group hosting an event at Oregon State University on Palestine, Syria, and Yemen, has received requests to disinvite two Arab journalists scheduled to speak. However, the student group immediately took a stand and refuses to cancel the event scheduled for April 11.

The event is called “Independent Journalism: Perspectives On Palestine, Syria, and Yemen.” It will feature three journalists: Abby Martin, Rania Khalek, and Mnar Muhawesh of Mintpressnews.com.

“We want to make it clear that this event will not be canceled, and we advise that everyone who has these concerns show up or address their questions on the live feed at the event,” the group, Students United For Palestinian Equal Rights (SUPER), declared on the Facebook page for the event.

The group noted a statement in support of Khalek, which was supported by academics, writers, journalists, and activists after her event at the University of North Carolina was canceled in February. They said they stand with the statement.

“Some agree with Khalek; others disagree—in some cases quite vehemently. But we feel that when a group seeking justice in Palestine subjects speakers or members to a political litmus test related to their views on Syria, it inevitably leads to splits, silencing, confusion, and a serious erosion of trust,” the statement declared.

“It runs contrary to the possibility of people learning from one another, changing their minds, and educating one another through their activism. Disagreements about political issues exist inside every movement coalition. They must not be made fodder for targeted vilification of activists in the movement.”

“We hope to see you at the event to encourage accountability and critical dialogue,” the group concluded.

Khalek told Shadowproof she is “really impressed” the group is not going to cancel the event. They have some concerns there may be disruptions, especially when they take audience questions, but they do not intend to bow to pressure.

Likewise, Muhawesh said she was “very, very happy to hear” the group would not cancel the event.

Azeem Hussaini, one of the organizers involved in planning the event, acknowledged the pushback to the event and noted the fact that it is all targeted against the event’s two Arab women speakers. Martin is not mentioned in criticisms.

“A person with the twitter handle, @NoraEl7orra, put a link to our event page and stated, ‘In the past we encouraged another group to shut down and they did.’ Amr Kawji, the video editor of AJ+, is also leading the effort to get our event shut down. We’ve also been contacted by other Palestine solidarity groups asking to cancel or reconsider the speakers for the event,” Hussaini shared.

Hussaini added, “Our group is relatively new and started hosting events earlier this year. Thus far, [we] have received no pushback from pro-Israel or Zionist groups. Oregon State University has an increasingly active Hillel Chapter and they have yet to comment on any of our events.”

The event featuring Martin, Khalek, and Muhawesh is the first time the group received “any type of pushback and sadly it’s coming from people from our own community.”

“We are expecting more pressure to cancel the event, but we hope our definitive stance deters any more dissent,” Hussaini stated.

In the past, SUPER hosted separate events, where Martin, Khalek, and Muhawesh each spoke to students via Google Hangout.

Both Khalek and Muhawesh have faced campaigns to silence them because of their views on the Syrian conflict.

The effort to silence Khalek achieved a victory when a clique of individuals, many of whom hold themselves out as advocates of the Syrian rebels, pressured the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at the University of North Carolina to cancel their event. They claimed she was “bigoted” for challenging Wahhabism and Salafism, which are ultra-conservative strains of Islam that inspire the Islamic State and al Qaeda groups.

Last year, this ideological group attacked Khalek when she traveled to Syria to see for herself what was happening to Syrians in Aleppo. She went on a delegation with Western journalists to a conference in Damascus organized by a nongovernmental organization known as the British Syrian Society, which was co-founded by Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s father-in-law. She had her name added to a program as a speaker without her consent. So did a number of other journalists, however, after the program circulated online, she was the only one who was targeted by this faction.

Khalek was forced to resign from the editorial board of The Electronic Intifada. She had to leave Damascus and never attended the conference. She subsequently found it impossible to convince major progressive media outlets to publish her reporting from Aleppo.

As far as Muhawesh is concerned, she already has survived the ferocious intensity of what Khalek is experiencing. Activists from Committee in Solidarity with the People of Syria (CISPOS) in the Twin Cities area in Minnesota tried to “defame” her. A local reporter from Minnesota Post was encouraged by this group to investigate MintPress News and figure out the “mystery” of why MintPress no longer has an office. (Note: The reporter, Brian Lambert, did not wind up with the bombshell he hoped for but that did not stop Lambert from publishing a rather scurrilous piece thin on evidence.)

Buzzfeed wrote a story that attacked her as pro-Assad or a supporter of genocide, Muhawesh said. That gave CISPOS and other activists ammunition to follow her around to speaking events and push attacks against her. Sometimes they even disrupted her events.

Organizers of her events were harassed. For example, an organizer would say they have never received so many calls to cancel a speaker. They would tell her about the number of people who demanded her event be canceled. The organizers would express shock and then ask her if there was something they needed to know about her. To which Muhawesh would make it clear they were responding to Syria war propaganda, and if her event was canceled, it would be censorship.

“I’ve never written in defense of the Assad government,” Muhawesh said. “We’ve written extensively on how the Assad government has committed crimes in this war. Casualties have been unfortunately targeted. However, our goal at Mintpress has always been to dissect war narratives and relate to U.S. foreign policy. So we know for over 25 years the CIA and NATO have been targeting Syria and have been planning to overthrow Bashar al Assad.”

While the effort to silence Muhawesh may not be as intense anymore, she mentioned a 2016 event in Washington, D.C., where she was invited to speak on a panel. The event was threatened with protest by pro-Syrian rebel advocates. Muhawesh was the only speaker at the event because the rest of the speakers did not want to be featured alongside her.

Many of these pro-Syrian rebel advocates coercing student organizers to disinvite speakers live under the fantasy that there are still rebel groups to support so that a democratic revolution may succeed. But the rebels are dominated by jihadist groups. This is no longer an uprising indigenous to the country of Syria.

“The CIA and all the proxy nations have pumped in so much money. They pumped in so many weapons that they have hijacked what could have been a peaceful revolution,” Muhawesh contended. “There were real genuine people who wanted political reform, but that got hijacked and I think that’s what we’re trying to bring attention.”

There are currently very few postings on the event page for the April 11 event, especially when compared to the effort that led to the cancellation of Khalek’s UNC event.

“Our group, Student United for Palestinian Equal Rights (SUPER) – OSU, firmly stands with and supports Rania, Mnar, and Abby,” Hussain stated.

Hussain added, “No outside forces will make us reconsider the event. Their powerful voices are needed more than ever, and we are excited and honored to have them at Oregon State University.”

The students do not have a lot of resources. They knew what was happening with Khalek. They know what has happened to Muhawesh, and yet, as Muhawesh pointed out, they chose to put on this event.

“Knowing what we report on, they chose to invite Mnar Muhawesh, Rania Khalek, and Abby Martin, some of the most controversial speakers out there right now, who are targeted,” Muhawesh concluded. “I think that shows they’re after a good event, and they want to focus on these political issues that mainstream journalists aren’t covering. So, I think that speaks a lot to the ethics and principles of their group, and that’s something that you rarely find.”

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."