US university cancels Muslim student’s graduation speech after pro-Israel groups object, CAIR protests

US university cancels Muslim student's graduation speech after pro-Israel groups object, CAIR protests

WASHINGTON, Apr 17 (APP): A prominent advocacy body has condemned the University of Southern California (USC) for cancelling a scheduled graduation speech of the 2024 valedictorian, Asna Tabassum, following objections by anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian extremists.

In a call Wednesday with USC Provost Andrew Guzman, Ms. Tabassum, who describes herself as a “first-generation South Asian-American Muslim,” was told that the school could not maintain an appropriate level of security if she spoke due to the volume of security threats and harassment from pro-Israel critics. She was told this decision “was not a judgment on you and your accomplishments and ambitions.”

The university official claimed the volume of vitriol was “unprecedented.”

In an official statement issued, USC said: “After careful consideration, we have decided that our student valedictorian will not deliver a speech at commencement. While this is disappointing, tradition must give way to safety…The issue here is how best to maintain campus security and safety, period.”

The May 10 commencement ceremony, honouring this year’s class of 19,000-plus graduates, is expected to draw 65,000 people to the downtown Los Angeles campus of USC, long regarded as one of California’s most prestigious private universities.

The cancellation was criticized by individuals and organizations who say it was done to censor Ms. Tabassum,” not protect her.

“USC cannot hide its cowardly decision behind a disingenuous concern for ‘security’, ” said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

On her part, Ms. Tabassum released a personal statement protesting USC’s decision to bar her from addressing the ceremony.

She said, “I am honoured to have been selected as USC Class of 2024 Valedictorian. Although this should have been a time of celebration for my family, friends, professors, and classmates, anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian voices have subjected me to a campaign of racist hatred because of my uncompromising belief in human rights for all.

“This campaign to prevent me from addressing my peers at commencement has evidently accomplished its goal: today, USC administrators informed me that the university will no longer allow me to speak at commencement due to supposed security concerns. I am both shocked by this decision and profoundly disappointed that the University is succumbing to a campaign of hate meant to silence my voice.

“I am not surprised by those who attempt to propagate hatred. I am surprised that my own university—my home for four years—has abandoned me.”

In a statement, Ayloush, CAIR’s Executive Director in Los Angeles, said: “USC cannot hide its cowardly decision behind a disingenuous concern for ‘security.’ Asna is an incredibly accomplished student whose academic and extracurricular accomplishments made her the ideal and historic recipient of this year’s valedictorian’s honor. The university can, should and must ensure a safe environment for graduation rather than taking the unprecedented step of cancelling a valedictorian’s speech.

“The dishonest and defamatory attacks on Asna are nothing more than thinly-veiled manifestations of Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism, which have been weaponized against college students across the country who speak up for human rights – and for Palestinian humanity.

“The University of Southern California must stand by Asna Tabassum. Even though USC has maintained Asna’s position as valedictorian, the cowardly decision to cancel her speech empowers voices of hate and censorship, violates USC’s obligation to protect its students and sends a terrible signal to both Muslim students at USC and all students who dare to express support for Palestinian humanity.

“We call on USC to immediately reverse course, restore her speech and treat all students fairly and justly, starting with Asna. We look forward to USC’S swift response.”

He noted that last week, CAIR condemned Pomona College’s forcible suppression of student activists’ free speech during an on-campus sit-in for Palestine and urged the administration to protect the first amendment rights of its students.

Last year, CAIR condemned El Camino College’s statement and actions unjustly targeting recent graduate Jana Abulaban for speaking out against the Israeli government’s apartheid policies, ethnic cleansing, and other human rights abuses against the Palestinian people.

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