Black Muslims upcoming talk fuels fires at S.F. State

Tensions are rising again between African-American and Jewish students at San Francisco State University following the announcement of an upcoming speech on campus by a Nation of Islam disciple.

Khalid Muhammad, who has called Jews "bloodsuckers" and whose 1994 speech at Kean College in New Jersey was censured by both houses of Congress and condemned by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, is scheduled to speak on campus Wednesday, May 21. His speech, titled "Who is Pimping the World?", is sponsored by the Pan Afrikan Student Union.

But in addition to raising the ire of Jewish students as well as community leaders, some argue that the event as it is advertised is not legal.

Fliers for the speech list ticket prices as $7 for students and $15 for "Zionists, Uncle Toms and other white supremacists."

The regional office of the Anti-Defamation League and the local Jewish Community Relations Council wrote a joint letter to the university regarding the price discrepancy.

"This is a violation of the California State Education Code," explained Barbara Bergen, ADL regional director. "The university has an obligation to make sure programs on campus are nondiscriminatory.

"Even if someone buying a ticket identifies himself as a Zionist but is only charged $7, the advertisement is still a violation. If it's a joke, it's a bad joke. And if [the policy] is real, it's clearly discriminatory."

University spokeswoman Ligeia Polidora said all tickets will be sold at one price.

Following the announcement of Muhammad's visit, 6,000 copies of the campus newspaper, The Golden Gater, were destroyed. The newspaper had recently printed an editorial criticizing PASU for inviting Muhammad to SFSU and for hanging an anti-Zionist banner in front of the campus student center in April. The banner displayed a swastika in the center of a Star of David on an Israeli flag.

PASU does not claim responsibility for the damaged newspapers. However, members said the newspaper is biased against them and deserved to be destroyed.

In a public statement, SFSU President Robert Corrigan condemned what he called "vigilante censorship…This small group of students…has threatened the tenets of freedom of the press and free speech that we hold very dear."

Bergen hailed Corrigan's statement as "a heroic move." But she contends that the invitation to Muhammad "is an insult to the entire campus community. He maligns whites, Catholics, gays and lesbians, too. I've heard his presentations. I've heard his rhetoric and his tone. He's here to insult."

Bergen points to the opening line Muhammad has used in several speeches: "I'm not here to pin the tail on the donkey but to pin the tail on the honky," calling it an example of his "attitudes toward others which are inhuman."

The ADL is counseling the university on security matters. Hillel is working closely with SFSU administration to guarantee the safety of all students wishing to attend the speech. In addition, it is advising other groups on campus about Muhammad's inflammatory statements regarding groups other than Jews.

"They are trying to make it clear his venom is not just for Jewish groups," Bergen said.

Meanwhile, Jews on campus appear to be quietly grumbling. To date, no protest or similar action has been scheduled.

"A few students have vocalized their anger, saying they don't want the hate-monger on campus. There is resentment and concern among Jewish students," said Sebastian Attie, a senior and member of Hillel. "But Jewish students on campus are pretty silent on many issues."

Nonetheless, Attie acknowledges that he plans to attend the Muhammad speech.

"I'm interested in hearing him," he said, adding, "I'm conflicted. People have a right to say whatever they want — until it infringes upon the rights and freedoms of others.

"I may disagree with what he says, but he has a right to speak."