A Discussion with AUB’s Dean of Students re: Bigotry and Homophobia

Posted on May 20, 2012

2


As some of you know, a few individual activists and I met with Dr Talal Nezameddine, Dean of Student Affairs in AUB, last week to discuss the bigoted article written by Mohamad Sibai and published in Outlook, and the response to it by Lojine Kamel, the editor in chief, and the board. More importantly, we met to discuss positive ways to move forward in dealing with the (widespread) hate and bigotry that is present in Lebanon, and more specifically on campus. Beyond asking for punitive actions against the people responsible for the publication of the piece, we focused on tangible actions to fight discrimination, and in due time, create a better place of acceptance for all.

The letter below relates the correspondance between the activists and the Dean. It gives a good idea of where we stand. Most importantly, it clearly states that the Dean considers the Sibai article to be bigotry and hate speech.

As a result of what I like to call the “Sibai Affair”, a few great activists have come together to bring about change, and there are a few projects currently being developed to keep the momentum going. If you would like to be part of this new initiative, please contact me on omhinbeirut@gmail.com.

Dear Mr. Farah,
Thank you for your email. I am afraid I have been very busy which explains my slight delay in responding but I have finally read the email and on the whole I am in agreeement. I would like to clarify some points or at least provide feedback. I hope it is fine for me to place my comments in block letter next to the points you make in your message.
Thank you very much for taking the time to meet with us. IT WAS MY PLEASURE AND I FOUND THE MEETING INFORMATIVE.

We are happy to see that we agree on the fact that bigotry and hate speech have no place within AUB. We also hope to draw learning experiences from this unfortunate incident with Outlook, and as such, are eager to work together, along with any interested party, to try our best to see that something like Mohamad Sibai’s article is never published again in the manner that it was. AGREED.

We would like to reiterate our commitment to freedom of expression, while underscoring the important responsibility that comes along with this freedom; that this freedom should not inflict or incite harm against others, and that it maintains the respect for and rights of others. We are also happy to see that you agree that Mohamad Sibai’s article is considered to be bigotry and hate speech. YES, I RECOGNIZE AND AGREE WITH THE INTERPRETATION THAT IT IS BIGOTRY AND HATE SPEECH BY TARGETTING AND ISOLATING A GROUP FOR RIDICULE AND/OR NEGATIVE STEREOTYPES.

As far as next steps come, as already discussed during the meeting, we have a few starting ideas that would get the ball rolling, as they say.

1. We would appreciate if we can have the opportunity to publish a rebuttal piece in the last issue of Outlook that would clearly debunk all of the points included in Mohamad Sibai’s article. SOME WERE PUBLISHED BUT A MEMBER OF THE COMMUNITY IS WELCOME TO SUBMIT AN ARTICLE.

2. You mentioned briefly that you would likely publish an apology for the publication of the article. Given that we agreed that Lojine’s “apology” in the following issue was not clear and did not even refer to the article per se, would it be possible to include a statement from you on these events in the last issue of Outlook? We think it is important at this point for you, as the Dean, to publically state that the article does indeed qualify as bigotry and hate speech. I DO ACCEPT THAT LOJINE’S RESPONSE SHOULD HAVE REFERRED TO THE ARTICLE DIRECTLY AND IT WAS IN THIS SENSE ONLY THAT THE APOLOGY COULD HAVE BEEN MADE CLEARER. OTHERWISE I AM UNCOMFORTABLE QUESTIONING THE MOTIVES OF ANY INDIVIDUAL. I BELIEVE SHE HAS BEEN SINCERE IN EXPRESSING HERSELF.

3. While it is true that Lojine Kamel is on her way to graduating and leaving AUB, we would appreciate if you could clarify her stands on the double standards that come with refusing to publish something that would target a specific religious group in Lebanon, yet having no qualms about publishing something that targets LGBTQ individuals in Lebanon under the banner of freedom of expression. (This is the article I was referring to in the meeting:https://ohmyhappiness.com/2012/05/08/why-outlooks-sibai-article-is-offensive/) I DISCUSSED THIS WITH LOJINE AND SHE HAD A DIFFERENT PERCEPTION OF THE CONVERSATION – MY UNDERSTANDING WAS THAT WHILE SHE WAS PRESENT THIS WAS A CONVERSATION INVOLVING HER COLLEAGUE.

every member of the Outlook team with diversity training, and workshops on basic journalistic skills and ethics. You mentioned that Rami Khoury had already mentioned his interest in providing such support. We would like to arrange a meeting with him on the matter and prefer to have the meeting set up through your office, with your support and presence. WE ARE ALREADY TAKING STEPS IN THIS REGARD AND THE NEXT EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, RECENTLY APPOINTED, IS ALREADY INFORMED AND CONNECTED WITH MEDIA STUDIES. SHE HAS EXTENSIVE MEDIA EXPERIENCE AND WILL BE A NEWSPAPER INTERN IN THE US THIS SUMMER.

5. Create a committee of sorts to overlook Outlook and any student publications to make sure they do not contain any hate speech or bigotry, being careful not to censor opinions as long as they are well-researched and backed by facts. WE HAVE ALREADY BEGAN DISCUSSIONS TO SET THIS UP.

6. Establish a student-run club focused on raising awareness on matters of discrimination, aiming at creating a safe space for open dialogue. Ideally, this group should be a bastion for acceptance, open-mindedness, and equality, and would include all minority groups and their supporters. I WOULD BE HAPPY TO APPROVE SUCH A CLUB PROPOSAL ONCE IT REACHES MY DESK.

7. We also believe that it is important to integrate sensitivity training within the general coursework provided at AUB, and perhaps within the Orientation program. While we understand that you are not involved with such decisions, we would appreciate it if you could arrange a meeting with the people who are. I SUGGEST MEETING WITH THE DEAN OF ARTS AND SCIENCES – THE FACULTY IS THE FOUNDATION OF AUB’S LIBERAL ARTS PROGRAM.

8. We are also working on a statement from AUB faculty and staff members who reject the article and the official response from Outlook entirely. If you would like to add your name to that list, please let us know. PLEASE SEND ME THE STATEMENT AND IN PRINCIPLE I HAVE NO OBJECTIONS.

These points represent the opinions of a diverse and committed group: we are students, alumni, staff members, faculty, bloggers, and activists, with extensive contacts with relevant NGOs. As such, we would be more than happy to provide any and all support needed to create a safe space for students of all races, creeds, orientations, and beliefs.

Lastly, since this issue has taken a life of itself, mostly on social media outlets, and in the hopes of reaching a wide number of people, we will be posting this letter on our blogs. We feel that we’ve already engaged so many people via Facebook, Twitter, and our blogs, that it would only be natural and make sense to involve them in this, allowing people, and most importantly LGBTQ individuals who may be scared to talk about this openly, to be part of the conversation.

If you have an objection to that, please let us know. NO PROBLEM

Thank you for your time, and we look forward to hearing from you soon, especially in regards to points #1, 2 and 3, since time is running out.

Rola Yasmine, Research Assistant

Haitham Khoury, Assistant Professor

Raja Farah, Activist

I WOULD LIKE TO REAFFIRM MY SENSE DURING THE MEETING WE HAD THAT THIS TOPIC IS AN ONGOING CONVERSATION AND BECAUSE ATTITUDES NEED TIME TO CHANGE THERE CAN BE NO QUICK-FIX ANSWERS TO FIGHTING BIGOTY. HOWEVER, I AM PLEASED TO KNOW THAT THERE ARE ACTIVE AND THOUGHTFUL ACTION GROUPS WORKING TOWARDS A MORE SOPHISTICATED SOCIAL OUTLOOK IN LEBANON AND BEYOND.

BEST REGARDS,

TALAL NIZAMEDDIN

DEAN OF STUDENT AFFAIRS

AMERICAN UNIVERSITY OF BEIRUT

***

Here are all the related posts:

The original article by Mohamad Sibai here. (Warning: This is not an easy read at all, stylistically and content-wise)

My initial response to it.

My response to Lojine Kamel’s reaction.

A listing of all the responses in the blogosphere.

My thoughts on the wonderful reaction from the blogosphere.

The article that the Outlook board said they wouldn’t publish because it was hate speech, exposing their double standards.

A recap of my meeting with Lojine Kamel and Editorial Board.

Advertisements