Students, faculty and staff members at CSUN were up in arms last week regarding an exhibit sponsored by the university's Muslim Student Association (MSA). The "Museum of Intolerance" exhibit, part of planned activities for the campus' Islam Awareness Week (Oct. 21-27), showed photographs of Muslims under attack in several nations including what it called Palestine, with prominent pictures of Israeli soldiers and of Palestinian Arabs throwing rocks.
The exhibit, put together by the Muslim Public Affairs Council, appeared at numerous locations on campus during the weeklong event, which was billed on the MSA's Web site as intended "to dispel any confusion, misconceptions and anger towards Islam and Muslims."
"We wanted to say clearly what Islam said and where we stand regarding the events of Sept. 11," said MSA President Husnain Mehdi.
Several Jewish students and faculty members, as well as Hillel director Rabbi Jordan Goldson, confronted Muslim students at the display. "Things got very heated," Goldson said.
In addition to conflicts at MSA's table, Goldson said he also heard from Jewish students that anti-Israel remarks were made during an Oct. 24 lecture in the CSUN Student Union titled "The Truth About Islam."
Marc Reichman, a 21-year-old junior, was very upset by the exhibit.
"It basically ridicules and degrades Simon Wiesenthal's Museum of Tolerance," he said.
Sandy Struman, a staff employee at CSUN, said she, too, found the exhibit appalling.
"I attended the Islamic exhibit believing mistakenly that it was intended to promote peace and understanding," Struman said. "But what I saw was a photograph mounted on the exhibit with a slogan underneath that stated 'Zionism is Nazism' which is the antithesis of peace and understanding."
Struman was told there was nothing to be done when she spoke to campus management.
"It was a horrendous thing to have on campus, but it all falls under freedom of speech," she said. "I respect that, but there's a fine line between freedom of speech and inciting hatred, and I don't know where one starts and the other stops."
"The intention wasn't to make people confrontational, but to raise awareness as to what's happening [in Israel] and other countries," Mehdi said. "Just because it's controversial doesn't mean it should not be brought up."
The MSA exhibit came as no surprise to Sharon Kupferman, a junior studying child development and leader of CSUN's Student Israel Public Affairs Committee. Kupferman said she was approached about a joint program by MSA student leaders following the Sept. 11 tragedies.
"They seemed interested but then they changed their minds," she said. "I also went to their lecture the week after [Sept. 11] and it was very anti-Israel, anti-American. So when I heard about the intolerance museum I wasn't surprised."
Kupferman said Jewish student groups are working on a response to the incident, including setting up their own tables on campus to show support for Israel. Arrangements are also being made to provide interested students with training sessions to learn to respond to anti-Israel sentiment on campus according to Aaron Levinson, director of the Anti-Defamation League's Valley office.
Reichman said he plans to get active promoting pro-Israel sentiment on campus.
"We don't want people just to be exposed to the Arab viewpoint," he said.