Students for Israel speaker event grows heated

On Tuesday night, a discussion with Egyptian political refugee Hussein Aboubakr grew heated after Aboubakr and students offended by the content of his speech confronted each other during the question-and-answer session that followed.

Nadeen Hamza ’15 recalled, reading from notes that she wrote a few moments after leaving the event, that Aboubakr made statements such as, “Arabs are taught from the moment they’re born that their sole purpose in life is to kill Jews because the Qur’an mentions them as infidels, pigs, and apes;” and that “Arabs constitute a failed culture that has no place in the modern world.”

Hamza was deeply hurt and triggered by these and similar comments she said Aboubakr made during his speech. According to Hamza, when she told Aboubakr during the question-and-answer session that his speech did not resonate with her as someone who had lived in Cairo (where Aboubakr also grew up) for her entire life, he responded, “You’re like this because you conform. I can see that you’re a Jew-hater.”

Swarthmore Students for Israel worked with Stand With Us, a pro-Israel advocacy and education organization, to bring Aboubakr to campus, according to Jessica Seigel ’16, a member of Students for Israel. Aboubakr was persecuted and tortured by Egyptian state police for his research at the Israeli Academic Center and participated in the Egyptian revolution until he was forced to flee to the United States as a political refugee.

Ziyana Popat ’18 was also troubled by a number of claims and generalizations she thought Aboubakr had made throughout his speech.

“Throughout the event, Aboubakr made outlandish claims … He stated that the Qur’an advocates the killing of Jews, and refers to Jews as pigs and apes, with no evidence to support his claim. Furthermore, he mentioned that when Muslims see a Jew behind them, they pray to God and ask his help to massacre them,” Popat said. The Qur’an does not advocate killing Jews, nor does it refer to Jews as pigs and apes at any point.

Popat said her personal experiences did not coincide with some of the statements she remembered Aboubakr making.

“Aboubakr also stated that the entire Middle East and Arab region is a failure, and all Muslims are trying to escape the conflict and move to the West,” Popat said. “While these cases may exist, it is wrong to generalize an entire region, let alone an entire religion. I grew up in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, a nation that is economically prosperous, politically stable and only experiences peace. It is located in the Middle East, and in fact many people from the West move there for the business opportunity.”

When asked if she felt as though Aboubakr’s comments constituted hate speech, as some students had alleged via Facebook statuses and comments after the event, Popat said, “Definitely. I understand this may be a result of his mistreatment and inability to practice his Hebrew publicly in Cairo. However, the majority of his speech consisted of anti-Islam and anti-Arab sentiment, which is unjustified on a larger scale.”

“I mainly shared my story of how from being raised in a very anti-Semitic and anti-western society I ended up becoming a Zionist political asylee in the US, a believer in western civilization and liberalism and an assistant professor for Hebrew language in the U.S. Army Defense Language Institute, and how I was imprisoned in Egypt for fighting anti-Semitism,” Aboubakr wrote in an email.

Aboubakr noted that though the audience for his speech was small (only seven students attended), he found most of the attendees respectful and receptive to his speech. However, Aboubakr said, two students were “very disrespectful, very disruptive and lacked common courtesy. I was disappointed to see them disrespectful to my own personal feelings of pain when I was talking about the physical torture I endured at Egyptian military prisons.”

Hamza disagreed entirely with this version of events. She recounted that Aboubakr spent about three minutes of his speech describing his torture in an Egyptian military prison.

“At the end of the story he started talking about how the person who had tortured him…had a visible praying sign on his forehead and how that immediately made him realize that this was connected to Islam, that Islam preaches hate, that Islam is in a lot of regards a place of hate, a source of hate for the Arab culture,” Hamza said. She recalled that Aboubakr proceeded to connect his experience of torture to recent events in France, Canada, the United States, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Only then, Hamza says, did she interject.

Referencing a piece published in the Swarthmore Independent shortly after the event, alleging that Hamza and another student interrupted Aboubakr as he spoke about his experiences of torture, Hamza said, “That is completely inaccurate and skewed. I find that personally immoral because this was a hurtful and triggering experience for me.”

Hamza hopes that there will be a larger conversation about campus values and the way in which students can feel alienated.

“If we keep hammering on freedom of speech and forgetting about everything else, our community is going to fall apart,” Hamza said.


  1. Oh no! Someone said something that we disagree with! Poor baby got “triggered”! How about just leaving the fucking room instead of shouting down the speaker?

  2. LOL to the idea that you GO to an event and SEEK out the speaker and then call it triggering. You took the opportunity to yell and argue. Jesus H. Christ.

  3. So putting a blockade on Parrish beach wasn’t “triggering” but this was right? Please help me understand the discrepancy.


  4. The Quran contains at least 109 verses that call Muslims to war with nonbelievers for the sake of Islamic rule. Some are quite graphic, with commands to chop off heads and fingers and kill infidels wherever they may be hiding. Muslims who do not join the fight are called ‘hypocrites’ and warned that Allah will send them to Hell if they do not join the slaughter.

    Unlike nearly all of the Old Testament verses of violence, the verses of violence in the Quran are mostly open-ended, meaning that they are not restrained by the historical context of the surrounding text. They are part of the eternal, unchanging word of Allah, and just as relevant or subjective as anything else in the Quran.

    The context of violent passages is more ambiguous than might be expected of a perfect book from a loving God, however this can work both ways. Most of today’s Muslims exercise a personal choice to interpret their holy book’s call to arms according to their own moral preconceptions about justifiable violence. Apologists cater to their preferences with tenuous arguments that gloss over historical fact and generally do not stand up to scrutiny. Still, it is important to note that the problem is not bad people, but bad ideology.

    Unfortunately, there are very few verses of tolerance and peace to abrogate or even balance out the many that call for nonbelievers to be fought and subdued until they either accept humiliation, convert to Islam, or are killed. Muhammad’s own martial legacy – and that of his companions – along with the remarkable stress on violence found in the Quran have produced a trail of blood and tears across world history.

  5. Bukhari (52:177) – Allah’s Apostle said, “The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say. “O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him.”

    Are you too chicken to post this? Or are we going to be to islam-apologist anti-semitic on this entire thread and not allow the free speech your so dearly love?

  6. This guy gets tortured by Muslims in an Egyptian prison because of his religious beliefs in a country where religious persecution of non-Muslims is ubiquitous and Muslim students here in the US have the nerve to show up and jeer and interrupt his speech sharing his experience with real oppression and torture.
    This is the same Jew-hating crap we see on other campuses out here like at the annual Jew-hating festival at UCI every spring when the Jew haters come out en masse to protect the “Catastrophe” or “Nakba” better known as the Rebirth of the Jewish state of Israel.
    Jew hatred and hatred of non-Muslims is widespread in the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa wherever Muslims have political and military control.
    US campuses are importing and encouraging this trash here.

  7. Wow, just wow.

    So not only does the writer of this article skew it to make Hussein Aboubakr to look like the bad guy, when it was the Muslim students interrupting him and yelling at him, interfering with his freedom of speech, it fails to reflect the truth.

    “Throughout the event, Aboubakr made outlandish claims … He stated that the Qur’an advocates the killing of Jews, and refers to Jews as pigs and apes, with no evidence to support his claim. Furthermore, he mentioned that when Muslims see a Jew behind them, they pray to God and ask his help to massacre them,” Popat said. The Qur’an does not advocate killing Jews, nor does it refer to Jews as pigs and apes at any point.”

    Um, yes it does. The Koran says all these things and more, stop lying. You can read those very verses in the Koran, or on this website: http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/

    Apparently Anna Gonzalez needs to do some research before publishing editorials disguised as articles.

  8. Swarthmore student body embarrasses itself one more time. The next big check Eugene Lang writes should go to buying a truckload of warm milk and blankets to comfort a Swarthmore student every time they encounter an opinion different from their own.

  9. Must read: Arab Human Development Reports–United Nations Development Programme http://www.arab-hdr.org/
    Arab scholars write about glaring problems in Arab world.

    The Arab World is in trouble. There is nothing anti-Arab/Muslim about it. Addressing the problems in the Arab Human Development Reports might make the world a better, more happy place.

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