An open letter to the College Republicans regarding Robert Spencer

Nov. 8, 2017, 1:00 a.m.

To the Stanford College Republicans and the wider Stanford community:

Last Sunday, the Stanford College Republicans confirmed that they will be hosting Robert Spencer for their “flagship event of the year” on Nov. 14. The event has received $6,000 of ASSU funding and has been widely publicized across campus and social media. The flyer advertises the event, “Jihad and the Dangers of Radical Islam,” as an “honest discussion” with “renowned author and religious scholar Robert Spencer.” The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) describes Spencer as an “anti-Muslim propagandist” who, despite his lack of academic training in Islam, has proclaimed himself an expert and claims that Islam is inherently violent. In 2013, the United Kingdom banned him for his extreme anti-Muslim rhetoric. Spencer is also the director of the Muslim-bashing website, JihadWatch, and the co-founder of Stop Islamization of America and the American Freedom Defense Initiative, both of which are classified as hate groups by the SPLC.

Robert Spencer is an established Islamophobe. Islamophobia, more than just anti-Muslim sentiment, is institutionalized through U.S. foreign policy (the ongoing “war on terror”) and immigration policy (Trump’s xenophobic Muslim ban), extending its violent impact on people from and in Muslim-majority countries. Islamophobia does not just affect Muslim Americans and immigrants in the U.S. but also anyone who is perceived as Muslim – this includes non-Muslim Arabs, Sikhs and others. The College Republicans list the FBI, the U.S. Army and the Justice Department under Spencer’s credentials. Governmental support for Spencer doesn’t mean his views are not racist; it only means that the government itself is guilty of Islamophobic policy. As a campus community, we need to combat all forms of racism, including Islamophobia.

Based on our opposition to Spencer, we have two demands. First, we demand that the Stanford College Republicans cancel the event. As a campus committed to inclusivity, we should reject Islamophobia. By bringing Spencer to campus with ASSU funds, the College Republicans are endorsing Spencer’s bigotry with Stanford’s name and students’ money. Spencer’s arguments demonize Islam and perpetuate fear-mongering against Muslims, including Stanford’s own Muslim community and others vulnerable to Islamophobia. The decision to host this event does not establish Stanford as a campus where free speech reigns, but one where hate speech is given a microphone. If we want to talk about the free expression of ideas, we have to acknowledge the very real consequences of rhetoric like Spencer’s and the role that hosting him at Stanford plays in reinforcing institutional support for him and the status quo, which is Islamophobic.

We support Stanford students’ rights to free speech, but not at the expense of Stanford’s commitment to academic integrity and respect for its students. Bringing a speaker who has proclaimed himself an expert despite having no training discredits not only the organizers but the school as a whole. None of the material Mr. Spencer has published has been peer-reviewed, nor would it hold up to the standards of published research from our institution. And while there is a place for non-scholarly voices at Stanford, there is no place for unsubstantiated hate speech. Stanford’s Fundamental Standard expects students to “respect and uphold the rights and dignity of others” and to “uphold the integrity of the University as a community of scholars in which free speech is available to all and intellectual honesty is demanded of all.” Spencer’s presence on campus violates these basic community principles, and his platform endangers Stanford students. Just last night, Spencer published a blog post on JihadWatch targeting a Stanford student who took down his posters and thus exposing him to his readership. The College Republicans need to ensure that the speakers they invite will not cause potential harm to their peers. Furthermore, if they wish to host a speaker on these issues, they should respect the integrity of our institution and intelligence of their audience.

Second, if the event is still held, we ask that the student body, faculty and the Stanford community boycott the event in solidarity. While some might be inclined to attend, taking part in this event will only legitimize his presence on our campus. The decision to attend is not a neutral one. Even if you are critical of Spencer’s views, we ask that you do not engage with him, because engaging in a conversation about Islam with a known Islamophobe is a contradiction. The tenets of Islam are not up for debate by someone who has no formal training in the religion and whose beliefs inform policy that targets Muslims at home and kills Muslims abroadRobert Spencer has bolstered this racist foreign policy by linking a religion (Islam) to national security, incorrectly alleging that the lives of Americans are threatened by all those who are linked to Islam. Attending this event to learn about U.S. foreign policy validates the premise that a religion can pose an inherent threat to national security. We need to separate religion from matters of national security. If students want to learn more about Islam, the Markaz Resource Center, the Muslim Student Union and religious studies courses are all valuable resources.

A petition was sent out last week, garnering over 900 undergraduate signatories opposing the use of student fees towards a speaker “who is actively hostile to a large and valued segment of our campus community.” The petition was the first step towards a referendum that would give the student body the ability to vote on the funding appropriation and overturn it if it voted to do so. While some of the funds have already been spent and it is unclear if it will be possible to retract funding, the number of petition signatories and this coalition of over 20 groups indicate widespread opposition to this event.

For any questions or if you would like to get involved in a community response, please contact [email protected].


A coalition of concerned student groups:

Arab Students Association at Stanford
Asian American Students’ Association
Black Student Union
First-Generation Low Income Partnership
International Socialist Organization at Stanford
J Street U Stanford
Jewish Student Association at Stanford
Jewish Voice for Peace
Muslim Student Union
Sikh Student Association at Stanford
Stanford American Indian Organization
Stanford Democrats
Stanford National Association for Advancement of Colored People
Stanford Sanctuary Now
Stanford Students for Queer Liberation
Stanford Turkish Student Association
Students for Alternatives to Militarism
Students for Justice in Palestine
Student and Labor Alliance
Students for the Liberation of All People


Correction: The International Socialist Organization at Stanford was incorrectly listed as International Student Organization at Stanford in the print edition. The Daily apologizes and regrets this error.

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