On Monday, the war in the Middle East came home to Kent State University.
It started with a provocative guest column written by a Muslim history professor that was published in the student-run Daily Kent Stater newspaper. The column is an ode to an 18-year-old female suicide bomber who recently killed herself and two others in Jerusalem.
In part, the column reads:
“O, Allah, protect the soldiers of Islam fighting in Palestine. Accept the martyr into paradise … Let us take the pain of Ayat al-Akras and the hundreds like her into our hearts, so that the suffering awakens us to the terror done in our name and with our implicit silence, and moves us to action.”
Lewis Fried, an English professor at Kent, read the column as a call to arms. He is urging the university to fire Julio Pino, the associate professor of history who wrote it.
“Anyone who advocates the murder of citizens cannot be on the faculty of the university,” Fried said. “Anyone who advocates the murder of citizens cannot be on the faculty of the university,” Fried said. “Our job is to create a good society.”
Fried, who is Jewish, also is insisting that university officials contact the FBI to report Pino.
“(Attorney General John) Ashcroft put us on alert to report people who overtly advocate terrorism or support it,” he said. “If this is not an incitement to terrorism, I give up my Ph.D. This is a call for the killing of people. He poses a danger to everyone on campus.”
A spokesperson for Kent State said he was not aware of any plans to discipline Pino, whose right to profess unpopular views is protected by the First Amendment.
“We’re not permitted to monitor the personal views of our employees,” said spokesman Ron Kirksey.
But the column has definitely touched a nerve on campus. Yesterday’s Kent Stater published five letters denouncing it. Editorial page editor Tim Bugansky said he has received about 12 letters in all, an unusually high number about a single article.
The man at the center of the controversy said his essay was misunderstood. Pino, who converted to Islam two years ago, said he definitely is not urging American students to become suicide bombers.
“This is not what I advocate others do – absolutely not. I’m trying to explain why martyrdom bombings happened in Palestine,” he said.
Pino rejects the label “suicide bombers.” Instead, he refers to “martyrdom bombers.”
“Muslims don’t commit suicide,” he said. “That’s martyrdom, not a suicide, because they’re dying for the sake of preserving Islam. I believe the Quran says one is permitted martyrdom as long as a jihad is taking place. A jihad is only waged when Muslims are in danger.”
Glee Wilson, an associate professor of history, disagrees strongly with Pino’s support for suicide bombers. But he also does not believe that his colleague is a threat.
“The Julio I know is a very mild, soft-spoken, pleasant person,” he said.
Wilson has seen Pino around town dressed in military camouflage – an attire that Pino calls a “fashion statement.”
“I wasn’t alarmed by it,” Wilson said. “I didn’t think he was a threat to anybody. I’ve also seen him in Middle Eastern garb.”
Wilson also does not believe that the history department will censure Pino.
Jim Louis, Kent’s associate provost for faculty affairs, said he read Pino’s piece not as an incitement to violence but as a celebration of violence.
“That’s what bothers me,” Louis said.
Emphasizing that he was not speaking in his official capacity, Louis said that it seemed to him Pino wrote the column in his capacity as a private citizen.
“The university can’t just click its fingers and say, `You’re out because we don’t like what you think,'” Louis said.
But that’s precisely what Fried wants to see happen.
“This is my campus,” Fried said. “I will not permit my life or the lives of my students to be at risk. I’ve lost all my European relatives in the Holocaust. I won’t let this go unanswered.”
For Louis, it’s d퀌�j퀌� vu. Recalling the student shootings of 1970, he said:
“The history of Kent State is a reminder that the university is not isolated from the world. The world comes home to us.”