Senate denies funding for Shabazz
by Alexandra Kilduff
Last Thursday, Student Senate?s weekly meeting in the McKenna/Peter/Wright room was filled to near capacity. The cause of this unusual attention was a number of proposals for Funding and Recognition, and in particular a proposal for a $2000 honorarium to bring a controversial speaker to campus: Malik Zulu Shabazz, the national chairman of the New Black Panther Party.
According to Kierra Wright, a senior in chemical engineering who presented the proposal to Student Senate, Shabazz would be speaking as part of the Black History Month program in February. His discussion was to focus on black history dating back to ancient Egypt, and also on the role and responsibility of black college students. Wright also added that there would be a ?discussion floor open to all.?
Shabazz, an attorney and graduate of Howard University in Washington, D.C., came to chair the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense after the death of its leader Khalid Abdul Muhammad in 2001. He lectures extensively and has also founded Unity Nation, a student group at Howard University.
Shabazz has gained notoriety over the past decade as an outspoken anti-Semite. During a news conference held at the National Press Club, Shabazz was quoted as saying, ?We have to make it plain that Zionists control America lock, stock, and barrel. The European Jews have America under control, lock, stock, and barrel ? the media, foreign policy.?
This point was brought to the meeting?s attention by Joseph Arasin, a computer science and history major and Student Senator. ?Does bringing a speaker with this sort of motivation promote the sort of cultural awareness, the togetherness that you seem to be trying to achieve with this event?? Arasin asked after reading quotations from Shabazz?s previous speeches.
?I feel it is our right as students,? Wright responded, ?that if there is an interest among one, or fifty, or ten, or however many students there are, we should respect that wish of the students to hear the speaker that they want to hear.? Wright added that students were welcome to protest or challenge Shabazz?s speech and views in the event?s open forum.
Also in attendance at the meeting, at the request of student body president Erik Michaels-Ober, was history department head Joe Trotter. ?I normally don?t get involved in trying to sway student bodies,? said Trotter. However, he did stress that he felt Shabazz would represent an interesting viewpoint. ?This man,? said Trotter, ?is not about representing the black community, but about giving students an opportunity to hear another opinion in the African-American community.? He added that he felt students would be able to form their own opinions. ?I doubt that this man can come here and talk to a student body at Carnegie Mellon that would be very passive about what he has to say.?
As the debate continued for over an hour, many students admitted that they knew little about Shabazz or his views. Daniel Papasian, a junior social and decision sciences major, then requested speaking rights and proceeded to read both an open letter from the Huey P. Newton Foundation denouncing the New Black Panther Party and a number of quotations from Malik Shabazz. ???Kill every goddamn Zionist in Israel,??? Papasian read from an address that Shabazz gave in 2002. ???Goddamn little babies, goddamn old ladies, blow up Zionist supermarkets.? Now, I really want this event to happen ? I think he will be a really interesting speaker ? but you all need to get a little spine and actually discuss this for what this is.?
Many students supported funding Shabazz in the interest of exposure. Shingai Samudzi, a first-year in H&SS, said, ?It is not just our job to vote on our personal preferences and our individual emotions.... I think it?s best not to act out of ignorance, and not to act out of fear.? Tanvir Suri, a first-year in business administration, said, ?The fact is that by shielding people from it [Shabazz?s speech], by stopping it from coming to campus, we?re not helping the student body.?
Many other students, however, disagreed. Sean Weinstock, a first-year in H&SS, said funding Shabazz?s visit was ?not constructive in any way.? Jonathan Mendelson, a junior computer and mathematical sciences major, stated, ?I really don?t think we should be using student activities money to fund hate.? Samantha Rosenthal, a sophomore in chemical and biomedical engineering, noted that Senate would most likely unanimously disapprove of a white speaker with anti-African-American opinions in a similar situation.
During the debate, Andres Bermudez, a junior social and decision sciences major, stood up before the assembly. ?Make no mistake,? he declared. ?Funding this event is putting money in the pocket of an anti-Semite.?
At 7:20 pm, an hour and twenty minutes after the proposal had been brought to the floor, a vote was called. With a vote of 12 for, 12 against, and two abstaining, the motion failed to pass.
Shabazz?s visit to campus, however, remains scheduled for February 17, and student group SPIRIT has agreed to host and promote the event.
Bermudez felt that at a time when Carnegie Mellon placed emphasis on unity through diversity, a speaker like Shabazz would not accomplish such a goal. ?It is obvious just from the discussion,? he said, ?that this event is not bringing people together.?
Editor?s Note: Jonathan Mendelson is a staffwriter for The Tartan.