Professors say flags are 'symbol of American imperialism and violence' in defense of student who defaced 9/11 memorial

The letter demands that no "extreme disciplinary action as a consequence of political expression and free speech" is carried out against Alkilani.

Hannah Nightingale Washington DC

Following a student's removal of 9/11 memorial flags put on display by Washington University College Republicans through Young America's Foundation's 9/11: Never Forget Project, faculty and students are coming to the defense of the student who carried the act of vandalism.

Fadel Alkilani was caught on the morning of September 11 removing the 2,977 flags representing the lives lost on 9/11 from their display on Mudd Field, placing them in trash bags. He claimed that his removal of the flags was part of a protest of "American imperialism," and in remembrance of the lives lost in the war following 9/11.

Following the backlash Alkilani received for his actions, numerous student groups wrote a letter expressing their support.

"While there may be differing opinions on Fadel's choice of protest, the subsequent Islamophobic and racist response to his protest was intolerable. Furthermore, the Chancellor's statement released on Sept. 12 in response to these events undermined the objective of Fadel's protest, which was to educate our community, and erased the oppression and violence that Muslims world-wide have endured as a result of 9/11," the letters states.

Chancellor Andrew D. Martin's statement referenced above condemned Alkinali's actions, calling it "reprehensible."

"I want to make it very clear that, as an institution, we find the actions of this student to be reprehensible," said Martin. "This act was seen as a personal affront by many, at WashU and beyond, and as an affront to the ideals of our institution."

The letter from student organizations continues by calling the American flag a symbol of violence.

"While the American flag is a symbol of the American lives lost, it is also the symbol of American imperialism and violence in the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and beyond," the letter states. "Black, Brown and Muslim Americans uniquely grieve both the lives lost on 9/11 as well as the millions of lives lost over the past twenty years in the Middle East."

The letter also reveals that Alkilani "reported being verbally and physically harassed by numerous WashU students and WUPD officers" following his actions.

They condemned the YAF's coverage of the event, that subsequently went nationwide, saying that the coverage "This opened an avenue for WashU students, community members and unaffiliated individuals to engage in targeted harassment and spew racist and Islamaphobic comments against Fadel. This hostile social media campaign allowed people to dox and violently threaten both Fadel and members of his family, endangering their safety."

They also called out the Chancellor for his statement and how it did not acknowledge and condemn the acts of Islamophobia Alkilani was experiencing.

The letter ends with a list of demands, including that WashU publicly condemns "the Islamophobic and racist attacks by WashU students and community members against Fadel Alkilani," and that an investigation and disciplinary actions are carried out against students who "spread misinformation, posted Islamophobic and racist comments on social media, threatened Fadel and doxxed his family online."

The letter concludes by demanding that no "extreme disciplinary action as a consequence of political expression and free speech" is carried out against Alkilani.

This letter was published in the school's student newspaper, with the letter noting that "Several student organizations and over 1700 students, faculty, community members and other concerned people signed an online version of this statement."

According to YAF, around 50 of those signatures identify themselves as faculty members of the university.

One of the organizations that reportedly signed onto the letter was the Washington University's Black & Palestinian Liberation group. The group cited the statement in a template letter to professors regarding an upcoming academic strike, according to YAF.

A strike was organized by WashU BPL for September 15. They urged students and teachers skip class in order to "protest university negligence in protecting marginalized students" in a post on their Instagram.

"We won't stand by while violent Islamophobic and racist rhetoric makes students feel unsafe. Join us, strike tomorrow and email your professors using the template in our bio. The time to act is NOW. Strike for our safety. Strike in solidarity with marginalized students," the Instagram caption stated.


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