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Outrage as US university cancels Muslim valedictorian’s speech

A top United States university has cancelled its plans for a graduation speech by a meritorious Muslim student after pro-Israel groups criticised her selection and…

A top United States university has cancelled its plans for a graduation speech by a meritorious Muslim student after pro-Israel groups criticised her selection and the varsity reportedly received threats by email, phone and letter.

The decision announced on Monday by the University of Southern California is the latest controversy to roil American higher education since Israel’s war on Gaza began in October last year.

Asna Tabassum, who has been attacked online for being “anti-Zionist”, had been selected as class valedictorian — an honorary role whose holder traditionally gives an address in front of up to 65,000 people.

But on Monday the university’s provost, Andrew Guzman, announced the May 10 ceremony would go ahead without the speech. This is the first time the university has banned a valedictorian from speaking.

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Guzman’s statement gave no specifics, but the Los Angeles Times quoted Erroll Southers, the university’s associate senior vice president for safety and risk assurance, as saying the institution had received threats by email, phone and letter.

‘Campaign of hate meant to silence my voice’

Tabassum was elected valedictorian for having a GPA greater than 3.980, possessing a brilliant knowledge of her academic programme, contributing to both university and community life, and submitting a top-notch reflection essay on her time at USC.

Tabassum studied biomedical engineering and is a student of history who minored in resistance to genocide.

Tabassum criticised the decision, which she said was the result of the university “succumbing to a campaign of hate meant to silence my voice.”

“Although this should have been a time of celebration for my family, friends, professors, and classmates, anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian voices have subjected me to a campaign of racist hatred because of my uncompromising belief in human rights for all,” she said in a statement.

“I am not surprised by those who attempt to propagate hatred. I am surprised that my own university — my home for four years — has abandoned me,” she added.

Asna has garnered support from various communities, with the public expressing strong disapproval of the USC’s biased stance.

On X, Jodi Dean, a social media user, commented, “This is outrageous. Solidarity with Asna Tabassum.”

A Jewish parent, who pays tuition to USC, expressed outrage over the decision on X: “As a Jewish parent sending tuition dollars to @USC for an Annenberg student, I am offended by this decision. Please immediately re-invite Asna Tabassum to speak as valedictorian. She earned this honour as an excellent scholar and student of genocide, no less. For shame, USC.”

Muslim advocacy group CAIR’s Los Angeles Executive Director, Hussam Ayloush, praised Tabassum for being an accomplished student and said the university “cannot hide its cowardly decision behind a disingenuous concern for ‘security.’

“The dishonest and defamatory attacks on Asna are nothing more than thinly veiled manifestations of Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism, which have been weaponised against college students across the country who speak up for human rights — and for Palestinian humanity,” he said.

The Muslim group demanded USC immediately reverse course, restore her speech and treat all students fairly and justly.  (TRT World)

 

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