College Republican Rally Causes Uproar
Group Tramples On Flags, Angering Muslim Students
October 17, 2006 8:56 PM
A rally on Tuesday, Oct. 17 quickly turned tumultuous when two flags believed to contain the Arabic symbol for “Allah,” or God, were trampled on by members of SF State’s College Republicans.
The makeshift flags were those of Hezbollah and Hamas, two Islam-based political parties in the Middle East designated by the United States as terrorist organizations. Leigh Wolf, a member of the College Republicans, said the group was unaware of what the Arabic symbols meant until some Muslim students brought it to their attention.
"The goal was to desecrate Hezbollah and Hamas, not Islam," Wolf said.
Under the watch of at least five campus police officers, including Police Chief Kirk Gaston, the College Republican-sponsored rally in support of the war on terror at Malcolm X Plaza morphed into a heated and emotional exchange of words. Some audience members said they thought the College Republicans were being insensitive to their religion.
“It’s the equivalent of stepping on the cross. How would Christians feel?” said Ali Algarmi, 21, an SF State Muslim student studying sociology. “We see that as being spit on the face.”
After learning of the religious symbols the College Republicans let some Muslim students alter the flags to be less inflammatory before walking on them in protest of terrorists.
“That’s something very holy, and stepping on it, it’s disgracing Islam,” Brian Gallagher said, an SF State student and General Union of Palestinian Students, or GUPS, member.
It is not the first time College Republicans and Muslim students have clashed on campus.
In November 2004, campus police broke up a physical altercation when the College Republicans set up a table in the plaza after the presidential elections and were mobbed by a group of Muslim and Palestinian students. About a year earlier at a pro-Israel event on campus, Jewish students were escorted off campus by police when they were mobbed by members of GUPS.
Tuesday’s rally attracted about 100 people initially, but the ensuing commotion caught the interest of other students just passing through the plaza.
For Carl Clark, 22, president of the College Republicans, the rally was an opportunity for the student political group to voice their beliefs, while also offering SF State students another perspective on the often-debated U.S.-led war on terror.
Clark said he and other group members received physical threats while on stage, but at the same time, he also anticipated the vocal disapproval from students and other student organizations.
“This campus preaches free speech, but unless you are Republican,” Clark said. “We don’t show up and protest their events.”
Members of Students Against War, or SAW, and the SF State contingent of the International Socialist Organization were also on hand to protest by shouting at the College Republicans calling them “racists” and holding up neon-colored signs.
In front of the American flag-draped stage the College Republicans erected a cardboard coffin with a tombstone reading “R.I.P.” to symbolize innocent lives lost to terrorist attacks, Clark said.
“I definitely expected people to be upset,” said Wolf. “But you know what? I don’t really care what they think of us desecrating the flags of terrorists."
At one point, Wolf and Ramsey El-Qare, president of GUPS, confronted and pointed fingers at each other in front of the cement stage. El-Qare accused Wolf of spreading false and derogatory information about Muslims to students.
“They are just being intolerant of other people’s religion,” said Naser Halteh, 22, an SF State student and GUPS member.
Despite the frenzied emotions and the face-to-face confrontations, the police did not actively engage the incident.
For Sean Ajayi, an SF State student who lived in Saudi Arabia for three years, the incident only encapsulates the often-volatile relationship between the College Republicans and Muslim students and the need for a more formal forum for debate.
“All this does is stir up rhetoric,” Ajayi said. “They are as convicted in their values as much as we are.”
Even so, stomping on flags with the Arabic sign for God stings for Sharef Al Najjar, 22, an SF State student studying international business and a Muslim Student Association member.
“The fact that God was on the flag, it was offensive to me and other Muslims,” Najjar said. “You don’t get to step on people’s religions.”
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