LAS CRUCES — Tensions rose toward the end of a talk by controversial conservative author David Horowitz in Las Cruces on Wednesday night, but, in general, people participating in the event and a corresponding public protest remained civil.
There were some heated verbal exchanges between Horowitz and attendees critical of his views, and some verbal outbursts from attendees. After the event, one audience member supporting Horowitz approached a critic using a raised voice, but there didn’t appear to be other physically aggressive or violent actions surrounding the talk.
About 40 protesters, many holding signs, stood in front of Gerald Thomas Hall leading up to the event. A handful of them stood outside the auditorium where Horowitz presented, and some attended the speech.
After an delay sparked by what Horowitz alleged was a “leftist” having stolen the room’s microphone beforehand, Horowitz launched into a meandering talk, often taking swipes at Democrats, people on the left side of the political spectrum and what he said is a lack of political diversity among faculty on college campuses. He alleged that lack of diversity is present on New Mexico State University’s campus, with conservatives under represented. Horowitz claimed the university is a “one-party” state and took issue with the term “controversial” as a way to describe himself.
“Anybody who doesn’t tow the party line is controversial,” he told attendees.
Later, Horowitz said there may be “some closet conservatives” at NMSU.
“I don’t want to disparage New Mexico State, because it’s just as bad or worse than Yale,” he said.
Asked Thursday whether the university is aware of the political beliefs of its employees, NMSU spokesman Justin Bannister said the university “does not track the political beliefs of any employees, including faculty members.”
About 120 people attended the talk, titled “Combating Radical Islam on Campus,” held in a lecture room at Gerald Thomas Hall on the New Mexico State University campus. It was a mixed audience of supporters and critics of Horowitz. Several were students, attending as part of class work. NMSU Police Chief Stephen Lopez and two NMSU officers were on hand, as were two private security guards of Horowitz’ s who were stationed near him the length of the roughly hour-long event, which was hosted by the Students for Academic Freedom.
Thursday, Lopez clarified that the microphone to the room was not stolen, but rather said “the student group never checked out a microphone.” The university doesn’t leave such equipment in classrooms because of the risk of it being stolen, he said. As for any other disruptions or threats surrounding the event, Lopez said there weren’t any.
“There was absolutely nothing of concern,” he said.
Horowitz, in a portion of the talk, delved into his views on Islam, saying he makes “a big distinction between Muslims and Islam.” He acknowledged there are a variety of branches of Islam and levels of adherence to the doctrines espoused, as with other faiths. He noted, for instance, many Catholics don’t adhere to a Catholic Church doctrine against use of birth control.
“But Islam, the doctrine, is putting it very mildly, problematic. Why?,” he said. “First of all, because there’s no separation of church and state. … What the Muslim radicals want is a global empire with a state that forces their religion.”
Horowitz said that leads to abuses, such as gay people being executed by the state in Iran.
One attendee challenged Horowitz on the use of the singular term “doctrine,” implying all Muslims believe that, to which Horowitz said he should have said: “There are doctrines in Islam that are problematic.”
Also, Horowitz said, “Islam, unlike other religions, and I say this of the doctrines of the radicals, is at war with other religions.”
Arguing Islamic doctrines
Harris Ahmed, a medical school student at the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine who’s Muslim, addressed Horowitz after the speech, saying he’s been in Las Cruces for about a year and has helped to found a medical club on his campus and at the University of Texas at El Paso.
“It’s because of my orthodox following and reading of Islam, my orthodox upbringing in Islam that really inspired me to pursue medicine and to serve others,” he said, prompting applause from a portion of the audience. “I wanted people to see an example of orthodox Islam and what it can produce. What you see in the Middle East is the result of post-colonialism. That’s why there’s disorder and carnage and violence there.”
Ahmed, one of several Muslim medical students who attended, said he agrees there “are some traditions in Islam that are troublesome,” but there’s a system in Islam of determining which doctrines are authentic. Some aren’t valid, he said.
Horowitz said he disagrees that the status of the Middle East can be attributed to post-colonialism.
One audience member argued back and forth with Horowitz, who’s Jewish, over the history and founding of the state of Israel.
“You were raised in schools where different views are not seen, so you’re, in my view really ignorant of this,” he told the attendee.
Horowitz then announced he’d stop taking questions from protesters. Horowitz, who started his career on the left side of the political spectrum but then switched to the right, said one reason for his switch was that he never approved of protesting against speakers, something he’d seen on the left. He invited opponents to set up a debate, though.
Before the talk, Sulaiman Iqbal, a medical student at the University of New Mexico who’s also Muslim, said he has concerns Horowitz’s comments contribute to prejudice against Muslims.
“I guess he kinds of feeds off the current climate, in some circles, of Islamophobia, kind of caricaturing all Muslims as, sort of — if not direct terrorists wanting to kill people — kind of silently egging it on,” he said.
Also before the speech, Doña Ana Community College faculty member and protester Hiranya Roychowdhury said he’s seen Horowitz on TV and YouTube and has concerns his comments paint groups with a broad brush. The topic of the speech wrongly implies “we have radical Islam on campus,” he said.
“Radicalism is something that transcends faith,” said Roychowdhury, who’s Hindu.
After the event, one Hispanic attendee who was sympathetic to Horowitz but declined to give his name, said he has concerns about terrorist attacks against the United States, as well as immigration into the country.
“My thoughts are: Let him talk. Let him say what he has to say, and let’s see where he’s coming from,” he said.
Another audience member questioned Horowitz’s views about racism, given that Horowitz is white and minorities historically have experienced racism in the U.S. Horowitz said he dislikes the term “people of color,” often used by progressives. He said it’s inherently racist and that a basic American principle is people are equal regardless of race.
“The whole world is people of color, except for white people. White people are the aggressors. White people are bad,” he said, sarcastically.
The event ended with some audience members yelling angrily “Sit down! Sit down!” to a critic who’d been arguing with Horowitz.
Attendees Rembrandt Fernandez and Logan Boone, who took a break from studying for finals to attend, said they thought Horowitz’s tone could have been more measured and respectful. Body language and voice tone contribute to a speaker’s message — and a communication gap is contributing to the political divide between the left and the right, they said.
“There’s a lot of communication that’s more than just words,” Fernandez said.
Diana Alba Soular may be reached at 575-541-5443, email@example.com or @AlbaSoular on Twitter.
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