An advertisement in Monday’s issue of the Ohio State University (OSU) student newspaper the Lantern touched off a controversy pitting what critics allege was an anti-Muslim bias against the rights of individuals to voice their opinions freely.
The ad’s top line read, in bold letters, “Where Are They Now?” and then listed former members of the national campus group Muslim Student Association (MSA) who’ve faced allegations of ties to terrorism. After the list, the ad carried a picture for a pamphlet called “Muslim Hate Groups On Campus” by Daniel Greenfield, which is on sale for $3 (or $1 a piece in bulk orders) from the David Horowitz Freedom Center. “All 10 individuals listed in the ad appear to have been linked to terrorism by authorities,” reported the Columbus Dispatch, “but they have not all been convicted of a crime.” One OSU student told the Dispatch there may have been some “bad apples” among former members of the MSA, which has been around since 1963 and likely boasts sizable membership alumni rolls.
Greenfield is a fellow at the Freedom Center, which purchased the ad and whose website Frontpage Magazine reproduced the ad in a blogpost. Horowitz and the Freedom Center have faced accusations of Islamophobia in the past, as in the Center for American Progress’s “Fear, Inc.” report.
OSU students and even the paper itself reacted to Monday’s Lantern ad. Jana Al-Akhras, an 18-year-old OSU student and MSA member, told the Columbus Dispatch:
I am offended not only as a Muslim or as a general-body member of the MSA, but as a member of the OSU community. We do not stand for discrimination, hate or intolerance here.
I am extremely disappointed in The Lantern for allowing this ad to run. It was paid for. It is not an op-ed, and they had every right to deny it as hate speech.
A faculty adviser for the Lantern told the dispatch that “the ad did not violate the policy” that ads must not denigrate individuals or groups.
The staff of the Lantern, in an editorial published Tuesday, disavowed responsibility for the ad, saying many staffers were unaware it was in the paper until they picked up their own copies. The editorial went on:
Our staff found the ad to be incredibly offensive and ignorant. We do not agree with the content of the ad and we are not happy that so many of our readers were hurt by its content.
But we, as a staff, also hold the right to free speech near and dear to our hearts. Though we do not endorse or agree with the views in the ad, we do believe that Daniel Greenfield, the author of the pamphlet pictured in the ad, has a right to his opinions.
Another Muslim OSU student wrote Tuesday in a separate opinion piece on the Lantern’s website that “the majority of students overreacted over the ad.” Ayan Sheikh, a former Lantern editor who wrote that the “ad, without a doubt, is controversial and offensive to Muslims,” also cited the separation between the editorial content and the ad sales side of the paper, and said labeling the editorial staff “anti-Islam” was incorrect. Adding that Greenfield should enjoy the freedom of speech and lamenting the publicity for “his irrelevant and highly offensive $3 pamphlet,” Sheikh wrote: “If there’s someone we should all be mad at, it’s Daniel Greenfield who wrote the pamphlet, not The Lantern staff.”