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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Know your enemy

Published: April 18, 2008
Section: Opinions

Last Thursday afternoon, I was at the demonstration of solidarity for Mamoon Darwish and support for the issues that his case represents. In fact, I helped organize it. I am a graduate student at the Heller School and in my world, free time is a precious commodity. Yet I gave a lot of it to Thursday’s event—not out of devotion to Mr. Darwish, and not because of my personal convictions regarding his guilt or innocence. I did it out of devotion to the ideals upon which this fine institution was founded. I did it because of my personal convictions regarding equity, equality, and the right to due process and a fair trial.

These are the convictions that brought me to this university in the first place. Brandeis’ deep dedication to social justice resonates powerfully within many of our exceptional students, faculty, and staff, myself included. A devotion to social justice is a marriage to a difficult path and an endless struggle—justice, dignity, and equity are rarely gracefully given—but here is a community that believes that struggle should be made.

Yet Brandeis is a human institution and not immune to the weaknesses that plague all human institutions. We talk about truth “even unto its innermost parts”—but sometimes those parts are uncomfortable. Sometimes the picture they paint is not the picture we want to see. Sometimes they are threatening to our established systems of understanding or of action. These are the times when we must hold our gaze steady, lest we become that which we presume to fight against.

Let me be less abstract. As those of us following the case know, Mamoon Darwish was indicted on two charges in mid February. The cases were flawed by administrative oversights that resulted in an unfair trial and undue sanctions. Upon retrial, Mr. Darwish has been completely cleared in the first case against him; his request for retrial has been granted for the second. The process which condemned him so quickly back in February has taken months to appeal, despite the clarity of the charges of mistrial and flaws of due process.

These circumstances represent but one of a series of disquieting examples where fair treatment, equal opportunity, and due process have been dismissed in recent history here at Brandeis. We have all read about the arrests at the Mods party; we have heard about the battle for a student group that presents another side of the Arab-Israeli conflict. We have wondered what is so shocking about Govind Sreenivasan’s film about on-campus minority experiences that it has been kept from student’s eyes. These instances, while linked by the minority standing of the participants, involve more than minority rights. They involve human rights, and they cut right to the core of who, and what, Brandeis is.

As a university, we are a bastion of free-thinking in American life, but as Brandeis University, we are more than that. Most college communities are devoted to pushing past our inherited molds and questioning who and how we want to be in the world. As Brandeis students, we have already answered part of that question. Yes, we are intellectually driven and committed to academic success. But that is not all. A secular Jewish university founded in the aftermath of WWII, in the wake of the Holocaust, we are also deeply committed to social justice and truth. We are wise enough to recognize that such devotion is not easy, but that it is necessary to maintaining a society in which small injustices do not become large. It is necessary to being the type of community we want to be. When this commitment is threatened, it threatens the fabric of our very society, not just the lives of those on trial.

That is why I participated last Thursday. I am proud of this university—proud enough to hold it to a high standard. I am proud enough to exercise my responsibility as a member of this community to ensure that we toe the line we have drawn for ourselves. Thursday’s demonstration focused around a call for student rights, equity, and due process. Most importantly, it called for measures to be taken which ensure that these core Brandeis principles are applied to all students, mainstream or minority. The enemy in this battle is not the school, the administration, or the student with whom Mr. Darwish fought. The enemy is injustice, who is enemy to us all.