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Univ reacts to MSA vandalism

Published: March 12, 2010
Section: Front Page


Interfaith: (From Left to Right) Protestant Chaplain Alexander Kern, Imam Talal Eid, Father Walter Cuenin and Rabbi Elyse Winick denounced Wednesday last week’s vandalism to the Muslim Student Association lounge and prayer space.
PHOTO COURTESY Mike Lovett/ Brandeis University

The Brandeis Chaplaincy, Dean of Student Life Jamele Adams and University President Jehuda Reinharz denounced Friday’s vandalism of the Muslim Student Association’s (MSA) prayer space and lounge in Usdan Student Center. The identity of the vandals remain unknown.

Adams, Reinharz and the chaplains, representing the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim faiths, gathered in the Muslim prayer space and lounge Wednesday to speak out against the vandalism.

“We unite in solidarity with all our Muslim students and assure them that this kind of action will not be tolerated at Brandeis,” the statement said. “Any act of vandalism, especially those that target a particular religious or cultural community, is deplorable.”

The vandalism to the newly renovated lounge was discovered at 9 a.m. last Friday morning by MSA President Neda Eid who noticed two lamps in the lounge were unplugged and turned upside down. According to Imam Talal Eid, Neda’s father, vandalism was not considered until 11:30 a.m. when he entered his office and found his computer and phone unplugged, chipped paint and damaged kitchen utensils. His personal copy of the Quran, complete with notes from previous sermons, was also missing.

“I looked around the place after lunch and then I came to my office and told the secretary to call the contractor to see whether it was a construction worker and if not to call the police,” he said.

While some members of campus are calling the act of vandalism a hate crime, Eid said he doubts it was.

“When I spoke to the chief of police, I asked him not to rule out a hate crime,” Eid said. “But the Muslim community here is very peaceful, we have a good relationship with students, especially the Jewish students. There is not this kind of tension here.”

He added that on Ramadan, Jewish students would often cook Iftars for Muslim students, showing a “history of interfaith relations.”

Students have responded to the vandalism by starting a Facebook page, titled “Can 600 People Say No to Hate and Yes to Love?”

On the page, students expressed their solidarity with the MSA in statements like “this was an act of hate. We can respond with an act of love.” The goal of the Facebook event is to obtain 600 members to condemn the violence.

Sahar Massachi, who started the Facebook page, also posted a petition on the Brandeis-based blog at innermostparts.org for members of the Brandeis community to sign.

“This is unacceptable,” the petition reads. “We reject this hateful and juvenile act. It deserves to be roundly condemned and is an embarrassment to this community. We fully support and stand by you in this troubled time.”

In an e-mail to the student body on Thursday night, MSA President Neda Eid wrote “I am working with the Brandeis faculty, club leaders and their organizations, the chaplaincy, the dean of student life, the general student body, newspapers and outside MSAs to address the larger issue of hate on university campuses and the need to actively respond.”

Eid said that she is planning a program titled “Peaceful Response,” which will allow students to share their thoughts about the recent vandalism by writing on posters in Shaprio Campus Center and Usdan next week.

“I believe this will provide a great outlet for students to express their opinions, show a means of solidarity, and commit to a healing process,” Eid wrote.

There will be a Peace Vigil held by the Chaplaincy today at 12:15 p.m. in the Peace Garden. Students are asked to wear white as a symbol of solidarity and commitment to peace, the e-mail said.

While most reaction to the vandalism has been in solidarity with the Muslim community, there have also been anti-Semitic comments.

One student posted early yesterday morning that “I think the religious hostilities at Brandeis have gone way too far. First the Jews invade Palestine, then they destroy the MSA.”

Other students also engaged in a debate about potentially religious motivations for violence.

Reinharz dismissed the idea. “I think it is certainly inappropriate. I don’t know what that means to blame the Jews,” Reinharz said.

Police are still investigating the case. Director of Public Safety Ed Callahan declined to comment for this article and referred questions to the university’s Senior Vice President of Communications and External Affairs Andrew Gully. Gully said that the investigation is “still ongoing.”

Waltham Police Detective Sergeant Timothy King said that any information being released about the incident would come from campus police.

The University is considering limiting the prayer lounge’s availability to students with card access, Gully said.

“This is not a closed case and it is difficult to determine who did it with no tips and no clues,” Talal Eid said.

Reinharz urged students to come forward with any information about the vandalism.

“[They] can do this anonymously if they want,” he said. “Any information that will lead to figuring out who did it would be extremely useful. This is certainly not what Brandeis is all about so we are very anxious to find out who did it.”

While Eid is anxious to catch the perpetrators, he also would like his Quran back.

“It will not benefit anything, but for me I have been taking notes in it for two years and they are irreplaceable,” he said.