Rutgers University apologized for allegedly rescinding its invitation for Fox News analyst and alum Lisa Daftari to speak on campus on October 16, after students labeled her an Islamophobe in an online petition.
Daftari is an Iranian-American investigative journalist who frequently appears on major news networks to comment on foreign affairs, specifically the Middle East and counter-terrorism.
The school’s Muslim Public Relations Council started an online petition labeling Daftari as an “apologetic Islamophobe,” garnering more than 1,600 signatures. The group also wrote an opinion piece in the school’s paper claiming Daftari “threatens the safety of students."
A petition supporting Daftari’s right to speak was also started, gaining more than 1,600 signatures as well.
After the backlash for inviting Daftari, the school initially responded with support of her. “We invite a variety of speakers to campus with varying backgrounds and professional expertise,” the university said in a statement released on Twitter. "Our events are structured to allow all participants to engage in conversation, voice their points of view, and generate public debate about important issues.”
Vice Chancellor Ben Sifuentes-Jauregui added, “If these issues are not brought to the forefront and given a chance to be debated, then they may continue to stay buried. Bringing a professional to campus who can help us spark interest on the topic and call attention to a particular issue is important.”
Daftari’s lecture was entitled “Radicalism on College Campuses” and she said she planned to discuss free speech. In an interview with The Daily Wire, Daftari said she was invited by the Chancellor’s office and that the school suggested the topic for her talk.
“The school informed me in a phone conversation that they wanted to cancel but would rather call it a ‘postponement,’ with no talk of a future date, and not a cancellation, because it reflected badly upon the school,” Daftari said prior to the school’s new statement.
The school also sent out an email to students who registered for the event letting them know that the event was postponed.
“This has never happened to me before,” Daftari said. “I am a professional whose opinions and expertise are respected across the political spectrum. I am invited to speak on all different types of media platforms of varying political affiliation, just as I am invited to speak before different groups. I have given briefings in Washington under both Democrat and Republican presidents and am often asked to speak at the United Nations on topics such as human rights and the current turmoil in Syria and Yemen.”
Daftari called the allegations that she is an Islamophobe “slanderous and preposterous.”
“They deliberately misquoted me, lied and launched an all-out smear campaign to silence me,” Daftari said. “My work speaks for itself. I have spent almost two decades defending Muslim victims of human rights abuses, FGM, petitioning for political prisoners and getting them released, advocating for the children in Yemen and Syria caught in the crossfires of horrific civil wars. I have always differentiated between Muslim people and the hijacking of Islam in political Islam and extremism. I have followers from all political, religious and cultural backgrounds around the world who can vouch for my work and the outrageousness of this groundless and irresponsible allegation.”
The source of confusion seems to stem from a speech at the Heritage Foundation in 2015 where a student alleges Daftari said: “Islamic terror takes its guidance and teachings from the Quran, which is Sharia law.” Daftari disputes this and claims she actually said “Islamic terror CLAIMS to take its teachings from the Quran.”
“They deliberately left the word “claims” out of the petition to make it sound like I’m saying Islamic terror takes its teachings from the Quran,” Daftari said.
In a statement, Rutgers University’s Director of Public and Media Relations claimed Sifuentes-Jáuregui sent another invitation to Daftari to reschedule and apologized for “the confusion.”
“The University has offered several dates for her to come to campus in November,” the statement said. “The University’s position on the free exchange of ideas is clear; the ability to respectfully present, discuss and debate matters in the public interest is at the heart of what every great university does. Such free and respectful discussion is fundamental to Rutgers’ core values and is practiced every day at Rutgers.”
Daftari notified The Daily Wire that she would not accept the new invitation, adding, “The curious timing of their email today only further supports the truth of what happened.”
In an email, Daftari told the university that “to come back after the damage has been done to my reputation and suggest that this was some misunderstanding and to continue with the premise that the event was merely postponed, lacks the integrity and respect that I would have hoped for from my alma mater.”
“Just as the university was sensitive to the concerns of a group of students who slandered my good name based on falsified quotes, I would hope that the university would now demonstrate the same level of consideration as we move on,” she added.
The university’s student group, Young Americans For Liberty, offered to host Daftari, though Daftari did not respond to a request for comment as to whether she would be willing to speak to a student club.