Open Letter Demanding NYU Law Reassess Affiliation with Extremist Event “Forum on Law, Culture, and Society”

The formal letter with a full list of signatures can be viewed here, and will be periodically updated:

Dear President John Sexton and Dean Trevor W. Morrison,

We, the undersigned students, faculty, staff, and organizations of the NYU community, and concerned community organizations and individuals, condemn NYU Law’s sponsorship of the “Forum on Law, Culture, and Society.” As members of the community committed to anti-racism, civil rights, and the rule of law, we find NYU’s affiliation with the Forum to be antithetical to the University’s commitment to “embracing diversity” (1). By supporting the Forum, the University is promoting individuals complicit in misconduct, rights violations, and possible war crimes -- including warrantless spying on NYU students. We call on NYU Law to reassess its relationship with the Forum.

The Forum director, Thane Rosenbaum, has demonstrated a profound incompetence to lead a forum on culture, society, and law, by propagating arguments that are incompatible with International Humanitarian Law (2). He made headlines this summer by arguing that the 1.8 million residents of Gaza forfeited their “right[s] to be called civilians” by voting in the 2006 election (3). As a slew of critics noted, Rosenbaum’s commentary mimicked terrorist propaganda designed to justify massacring innocent people -- including Americans and Israelis (4).

Nonetheless, in the midst of the Israeli assault, NYU Law School Dean Trevor W. Morrison enthusiastically welcomed Rosenbaum and the Forum (5). Such a decision did not consider the Palestinian students at NYU whose families were directly affected by the assault; an assault which left over two-thousand people dead, including five hundred Palestinian children (6).

Among the Forum’s upcoming guests is NYPD’s former police commissioner Ray Kelly. Kelly was the former NYPD police commissioner responsible for warrantless spying on NYU’s Muslim and Muslim-American students, along with Muslim students throughout the Eastern United States (7). He was also responsible for the Stop & Frisk program, rife with racial discrimination and widely condemned as means of harassing people of color in New York (8). It is difficult to see how welcoming him -- with NYU Law’s seal of approval -- is appropriate.

The Forum is also hosting Ayaan Hirsi Ali, notorious for her extreme generalizations and hateful rhetoric about Muslims (9). Ali’s comments, such as labeling Islam a “nihilistic cult of death” (10), calling for Islam to be “crushed,” and suggesting that the Constitution be amended to allow legal discrimination against Muslims, lack academic value and amount to little more than hate speech against a vulnerable minority community (11). Ali’s history has convinced other institutions to reconsider dignifying her presence. Nonetheless, the forum is hosting her as she presents a short film directed by Theo Van Gogh, a Dutch ultranationalist, which conveys to the audience that Muslim culture is fundamentally responsible for the unequal treatment of women in many Muslim-majority societies.

The Forum will also host former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who sought to shield Bush administration officials from accountability for potential war crimes, namely the use of torture (12). Under treaties to which the United States is a signatory, this may itself constitute a war crime (13).

In addition to providing a platform to this slew of problematic guests, the Forum will screen CIA-vetted film Zero-Dark Thirty. Zero-Dark Thirty presents the audience with a stream of demeaning caricatures of Muslims while widely interpreted as presenting torture -- falsely -- as necessary for the capture of Osama Bin Laden (14).

While many of the films the Forum is screening are benign, the combination of hateful and violent speech, the platform for guests with histories of misconduct, and screening of films that demean and marginalize numerous communities on and off the NYU campus are alarming. We continue to uphold and respect academic freedom -- which is why NYU Law should use its own free discretion to reconsider its association with institutions rife with extremism.

We are utterly disappointed NYU Law would affiliate with a forum that features individuals complicit in hate speech, war propaganda, civil rights violations, and possible war crimes -- including misconduct against NYU students. We hold NYU Law responsible to uphold a culture of respect for the rule of law, and therefore urge a serious reconsideration of NYU Law’s association with the Forum.


The Undersigned


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