Op-ed about Sharia draws ire of student government at UK

The Student Government Association at the University of Kentucky is considering a resolution condemning the student paper for publishing an op-ed that some felt was critical of Islam.

At its next scheduled meeting Wednesday night, the SGA will vote on whether to endorse the curiously worded resolution, which opens with a paean to First Amendment rights before progressing to an official denunciation of the Kentucky Kernel for running the op-ed.

The resolution begins by asserting that the SGA “supports First Amendment rights, including freedom of speech and freedom of the press,” and is also “committed to diversity and inclusion, and the respect of humanity and dignity of all persons.”

The next two clauses, however, state that the SGA “does not support the ideas published by the editor-in-chief of the Kentucky Kernel regarding the Islamic faith,” and “strongly supports tolerance and acceptance of the Islamic faith and faiths of members of the UK community.”

“This is a repugnant use and abuse of power with needed accountability and consequences,” UK junior Michael Frazier told Campus Reform. “SGA should always attempt to protect and—I dare say—expand student rights, not use legislation to cut away at the free market of ideas to promote an agenda, specifically a liberal extremist agenda.”

The September 12 op-ed by Kentucky Kernel Editor-in-Chief Will Wright purported to offer “an honest discussion about Islam” based on a 2013 Pew survey finding widespread support for Sharia Law among the populations of many Muslim-majority countries, with majorities in some countries even saying it should be applied to non-Muslims.

In Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Egypt, for instance, around 80 percent of respondents told Pew that they favor stoning adulterers and imposing the death penalty upon those who convert from Islam.

“Widespread beliefs about how Sharia Law should be implemented and how women should be treated are appalling,” Wright asserts, claiming that many aspects of Sharia Law would be considered “unquestionably immoral” by most Westerners.

Pointing out that the holy texts of other religions—he specifically mentions Christianity and Judaism—also include many “reprehensible” passages, Wright argues that Western faiths have largely disregarded those passages over time, and concludes that “this is what needs to happen to Islam.”

In response, the Muslim Student Association submitted its own op-ed calling Wright’s piece “a broad sweeping and deeply insulting attack on Muslims and Islam,” which the Kentucky Kernel published on Sept. 17.

“As the representative body of UK’s Muslim student population, we call upon the administration and student body of our university to address and redress the distasteful display of bigoted othering Mr. Wright’s article promotes,” the group writes. “Mr. Wright has publicly attacked, insulted, and perhaps endangered UK’s Muslim students.”

Objecting to Wright’s premise that civilizations can be neatly divided between West and East, the group contends that many of the beliefs he cites as morally repugnant are actually just linguistic misunderstandings. The op-ed disputes the notion that Sharia denies divorce rights to women, for instance, by claiming that Islam has always allowed either party in a marriage to terminate the agreement, and simply uses the term “divorce” when a husband initiates the separation and “withdrawal” when the wife does.

“The simple fact of the matter is that Mr. Wright is terribly wrong; factually, historically and at the risk of appearing superior, morally,” the group says. “Filthy, hate-filled insults directed against the Prophet Muhammad—on him be peace—are insults against us and are not acceptable.”

Although Wright’s op-ed was run under his byline, rather than as a semi-anonymous staff editorial, and was clearly labeled as an opinion piece—and despite the willingness of the Kentucky Kernel staff to run a contrasting viewpoint less than a week later—at least some members of the UK SGA are apparently entertaining the idea of reprimanding the paper for publishing an opinion that some students found disagreeable.

For now, though, at least, the watchword is censure, not censor.

Lampooning the resolution somewhat, Frazier suggested that a more accurate wording would be: “we, the SGA, support the First Amendment … but only if it caters to this idea or set of opinions.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @FrickePete