ISSUE: Jun. 17, 2013
By Alex Sousa, Managing Editor, @TwoFistedSousa
There’s a tattered piece of land on the west bank of the Jordan River. On a clear day and from a high hill, one can see the coast of the Mediterranean. And when the nights are cool a fog rolls in from the sea, and the wind can carry the sound of gunfire. Some people call this place Palestine, and some of them call it home.
Inside the border of Palestine, the government of Israel is building a wall. An apartheid wall that the Israeli government says is there to protect their citizens. It’s a wall that the International Court of Justice says is in contrary to international law. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, says the Apartheid Wall is “a terrible symbol of fear and despair.” Almost seven thousand miles away, a student at Utah Valley University is feeling the political effects of that symbol.
Rashad Nijim, a student at UVU, is there now in Palestine. Hailing from California, he also holds Palestinian citizenship, where his parents are from. He’s the student who has caused controversy at UVU by approaching the administration with a Palestinian flag so that they could hang it along with the dozens of other international flags outside the Pope Science Building.
Nijim has been put off for months by the administration with a myriad of reasons why they can’t hang the flag, or at least why they haven’t done it yet. The reasons range from the claim that there isn’t enough room in the hall of flags, or that they don’t want to hang it up and risk offending any Israeli students on campus.
“Which offended me, because he tried to say my flag would offend people,” Nijim said in an interview.
The controversy has been gaining attention with Nijim starting an online petition at Change.org, as well as posting his story on Reddit.com.
And as the controversy boils, the university is taking their time to make a response; the decision is currently sitting with the Center for Global & Intercultural Engagement Advisory Council.
UVU isn’t a school known for its policies regarding student expression. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, gave UVU a “red” speech code rating, meaning that the university has at least one policy that “clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.” Although, the decision to hang the flag would qualify as “institutional speech,” leaving Nijim with little legal recourse should the school decide to not allow the Palestinian flag to be hung in the hall.
“There are varying and differing accounts and perspectives as to the history of this specific request and what this student has been told at this point,” said Chris Taylor, spokesman for UVU. “This again speaks to the need for a more formal system. In any case, conversations on this matter with the student up to this point would best be described as informal.”
For now, Nijim is continuing to promote his cause, garnering support on his online petition as well as petitions on campus. He’s said he hopes that even if the school decides to not hang the flag that some good will come from this ordeal.