ST. LOUIS — A Washington University student caused an uproar over the weekend after removing U.S. flags meant to memorialize each person who died in the 9/11 attacks.
On Friday, the student organization College Republicans put up 2,977 small flags on Mudd Field, a grassy common area in the center of the private university. Around 7 a.m. Saturday, Student Union Vice President of Finance Fadel Alkilani was confronted, caught on video taking the flags down.
The flags in question were put up again, but the incident quickly drew calls for Alkilani’s expulsion and national attention online. By Saturday night, Alkilani released a prepared statement, trying to explain that his “full protest did not have the chance to be actualized.”
Alkilani wrote that he’d planned to place bags of the flags on Mudd Field with statistics explaining the “human cost of 9/11 in the past 20 years.”
“I encourage those who are angry about my protest to consider the reasons for this protest, and the reasons for their anger, very carefully,” Alkilani wrote in the statement. “I would like to refer you to a speech by Frederick Douglas, ‘What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?’ and encourage you to research the statistics of Islamophobic hate crimes and civilian deaths caused during the post-9/11 American wars.”
He added: “Those who died during 9/11 deserve better than to be used as a political tool by those who seek to excuse American imperialism and Islamophobia. They died for no reason, suddenly and traumatically, and they should be grieved, not by political symbols, but by their names and faces. I also want to extend my condolences to all those who have died and been injured, both American and not, since 9/11. Their deaths were preventable, and thus, extremely tragic.”
In a note to the community on Sunday, Chancellor Andrew Martin described the student’s actions as “reprehensible.”
“The removal of the flags impeded the ability of individuals to commemorate the lives lost on 9/11 and to process the trauma of that day. This act was seen as a personal affront by many, at WashU and beyond, and as an affront to the ideals of our institution. The 9/11 commemoration on Mudd Field was not just a memorial, it was also an act of speech.
“The free exchange of ideas is central to a vibrant university. It is a hallmark of our academic community, and it is imperative that everyone here is able to express their views in a respectful environment. Students have the right to express their viewpoints, but they also have the obligation to respect others’ expressions.”
Martin wrote that the incident was under investigation.
“As we move forward, we will also ensure that the student involved has access to campus resources that are regularly available to students as he navigates the consequences of his actions, both on campus and beyond,” Martin said.
Mackenzie Manofsky, a member of College Republicans, said Monday that she agreed there has been backlash against Muslims since 9/11, but this was the wrong way to address it.
“I think he should have added something to the memorial not taken away,” said Manofsky, 20, an international studies student from Florida.
She regretted that the incident has become politicized.
“I really don’t think the American flag should be a political issue — and neither should the lives lost on 9/11,” she said.
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