Although MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon has closed the door on discussions about recalling Archbishop Desmond Tutu for this spring”s commencement address, many people have expressed concern about the South African activist.
The problems put forth by Tutu”s detractors, however, are not sufficient enough to warrant his removal as commencement speaker.
The Anti-Defamation League, or ADL, asked Simon to rescind Tutu”s invitation to be commencement speaker because he is critical of Israel. The ADL was founded in 1913 to fight anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination.
Tutu, who will deliver his speech on May 8, supports an “academic and cultural boycott” against Israel, according to a statement from the ADL.
Opposition to Israel, however, does not have to be anti-Semitic. Israel is a political state, and political states naturally will have policies. And some people agree with certain policies, while others disagree. Tutu happens to disagree with Israeli policy.
It can be difficult to separate policy from religion in Israel, though, which could explain why Tutu”s boycott is viewed by the ADL as anti-Semitic. Many Israeli policies are grounded in religion, so an attack on the state could be perceived as an attack on Judaism.
But Tutu”s opposition to Israel actually is very logical considering his background.
As one of the South African leaders to end apartheid – legal racial segregation enforced in the country from 1948 until 1994 – the situation in Israel parallels that of South Africa. Tutu easily can identify with Palestinian nationals fighting for their own homeland, and calls by several countries in the United Nations to recognize alleged human rights abuses in Israel probably hits close to home for Tutu.
That being said, it”s impossible to appease every group when MSU brings a speaker to campus. With Tutu”s role being that of commencement speaker, the event is more high-profile. But to say anyone has a clean slate would be a lie.
The situation with Tutu is similar to the University of Notre Dame”s commencement address dilemma, where President Barack Obama was asked to be the commencement speaker.
Several members of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, the order that originally founded the university, demanded his removal because Obama”s stances on abortion and stem cells do not represent Catholic values and would degrade the school”s integrity.
What should be taken from Tutu and any speaker, though, is the message he brings.
A Nobel Peace Prize, Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism and Gandhi Peace Prize recipient, Tutu is one of the most respected activists in the world.
MSU students should cast aside their distaste for Tutu”s beliefs to listen to the overall message.
Even speakers people generally disagree with can make relevant and interesting points.
Published on Monday, April 13, 2009