Students draft letter to Peretz
Sahar Massachi '11 and Adam Hughes '12 drafted an open letter to Brandeis alumnus and Editor in Chief of The New Republic Marty Peretz '59 on behalf of the Brandeis community, requesting an apology for anti-Muslim sentiments he voiced in his column published in the liberal magazine last week, prior to Peretz's apology on Sept. 13.In the Sept. 4 entry of Peretz's blog titled "The Spine," his last paragraph states, "Frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims." He goes on to say, "I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse," two phrases that Massachi and Hughes used prominently in their open letter to Peretz.
Nicholas Kristof's opinion column in the Sept. 11 issue of The New York Times quoted the same two phrases as the open letter. Peretz has since apologized for one of the two phrases in his column, stating that his sentence concerning the First Amendment rights of Muslims was embarrassing.
"I do not think that any group or class of persons in the United States should be denied the protections of the First Amendment, not now, not ever," he wrote, but he did not apologize for his other statement that called Muslim life "cheap," which he described as "a statement of fact, not value."
Peretz, who has served as editor in chief of The New Republic for 35 years, was awarded the Brandeis Alumni Achievement Award in 2009. His alumni snapshot on the Brandeis website describes him as "one of America's leading intellectuals," having also received the Medal of Distinction from the University of Missouri's School of Journalism and the National Magazine Award for Outstanding Achievement in Essays and Criticisms from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
The letter in response to these remarks was created by Massachi and Hughes in addition to a group of students who have condemned Peretz's view, fearing that it may be misconstrued as a view that represents the Brandeis community.
"Attacking people's First Amendment rights is un-American, un-Brandeisian, and unethical," reads the letter, its last words stating "We, the united Brandeis community, respectfully and firmly demand you apologize."
The letter, attached to a petition for signatures from the Brandeis community, has been passed around the Internet through the use of various blogs and a Facebook group titled "Let's hold Marty Peretz '59 accountable for his bigoted remarks." At press time, 400 community members had signed the petition and, according to Hughes, it had garnered the support of the Muslim Students Association.
Massachi and Hughes said in an interview with the Justice that once the petition reaches 500 signatures, it will be sent to The New Republic office. Since the apology was issued, Massachi stated in a phone interview with the Justice that the fate of the letter remains to be seen.
According to Massachi and Hughes, the goal of the letter was for Peretz to retract his statements and issue an apology.
"At the very least, I want there to be a clear sign that at least Brandeis, a university which has given him accolades in the past, is also on the record saying,'This is wrong,'" said Hughes.
Asked what he thought about Peretz's apology, Massachi stated, "The first half is really good, and it seems like he really understands why what he said was not okay. The second half, I have serious issue with; he's not backing down from his statement that Muslim life is cheap."
Massachi and Hughes presented their letter to the Student Union on Sunday night, requesting that the Union co-sponsor the letter as representatives of the Brandeis student body.
Senator for the Class of 2012 Liya Kahan spoke against the letter, advocating that the Brandeis community support the Muslim community instead of focusing on Peretz.
Executive Senator and Senator for the Class of 2012 Abby Kulawitz echoed Kahan's sentiment. "I feel like we have no right to ask him to take that back," she said. "We should be focusing on Brandeis and what we can do here," she said.
After debating the issue in executive session, the Student Union Senate issued a press release expressing a "continued solidarity with Muslim students at this University in light of recent comments made by Brandeis Alum Martin Peretz '59" and further explaining that "as part of its dedication to social justice and continued dialogue, this University must be a place that respects all ideas and creeds."
The Student Union wrote in an a separate press release that "We were pleased to see that Mr. Peretz did publically apologize...for a portion of the statements made in his September 4, 2010 blog post."
The Student Union Senate decided not to sign Massachi and Hughes' letter and instead drafted its own in addition to the press release.The letter stated that the Senate was "disturbed and distraught by the words of Marty Peretz '59" and "will continue to represent Brandeis' values and beliefs, through future events that bring education and awareness to this issue.