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Friday, November 30, 2018

Golden West College Post Mortem


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He asked the wrong questions


Last March 14, I, along with some friends and colleagues, attended a speaking event at Golden West College in Huntington Beach, California entitled, Islam 101. The speaker was Nicole Bovey from the Muslim Speakers Bureau of Orange County, part of the Islamic Networks Group, an organization based in California that provides speakers to present a positive image of Islam to audiences, mostly schools and colleges. As might be predicted, the presentation was a sugar-coated description of Islam to the point of being downright false. When I and others asked pointed, critical questions, we were admonished by the professors sponsoring the event that such questions were unacceptable. During the break, campus police were called into the hall, and a couple of the questioners were taken outside to be scolded. As the critical questions continued, one of the professors called an abrupt halt to the event a full hour early. I videotaped the entire event, which can be viewed here.

Subsequently, a few us wrote letters to the then-president of the college, Wes Bryan, as well as the chancellor of the Coast Community College District, John Weispfenning complaining about the manner in which we were treated, Chancellor Weispfenning invited three of us to a meeting in his office on May 15, in which he expressed regret for the incident. We then discussed ways in which a follow up event might be scheduled in which a speaker of our choosing might give alternative viewpoints on the subject of Islam. From the start, we suggested first and foremost, Nonie Darwish. Since the president of Golden West was retiring, Chancellor Weispfenning suggested a follow up meeting to include the incoming president of GW, Tim McGrath.

On August 29, we three, along with Chancellor Weispfenning, met with Dr McGrath at the Coast Community College hqs. Dr McGrath also expressed regret at the way in which the March incident was handled and expressed  readiness to allow Ms Darwish or another speaker we might suggest to speak at GW.  We were asked, "How can we make this right?" Our answer was to bring in Nonie Darwish to provide an alternative point of view.  Dr McGrath  insisted, however, that our proposed event should include not only Darwish but a Muslim speaker, and that it be moderated. Though we preferred to have Darwish alone to counterbalance the fact that Ms.Bovey had spoken alone without an opposing voice, we compromised and agreed to such an event. We even provided a list of well-known Muslim leaders in Orange County who they might invite to participate on the other side.

On October, 11, 2018, we received the below email from Dr McGrath:


I wanted to get back to the three of you and let you know about the follow-up event that has been scheduled based on our earlier conversation. I’m hoping that all three of you will be able to attend this event. I’m planning on attending the first part of this discussion and I hope that this event provides an opportunity for honest dialogue and a valuable learning experience for our students.

I’ve attached more detail about the event as I felt that you should be aware of the “behind the scenes” planning that we’re putting into the day but the highlights are as follows:

GWC will be hosting a “World Religions Interfaith Dialogue” on Monday 10/22, from 11:00 am – 12:30 pm in Admin 210/GWC Campus.

  • Two speakers, one representing Christianity and the other Islam, will participate in a moderated “dialogue,” during a scheduled Intro to Cultural Anthropology class
  • Members of the community who attended the Islam 101 panel will be invited to attend
  • There will be a 30-minute Q&A following the “dialogue,” where the audience will write questions on note cards and this session will be led by a campus moderator

Thanks for help.


Tim McGrath, President

Golden West College
15744 Goldenwest Street
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
(714) 895-8101

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As to why there is no Jewish representative, I have no idea. That is beside the point, however. What GW cooked up was just another interfaith kumbaya event with questions screened by the old tried and true "note card passed to the front for screening" method to ensure no uncomfortable questions are asked. Not only did they discard our request for Nonie Darwish, they didn't even tell us who the invited speakers were.

Below is the text of a letter I sent to McGrath and Weispfenning on October 12.


Drs McGrath/Weispfenning,

Regarding your scheduled event on October 22, this is nothing like we discussed in our meetings. Not only have you discarded our request to host Nonie Darwish, you have arranged for two speakers whose names are not even disclosed. (Why you have excluded a Jewish representative is also beyond me at a time when Jewish students are being so marginalized on college campuses.) 

It is clear that rather than host a speaker who would present a different view of Islam than the sugar-coated and false  presentation last March, what you have scheduled is nothing more than a feel good  interfaith event. To add insult to injury, the q and a is arranged so as audience members would write questions on cards that would be passed up front and screened. This is nothing more than an old technique to eliminate pointed or critical questions such as we were asking at the March event. This is totally unacceptable to me, and I have no intention of participating and lending legitimacy to such a farce. (Deleted) and (deleted) have indicated that in spite of their own displeasure, they plan to attend. I will not.

After all these months of trying to provide your students  with some degree of balance to the indoctrination of last March, we now feel that we have been taken for a 7-month ride. Rest assured that I will share our experience in the widest public forums possible.


Sincerely, 

Gary Fouse
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As stated above, I did not attend the October 22 event, but a couple of my colleagues did. Below is a narrative of what they observed. The featured speakers were Shaista Azad of the Muslim Speakers Network and Jason Sexton, a visiting fellow at the UC Berkeley Center for Religious Studies.

(Name deleted) and I attended Monday's event at 11AM-12:30PM.  It was held during an Anthro class.  Miles Nevin, the Chancellor's asst was there and left immediately at the end.  There was also an older man I did not have an opportunity to engage.  President McGrath as outside but did not attend.
(Deleted) and I took notes, wrote out a total of 5 questions, none of which were asked.  I reached the conclusion that this event was significantly worse than the March 14 event but said nothing.  As we debriefed in the parking lot, (deleted) said, "This is worse than the interfaith events we've attended."  I strongly agreed.
The basic problem was that Azad was unfettered, free to paint a picture of Islam that was a blatant lie.  She spun the typical scenario and tossed in a few new claims, e.g. Muhammad prayed with Christians.  She was completely unchallenged.  Sexton was soft spoken, rambling, unfocused, confusing.  In a word, he was impotent.
One of the questions asked, "Why is Christianity so intolerant while Muslims accept everyone?"  All I could do was grind my teeth in my own impotent fury.  I was shaking as I exited. 
I'm cc'ing (deleted) in case she wants to add.  We both have detailed notes.
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Subsequent efforts to arrange an event for Ms. Darwish came to naught. At one point, their legal counsel even tried to deny that we had made a request to bring in our own speaker. All Golden West ever agreed to in the end was to provide a room for us to hold an event and the rental fee would be waived. That left unaddressed any security fees/deposits or payment of the speaker's stipend. It was our desire that Golden West itself would host the event and incur the expenses as they did for Ms Bovey's appearance.

In other words, after all these months of back and forth, two face to face meetings, and compromises on our part, we have been taken for a ride in the characteristic manner so prevalent in academia. 



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