Slander, Blasphemy & Censorship
George Mason University Creates A “Safe Space” for Terror Supporters; Throws Anti-Jihad Activist in Jail
After repeatedly searching for weapons, the police slapped handcuffs on them, targeting them for the content of their work.
BY Kyle Shideler · @ShidelerK | November 16, 2016
Oleg Atbashian—or “Red Square,” as he is known to fans at the popular satirical website The People’s Cube—knows what it looks like when dictators crackdown on freedom of speech. As a former Soviet dissident who once agitated for the release of Andrei Sakharov, Oleg notes that he doesn’t “scare easily.” But now he faces five years in prison for his latest poster campaign, a fate he never faced in the Soviet Union.
Oleg, whose artwork frequently utilizes soviet-style aesthetics to criticize the totalitarian impulses of leftist and Islamist groups, was working on such a campaign at the campus of George Mason University. His sponsor, The David Horowitiz Freedom Center, sought to use his art to comment on the ongoing National Conference of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a rabidly anti-Israel student group.
But Students for Justice in Palestine isn’t your average student group. It’s organized and supported by American Muslim for Palestine (AMP), a group closely linked to Hamas terror finance groups, according to the congressional testimony of Terrorism analyst Jonathan Schanzer.
This year, the SJP’s early November two-day conference at George Mason was a source of debate between pro-Israel and anti-Israel student groups. The first day art campaign was uneventful, as Oleg placed stickers and handed out flyers.
On the second day, however, they realized that there were problems. According to Oleg, they overheard talk that campus police were on the look out for “suspicious” characters distributing flyers. Concerned but confident in the protection of the First Amendment, he proceeded with the project.
After successfully hanging several posters, utilizing a basic water-soluble wheat and water paste, together with commercially available stickers, Oleg and his partner were suddenly accosted by George Mason campus police, pulled over in their vehicle, detained and arrested.
According to Oleg, after repeatedly searching them for weapons, the police slapped handcuffs on them, and immediately targeted them for the content of their work,
My friend and I tried to be as friendly and cooperative as the situation allowed, but that had no effect. We were ordered to sit on the curb, as Officer Daniels told us that the content of our posters was violent and disturbing to some students, especially the one with the Hamas terrorist standing in pools of blood over his dead victims. Such interpretation flipped our message on its head entirely, turning it from sympathy for the victims of violence into a threat of violence.
Since offending the sensibilities of millennial college students is not yet an actual crime, the officers charged Oleg and his confederate with a Class 6 felony, “destruction of property worth over $2500”. The GMU campus police alleged (incorrectly) that the mixture used to hang the posters and stickers was “superglue,” and thus caused irreparable damage.
Oleg maintains the stickers and posters could be removed with a good rain and perhaps a little “Goo Gone,” solution and gladly volunteered to do exactly that.
Instead, Oleg and his partner spent the rest of the morning in the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center and were brought before a magistrate who ordered the artists’ bail set at $8,000. Now Oleg and his partner face up to five years in prison for the act of hanging protest posters.
It might seem surprising that a university—supposedly the bastion of free speech—would aggressively target an artist trying to get his anti-terrorism message out. But then, when it comes to such issues, George Mason University is no ordinary campus.
Not only did George Mason University host the Students for Justice in Palestine National Conference, but George Mason University was listed as #3 on a list of “The 10 Worst Anti-Semitic Campuses.”
One of George Mason’s associate professors, Noura Erakat, is a founding member of the Students for Justice in Palestine group. Her husband, Bassam Haddad, is the University’s head of Middle East Studies. Both are active within the Students for Justice in Palestine group.
But George Mason may have financial interests in play as well. Beginning in 2008, George Mason University received the gift of $1.5 million dollars from the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), a group whom federal agents say was tied to terror finance. The money was in order to establish an Islamic Studies department within their college of humanities.
The little known International Institute of Islamic Thought was founded by U.S.-based Muslim Brotherhood members in the early 1980s to promote the idea of a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West, and to oversee a renaissance in Islamic thought that would lead to the “Islamization” of western social sciences.
But the group had an even darker side as well. According to the affidavit of a federal law enforcement officer, in 1991 IIIT transferred $50,000 to the World and Islamic Studies Enterprise, a front group established by Sami Al-Arian, the convicted organizer for the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. According to a letter from then IIIT President Taha Jaber Alwani told to Al-Arian:
I would like to affirm these feelings to you directly on my behalf, and on behalf of all my brothers, Drs. Abdel-Hamid [AbuSulayman], Jamal [Barzinji], Ahmad [Totonji], and Hisham [Al-Talib], and, at the same time, affirm to you that when we make a commitment to you, or try to offer, we do it as a group regardless of the party or façade you use the donation for.
Speaking IIIT’s leaders, a federal law enforcement officer wrote, “Based on the evidence in this affidavit, I know that they are ardent supporters of [Palestinian Islamic Jihad] and HAMAS. They have repeatedly voiced their ideological support. I have seen repeated instances of their financial support, and believe that they have acted to conceal many other instances of their financial support.”
Of those named above, Barzinji and Al-Talib were actually present in 2008 to hand George Mason University the $1.5 million check. Also present was Yacub Mirza, another IIIT member, College of Humanites and Social Sciences Advisory Board Member, and Trustee of the George Mason University Foundation.
An FBI report from 1988 notes Mirza as being connected to the Muslim Brotherhood. He played a central role in establishing the network of for-profits and non-profits that federal law enforcement said represented a classic example of money laundering techniques seeking to disguise the origin and destination of the funds the organizations like IIIT received.
Is it any wonder that Oleg Atbashian’s campaign, featuring the hashtag #StopCampusSupport4Terrorism, wasn’t welcome at GMU? Could it be that George Mason University may have monetary reasons for having its students remain blissfully unaware about who’s really behind a viciously anti-Israel student group?
For himself, Oleg lays the blame at the feet of old-fashioned political correctness, saying,
When political correctness comes into play, morality becomes blurry and justice switches the polarity. As a result, terrorist supporters ended up having a safe space and vigorous protection, while their non-violent opponents were subjected to brutal force, thrown in jail, and were robbed blind by the system.
As a satirist, it seems likely that Oleg sees the irony of being arrested for posting political posters and handing out “disturbing flyers” on the campus of a university named after the father of the Bill of Rights.
But as a Soviet dissident, he no doubt also recognizes that the repression of freedom begins when the organs of enforcement are used unequally in order to punish those who raise uncomfortable questions.
Kyle Shideler is the Director of the Threat Information Office at the Center for Security Policy.
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