The repercussions of a single op-ed

Last week, Isaac Silberberg published an op-ed in The Tech accusing the MIT Arab Students Organization (ASO) and Palestine@MIT of bringing a “9/11 supporter,” Mads Gilbert, to campus. As I read Isaac’s article, I felt his pain in losing a friend during the terrible attacks that befell our country fourteen years ago. I also felt apprehension and concern, because I knew what would happen after the op-ed was read by others: suspicion would fall once more upon MIT’s Arab community at large. I am not part of the ASO or Palestine@MIT, but I have many wonderful friends who are. Did Silberberg think these kind-hearted and intelligent people (in other words, typical MIT students) would bring a terrorism sympathizer to campus?

I wanted to give Isaac the benefit of doubt; perhaps he was simply misinformed. I didn’t know of Mads Gilbert before reading Isaac’s op-ed. But I do know how to Google and ran a search for “Mads Gilbert.” Webpage after webpage celebrating Gilbert’s achievements: Treating trauma victims in Norway. Volunteering and treating patients in the Shifa hospital in Gaza, despite medicine shortages and power outages. Criticizing war and violence, from the Vietnam War to the invasion of Iraq.

How could someone think Gilbert to be supporter of terrorism? I realized sadly that the op-ed I was reading was one more piece in what has become a cottage industry of articles designed to discredit Arab and Palestinian activists.

The facts about Mads Gilbert: Gilbert grew up in Norway and was trained as an anesthesiologist. In 2000, his team revived Anna Bagenholm, who was pronounced clinically dead after an hour of being trapped beneath frozen waters. During the 2008-2009 Israel-Gaza conflict, Gilbert joined humanitarian efforts in Gaza to treat patients, the vast majority of whom were civilian victims of Israeli airstrikes. For his work, Gilbert received numerous awards and widespread praise by the Norwegian public, the prime minister, and social commentators around the world.

His life’s works alone should cause one to hesitate before reducing Gilbert to a 9/11 supporter, even if it were not for his pronouncements that he is against the terrorist attack in New York. Even Gilbert’s original statement, which he has regretted and rescinded, is misrepresented in Isaac’s op-ed. It actually reads: “I am upset by the terrorist attack, but I am at least as upset over the suffering that the U.S. has caused. It is in this context that 5,000 dead has to be seen. If the U.S. government has a legitimate right to bomb and kill civilians in Iraq, the oppressed has a moral right to attack the U.S. with the weapons they may create as well. Dead civilians are the same whether they are Americans, Palestinians or Iraqis.”

I write this letter not for the sake of Gilbert, nor the ASO and Palestine@MIT. Their reputations have been stained, and the damage has been done. I write this for the future, recognizing that we live in an interconnected age where information spreads faster than ever before. An article that is written by a single person is shared by tens and is read by tens of thousands. Seeds of misinformation can be sowed, reaped, and replanted many times unimaginably quickly.

Thanks to digital and social media, we are all citizen-journalists. When misinformation abounds, none of us are entirely free from responsibility. Let us strive to become better citizen-journalists by diversifying our news sources, challenging our own assumptions, and sharing only the information that we have verified as true.

Abubakar Abid
Graduate student in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

MIT13 over 5 years ago

PalestineMIT and the Arab Students Association invited a speaker that outright supported the 9/11 attacks to campus. If that reflects badly on those student groups, that is their fault for inviting Gilbert. As an Arab, MIT student, and American I would never support PalestineMIT or ASOs decision.

Isaac's article expressed how many students at MIT feel. After 9/11, the Marathon Bombings, and the murder of Officer Collier, we are deeply hurt and saddened by the terror that has affected us. We do not have tolerance for those who justify terror in any way- no matter their ethnicity, profession, or religion. Isaac's article was not an attack on Arabs or Muslims or Palestinians or any one group- the purpose of Isaac's article was to raise awareness to the fact that PalestineMIT and ASO invited a speaker who supported 9/11 to our campus, and to start a discussion about which speakers student groups should be inviting to campus.

No matter how you frame it, Gilbert publicly said in an interview to a news agency that he supported the 9/11 attacks. As shocking and horrifying as that might be to us, and as hard as that might be to accept, we cannot dismiss Gilbert's comments because we personally could never imagine justifying a terror attack or because Gilbert is a doctor.

Just because Gilbert helps saves lives doesnt mean his political philosophy is not radical or anti-American. Just because you work as a surgeon doesnt mean you cant support violence at times. Gilbert made it clear that in the context of American intervention and war in the middle east, he supports - or at minimum justifies and accepts - the terror attacks on 9/11.

If PalestineMIT and ASO's actions reflected badly on the MIT Arab community at large, as this article implies, then Abubakar Abid should take it up with the students in those groups who decided to invite Gilbert.

MITConfessions#2571 over 5 years ago

"I was walking down the Infinite prior to the event; I saw a massive line of people and had no idea what was going on. I asked someone what was going on, and she said "A talk by Dr. Chomsky on the injustices from bloodthirsty Jews". As she was saying this, the person she was with looked at my Star of David necklace and then proceeded to say something in Arabic to the woman I was speaking with. The woman then proceeded to loudly and angrily exclaim that I was "venomous" and a "disgusting murderer" to which others in line turned to us. I was so alarmed and taken aback that I quickly walked away. I even felt unsafe to walk back to my dorm alone later that evening. I do not know whether these people were MIT affiliated or not. I do not feel that students should be censored in their political beliefs. I feel censorship can create an environment that could be deemed unsafe to students. What I do believe, though, is that people should be weary of when their beliefs transform into hatred. I am not Israeli nor do I have a strong opinion on the situation, and I have not even been to Israel. Yet, due to my cultural and religious identity I was verbally attacked in front of many people. I have not been here for a full semester, yet I have already experienced this hatred. I feel unsafe to wear my Star of David necklace that I have been wearing for years let alone discuss this matter. We are all students- most is not all of whom have played no role in this conflict. All student groups should be tolerant of each other's beliefs even if there is disagreement. But no student should be subject to personal discrimination and no student should ever feel that their safety is threatened."

David over 5 years ago

"Did Silberberg think [MIT Arab Students Organization (ASO) and PalestineMIT] would bring a terrorism sympathizer to campus?"

Yes, yes they would. And it's par for the course for them.

In February 2007, an laughable "inter-faith" event was planned by this same set of student groups, with Mohammad Al-Asi representing the Muslim view. His extreme anti-Semitic (not just anti-Israel) views are well known, and yet the event got a stamp of approval from MIT's Humanities Department (who later admitted the endorsement was a mistake.)

During that despicable event, al-Asi explicitly said, in front of a crowded room, that (para-phrased) "Jews only support helping end the conflict in Darfur because that region has lots of mineral resources like gold, diamonds, etc, which the Jews are interested in obtaining." Yes, such a man was invited with honor to speak at MIT, and endorsed (and funded) by the Insitute.

Audio of his statement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6BQ6Q3_V1I

So yes, Silberberg (and many Jewish and Israeli students) have no doubt that PalestineMIT and other related groups would in fact bring such despicable hate-mongers to campus. It's not a surprise at all, and it's only a matter of time until the next speaker.

Nina over 5 years ago

It is sad to see that some of the comments reflect a total disregard for the truth or accurate fact checking. Pro-zionist student organizations often sponsor speakers who condone Islamophobia and racism. Countless Arab and muslim students felt threatened yet the events went on out of respect for free speech. Let us not be hypocrites. We have all been targeted one way or another. So I advise each one of us to have common courtesy and try to see where the "other" side is coming from, without a need to distort facts.

Anon over 5 years ago

Nina, I'm confused by your comment. what facts weren't accurately checked? What Zionist speakers at MIT "condone islamaphobia and racism?" In my experience, the events I have attended that were sponsored by MIT Friends of Israel have been very respectful and informative.

anon over 5 years ago

Yes, Nina, I'm very confused. Can you please point to any speakers that any "pro-zionist" student organizations "often" brought that condone islamophobia and racism? No? Let's try finding just one, then?

H. over 5 years ago

Reread the quote. Gilbert said the oppressed had _no_ moral right to attack the U.S.

Gilbert said the oppressed would have a moral right to attack the U.S. "if" the U.S. had a moral right to bomb and kill civilians in Iraq. And he believes it doesn't.

(The U.S. did have a right to bomb military objects in Iraq, so Gilbert could have argued that the oppressed had a right to attack a military object in the U.S. Namely, the Pentagon, on 9/11. The Pentagon itself would likely agree. Cf. Geneva Convention Protocol 1.)