(UPDATED to include President Wintersteen's Email response below)
Dear President Wintersteen,
Tuesday night, Islamophobe and bigot Dr. Stephen Kirby spoke at the Gateway Conference Center at Iowa State University for the Republican Women of Central Iowa's annual meeting. I am writing this to let you know that this occurred at a conference center that is affiliated with your University and I would like to provide you with a little background on the issue if you are unaware. I would also like to ask for you to make a statement regarding the Universities policies regarding events like this.
Not including the books he has written, some of Dr. Kirby's work can be found on JihadWatch.org. Here is just some of the criticism of this site, run by Robert Spencer, that can be found with a simple Google search:
“The Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR) called Jihad Watch an "Internet hate site" and said it is "notorious for its depiction of Islam as an inherently violent faith that is a threat to world peace." Guardian writer Brian Whitaker described Jihad Watch as a "notoriously Islamophobic website", while other critics such as Dinesh D'Souza, Karen Armstrong, and Cathy Young, pointed to what they see as "deliberate mischaracterizations" of Islam and Muslims by Spencer as inherently violent and therefore prone to terrorism. Spencer has denied such criticism.
Benazir Bhutto, the late Pakistani Prime Minister, in her book Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West, wrote that Spencer uses Jihad Watch to spread misinformation and hatred of Islam. She added that he presents a skewed, one-sided, and inflammatory story that only helps to sow the seed of civilizational conflict. Spencer stated that the passage Bhutto cited was written by Ibn Warraq.
Robert Spencer has been described by some civil rights organizations including the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League as a hate group leader.”
Unfortunately through this website, Dr. Kirby is one of the people spreading misleading and/or false information that is intended to depict Muslims in the worst possible light, quite similarly to the tactics used by the KKK in spreading fear and hatred. And sadly, Dr. Kirby was enlisted as a speaker at a conference center at the prestigious Iowa State University.
On Monday, the day before the event, I personally spoke with the General Manager at the facility, Greg Peterson who informed me that he had the authority to prevent Dr. Kirby from speaking but for that to be considered, he would need written concerns emailed to him. I emailed him directly expressing my concerns, and some others did as well. Ironically, all of this was happening on MLK day and I couldn't help but be reminded of his quote "The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people." All day, I naively hoped the GM who represents the conference center (that bears the name Iowa State University) would do the right thing, prevent this bigoted speaker from spreading more misleading and/or false information to this audience. But he didn't and the event proceeded.
Now I write to you in hopes of your voice overcoming the silence that allowed this event to happen. When I spoke with Greg Peterson the second time, the day of the event, I asked him what the conference center's affiliation with Iowa State University entailed. His answer was vague but included that they seek to uphold the values of the University – President Wintersteen, does Dr. Kirby's bigoted views regarding those who follow Islam represent the values of Iowa State University?
My hope is that you will use your position to clarify the University's commitment to inclusion and diversity and condemn the bigoted rhetoric of Dr. Kirby. I also ask for you to please clarify and reconsider Iowa State University's affiliation with the Gateway Conference Center who profited from this event, while bearing your institution’s name.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Rich A Rosendahl
Thank you for your email expressing your concerns regarding the Republican Women of Central Iowa’s hosting of Dr. Stephen Kirby at the Gateway Hotel and Conference Center.
While I am not familiar with Dr. Kirby or his writings and ideology, I can certainly understand your feelings as your email informed me that Dr. Kirby contributes to a website described by civil rights organizations as an “Internet hate site.” Bigotry, xenophobia, racism, and any form of hate, violence, or discrimination are unequivocally inconsistent with my personal beliefs and the values of Iowa State University. We are committed to being inclusive and welcoming to all individuals regardless of their religion, race, sex, or political affiliation and see this as a core value. We are also obligated as a public institution to protect and defend the First Amendment, and also see that as a core value of the university.
Because of these core values, we will always have people on campus that hold and express a wide variety of views and beliefs. At times, the views and beliefs of various individuals and groups are directly contrary to institutional values, our personal beliefs, and the beliefs and values of others on campus. Sometimes these views and beliefs are also insensitive or even hateful. We understand how this can be painful and difficult to members of our community. We work hard to encourage the expression of varying views within the bounds of Iowa State’s Principles of Community, which focus on communicating with respect. We also work to support individuals that are impacted by the speech and views of others so that they can continue to be successful in meeting their academic and personal goals and feel safe. When speech or conduct crosses the line to become true threats or harassment, we take action where warranted, consistent with university policy.
As you may know, we have a vibrant Muslim community on campus. We are committed to supporting them and helping this community feel safe and included. As one example of the support we are providing, we recently designated a space in the university library called the Mindfulness Room for any student, faculty, or staff to use for private contemplation, meditation, and reflection. It is my understanding that this room has been very useful for members of our Muslim community to use for their daily prayers. Our students were instrumental in identifying the need for and coordinating the designation of this space.
Given you and your organization’s background and experience, you may have other ideas we could use to provide even more support for our Muslim community. If so, please share them. We are always looking for ways to improve.
The Gateway Hotel and Conference Center is a private business. Iowa State University has a licensing agreement with this business that allows the facility to use Iowa State’s name, but the agreement does not allow the university to control the events that occur there, nor could we based on the viewpoint of proposed speakers. This is an issue we will consider as this and other agreements come up for renewal and we decide whether to continue licensing arrangements.
Again, thank you for reaching out. I welcome the opportunity to hear concerns, thoughts, and ideas from across the community.