Dougherty calls for compassion

By Duke Staff

Lost in the stress of finals week was a sensible, encouraging email from Duquesne President Charles Dougherty calling on the university community to stand beside its Muslim students and faculty.

Dougherty’s email, sent Tuesday, addressed the growing disrespect and bigotry toward U.S. Muslims in the wake of the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris and last week’s massacre in San Bernardino, California.

The Duquesne president wrote that it would be a “mistake of monumental proportions” to assume that the root cause of the recent terror attacks is the religion of Islam itself. Instead, he wrote, most mass killings are motivated by “deep psychiatric alienations or racism on the part of the killers,” such as the Charleston church shooting in June, which had no connection to Islam.

Dougherty’s call for respect and acceptance in such a volatile time is responsible and important. His message is a reminder that the recent terrorist attacks are no excuse for bigotry and xenophobia.

Dougherty wrote that the mainstream religion of Islam teaches peace, and that Pope Francis has called Muslims and Christians “brothers and sisters.”

“As a Catholic university, we can hardly do less,” Dougherty added.

He concluded by urging the Duquesne community to continue to support its Muslim students and faculty, who have long been valued members of the university. To turn on them, he wrote, would be “shamefully un-American.”

Unfortunately, fear has drowned out any sensibility in America. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump – called “a bigot without foreign policy experience” by the New York Times on Tuesday – proposed a ban on all Muslims entering the U.S.

Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, a Christian school in Virginia, responded to the San Bernardino shooting by urging his students this week to carry guns on campus, but with prejudiced overtones.

“I’ve always thought if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in and killed us,” Falwell said.

Duquesne is lucky to have a president on the right side of this divisive conversation (although, really, it shouldn’t even be a conversation.) Comments that promote intolerance are dangerous to our society, and, as Dougherty wrote, “play right into the real enemy’s hands by reinforcing the lie they spread that no one can be a true Muslim and a loyal citizen of any Western secular society.”

For a university president to make such a declarative statement on behalf of his institution is reassuring, and should serve as a source of pride for students. For Dougherty – who has at times been perceived as someone out of touch with students – this should be applauded.