At first, Andrew Pessin, a pro-Israel philosophy professor at Connecticut College, thought the outrageous allegations made against him were just part of “sloppy college journalism.” But after several students and alumni assembled a petition asking the administration to condemn his “racism” and “dehumanization” on account of a Facebook post he had put up seven months earlier, Pessin suddenly found himself in the midst of a storm of hate mail and threats aimed at destroying his career and his family.
Lamiya Khandaker, a first-generation Muslim Bengladeshi student and founder of Students for Justice in Palestine at her campus, stalked her professor’s Facebook page and used his description of the terrorist organization Hamas to attack him on the campus newspaper, The College Voice, which published three letters last month against Pessin in response.
Khandaker began her tantrum against free speech on March 3, writing:
I am infuriated, repulsed and depressed. I feel unsafe. Free speech is a given. Free speech means that you have the right to say what you want to say without the penalty of breaking the law. Does that mean free speech is acceptable in all circumstances? No. Not when your free speech is hate speech and takes place in a community which professes values of “diversity and equity,” and “inclusive excellence.”
Khandaker claimed that Pessin’s criticism of Hamas demonstrated “institutional racism” against Palestinians and Muslims alike.
I did not misunderstand his contribution at the Charlie Hebdo panel when he posed indirect, yet problematic questions such as, “How do we tolerate cultures of intolerance?” only to end his portion of the Q-and-A session with an emphasis of hate crimes perpetrated by Muslims. I did not misunderstand the content of this public Facebook post that insinuated Palestinians (NOT Hamas) as “rabid pit-bulls.“ I did not misunderstand when he told me that, “Muslim terrorists were at the top of the totem pole as perpetrators of violence.” Tell me, what part of all this did I misunderstand? The fact that I may be a “liberal animal rights activist” sympathizing with this “rabid pit bull?” Oh no wait, perhaps, I am the “co-specimen” who sympathizes. Because my people are breeds of dogs, and not human beings? Or, perhaps I misunderstood his floods of articles that specifically talk about the failure of addressing “Arab and Muslim terrorism.”
Pessin, who had taken leave of absence from the university for his and his family’s safety, is being charged with racism and “hate speech” for comparing the terrorist organization Hamas to a “rabid pit bull.” He was forced to write an apology to his protestors on The College Voice a few days after the accusations were published:
I am truly sorry for the hurt and offense that I have caused via my Facebook post of last summer, to individuals on this campus and now beyond.
It was written last August in the middle of the war between Israel and Hamas, and sat quietly (if publically) on my Facebook page until a Connecticut College student, displaying courage and integrity, emailed me about it on February 18 and described in no uncertain terms how she felt about it. I acknowledged how much I respected her speaking up, apologized for my language in the post, and removed it that very day. But my initial apology to her, and then to many others since the Voice articles appeared two weeks afterward, was rather defensive in tone. I see now—particularly after a moving conversation with a group of bright, brave, and sincerely wounded Conn students—just how damaging and hurtful the language of that post was. I made a great mistake in writing in the inflammatory manner that I did, and deeply regret the injury that I caused and have now directly witnessed.
It’s essential for me also to remark that I in no way hold and do not condone the terrible racist views that have been ascribed to me on the basis of the language of this post. I hope that my past actions and words already demonstrate that I am not the person some now think I am; I know that my future actions and words will. Let my first such action be the reiteration of my deepest apology for causing such wounds.
Unfortunately, Pessin’s apology has been read as an admission of his guilt, he said to Inside Higher Ed. Now, he thinks publishing the letters without giving him a fair chance to explain himself was a part of a deliberate tactic to target him for his views. It was revealed that Khandaker, in accusing Pessin of shaming Palestinians, had purposely left out the comments section of the debated Facebook conversation, which specified that he was against Hamas and not Palestinians.
Facebook user Nicole had commented, “Wasn’t too keen on your metaphor as I think a dog like that should be put down. But I understand your point and it’s all true. They can’t be trusted and that why there’s blockades. Terrorists should be put down as well, just like the dog.” Pessin responded, “I agree.” After another comment pondered whether she might be referring to Palestinians as dogs, Nicole clarified, “I said terrorists. I meant Hamas and not all Palestinians.”