Islamic groups voice concerns, UCF stands firm
Editor's note: This story was originally published on Aug. 26, 2013.
UCF professor Jonathan Matusitz has drawn criticism and sparked a discussion on free speech and classroom content after lecturing in his terrorism and communication class.
The class aims to explain, "How terrorism is a communication process. How mass media, symbols, linguistic devices, e-terrorism and theoretical dimensions play a role in terrorism. How communities respond to terrorist attacks," according to the UCF 2013-14 Undergraduate Course Catalog.
Matusitz said he hopes that students leave his class with a better understanding and an increased awareness of the role of terrorism.
However, the tenured professor has received several accusations of spewing anti-Muslim hate and bigotry, many of which are linked to his public presentation, "How Culture Shapes Terrorism," which was delivered on Jan. 31 in the Business Administration Building, according to the Nicholson School of Communication website.
The presentation was recorded and posted to YouTube by several groups including The Florida Council on American-Islamic Relations. The nonprofit organization, CAIR-FL, operates with the mission to "enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding," according to its website.
In the video, Matusitz says, "Why do so many Muslims relative to other religions want to kill us? The answer is easy. Very easy. It's seven letters: culture."
In a letter to the dean of the College of Sciences, CAIR-FL wrote: "His presentations on these subjects are full of anti-Muslim bigotry in the form of hate speech, inaccuracies, sweeping generalizations and stereotypes that would mislead students to believe that all Islamic societies are nothing more than violent, hate-filled terrorist factories …"
The organization requested that courses taught by Matusitz be reviewed by the College of Sciences. However, Matusitz said no such review was ever carried out.
"CAIR has never sat in my class," Matusitz said. "They don't know anything about the content of my classes."
In August, the Orlando Sentinel reported Matusitz was set to speak at a meeting for ACT! For Space Coast Florida, an American-Islamic advocacy group. CAIR-FL attempted to prevent Matusitz's appearance under the pretense that "[Matusitz] makes statements to incite violence against the Muslim community … ACT! is an extremist group no different than the KKK," but they were not successful.
Matusitz emphasized, "I have nothing against Muslims. I have a problem with Muslims who want to impose radical Islam and Shariah on our lens. So the problem is not the average Muslim."
Shariah is the Islamic law based on the teachings of the Koran and traditions of the Prophet, Hadith and Sunna. Matusitz differentiated between the four types of Muslims, two of which are Muslim extremists and cultured Muslims.
Of cultured Muslims, Matusitz said, "They're good people, but when was the last time you heard a cultured Muslim say on TV, 'I am against Muslim law?'"
He said that if cultured Muslims do not support Shariah, then they need to express it. In his lectures, which Matusitz said are solely based off statistics and facts, he stresses the link between terrorism and the Islamic culture, and urges countries to resist the global spread of radical Islam.
"9/11 woke me up," he said of why he feels so passionate about the subject. "I also come from Belgium, where we have a big problem with radical Islam."
He said, in Belgium, there is a large percentage of Muslims who do not want to adapt. In particular, he cited Sharia4Belgium, a Muslim group whose goal is to impose Shariah and radical Islamic law in Belgium.
Although Matusitz said he believes his class has been well received through reading teaching evaluations and observing his students in the classroom, other groups have not welcomed him.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Matusitz was scheduled to deliver a lecture titled "The Islamic Threat To America" at a meeting of the Pinellas County Republican Party. After receiving heat from some of the party's own members, the group postponed Matusitz's speech but never rescheduled.
"They disinvited me because some people expressed concerns that such a presentation would upset the apple cart," Matusitz said. "They don't like controversy. They don't like any topic that might arouse debate."
Imposing such political correctness poses a threat to the American public, Matusitz said, by burying the truth under esoteric jargon.
"Every time you do this, people come away with a different understanding of terrorism and people can lower their guard," he said.
However, Matusitz said the university has never infringed on his right to express his own opinions.
"UCF has been excellent allowing a diversity of viewpoints," he said.
UCF's official statement regarding the issue was: "Dr. Matusitz is expressing his opinion, which is his right. He is not speaking on behalf of the university and we do not endorse his views."
"One of the university's five goals has been to 'become more inclusive and diverse,'" said UCF spokesman Grant Heston. "However, freedom of expression is fundamental to a university's mission, even when we disagree with it."
Hammad Usmani, communication director of the Muslim Student Association at UCF and a junior computer science major, said this topic has been at the center of the organization's social justice agenda for quite some time now. He warns others not to be fooled by Matusitz's defenses. Usmani said that when Matusitz claims to have nothing against Muslims and that his lectures are based off facts and statistics, he is simply backtracking on the hatred he unfairly preaches against Muslims.
The hatred toward Islam and Shariah comes from a well-documented psychological phenomenon, Usmani said, called selective perception. He said this means that media consumers and media journalists often exaggerate events and attitudes pertaining to Islam because it is a popular sentiment.
In regard to radical Islamic groups, Usmani said, "The extreme minority who want to impose Shariah law are often grassroots groups who have no understanding of the country they want to regulate."
In his presentation, "How Culture Shapes Terrorism," Matusitz says that according to Research and Development, 96 percent of worldwide terrorism is Islamist related. Usmani said he believes this to be a fabrication.
"I am a strong advocate of freedom of speech," Usmani said. "However, professor Matusitz should follow a higher standard of logic and evidence."
Usmani referenced a statistic from Washington's Blog, which stated that only 6 percent of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil were carried out by Islamic extremists from 1980 to 2005.
"As students, we rely on getting accurate information from the university we attend and that is what we are asking for," Usmani said.
In addition, he called for the university to perform a simple academic review where the MSA can provide input as experts of Islam. UCF's official statement regarding the matter also leaves Usmani unsatisfied.
"UCF pulls a shady PR move when it removes responsibility of the professor's actions by stating Matusitz does not speak on behalf of the university," he said.
Usmani added that professors are not individual entities that coincidentally lecture at the university; they are a whole that creates an education.
"MSA is frightened by UCF's choice to ignore the problem," he said.