If the news has taught us anything lately it’s that religion continues to be a sensitive issue all over the world. There were two major incidents of anti-Semitism in Europe this weekend and I have a recap, in case you missed it. Plus, a controversial policy against Iranian students at a university in New England. Also, a pop singer and feminist icon passes away and you can cry if you want to.
What do you think of the policy against Iranian graduate students at UMass? Do you think Craig Hicks will ultimately be charged with a hate crime? Do you follow any celebrity (people or puppet-based) Twitter accounts? Discuss it in the comments or tweet me about it @AmandaLauren.
UMass Bans Iranian Students From Attending Some Programs
The University of Massachusetts at Amherst has banned Iranian students from being in the College of Engineering and the College of Natural Sciences because the school was having problems obtaining visas for some students of that nationality, as well as having issues with current Iranian students being denied re-entry into the U.S.
The school says they’re not racist, but just complying with the law. In a statement released by the university, administrators said,
In July 2013, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security provided clarification on H.R. 1905, stating that Iranian citizens are ineligible for U.S. visas if they are seeking to participate in higher education in preparation for a career in Iran’s petroleum, natural gas, nuclear energy, nuclear science, or nuclear engineering fields. Additionally, Iranian citizens seeking to study in other fields, such as business, management, or computer science, but who intend to use these skills in Iran's oil, natural gas, or nuclear energy sectors, are also ineligible for visas.
The school then quoted the 2012 Iranian Sanction Bill they are supposedly creating this new policy to comply with,
The Secretary of State will deny a visa to, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall exclude from the United States, any alien who is a citizen of Iran that the Secretary of State determines seeks to enter the United States to participate in coursework at an institution of higher education . . . to prepare the alien for a career in the energy sector of Iran or in nuclear science or nuclear engineering or a related field in Iran.
Many students are wondering why now because the bill has been around for three years. The U.S. State Department is also basically saying WTF and they issued a response to the story in The Boston Globe.
U.S. law does not prohibit qualified Iranian nationals coming to the United States for education in science and engineering. Each application is reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
Even the school admits the policy they’ve suddenly chosen to enforce is against its own principles:
Furthermore, the exclusion of a class of students from admission directly conflicts with our institutional values and principles. However, we must adhere to the law and hence have instituted this policy to ensure that we are in compliance.
Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, said it is “not aware of any other universities that have announced [this type of policy],” but other schools may have more quietly adopted similar rules.
Iranian students have clearly not taken well to this situation. Amir Azadi, who is a member of UMass’s Iranian Graduate Students Association, which has approximately 60 members, told The Boston Globe, “We feel that it’s against the American spirit of freedom in education.” He added,
We totally understand the concern of UMass that Iranians should not pursue any research in nuclear energy, in those fields mentioned in the law. We just want UMass not to generalize to all the Iranians.
Another Deadly Attack in Europe
Over the weekend in Copenhagen, Denmark, a gunman, who has been identified by police as Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, opened fire twice, killing two people. The first time was at a café, where a free speech debate was being held. Documentary filmmaker, Finn Norgaard, was killed in the attack.
Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who attended Saturday’s free speech forum, said he thought he was the target of the gunfire because his depictions of the Prophet Mohammed aren’t exactly pleasing to al Qaeda, who put the artist on their hit list. He escaped the attack unharmed and has gone into hiding.
Later that afternoon, El-Hussein shot and killed a guard outside of a nearby synagogue. The guard was identified as Dan Uzan, 37. Claus and Mette Bentow, who were inside the synagogue at the time of the attack, celebrating their daughter’s bat mitzvah, gave a touching statement to the press and were incredibly grateful to Uzan,
We will remember that we owe our lives to him, and we will try and do our very best to be deserving of that.
The police killed El-Hussein and later arrested two men, 19 and 22, who were connected with the attacks. They were charged with five counts of accessory to attempted murder and two counts of accessory to murder.
Police took a look at El-Hussein’s Facebook page and it turned out he was a big fan of ISIS, pledging his allegiance to leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi just before the weekend attacks:
. . . allegiance to Abu Bakr in full obedience in the good and bad things. And I won't dispute with him unless it is an outrageous disbelief.
On Monday night, a candlelight vigil was held and over 40,000 people attended the event. Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt addressed the country, saying,
An attack on Denmark's Jews is an attack on everyone. The Jewish community is an important part of Denmark. We will stand together and continue the everyday life we know. We stand together as Danes.
In a separate incident in France, approximately 300 Jewish graves were vandalized with Nazi slogans and swastikas. The vandals turned out to be a group of teenage boys aged 15–17. They could face up to seven years in prison for “desecration of graves” and “degradation committed as a group.”
On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said all European Jews were welcome to escape anti-Semitism in Israel.
Craig Hicks Indicted on Murder Charges
Last week, I reported on the murders of Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, by Craig Hicks, which was allegedly provoked by a dispute over parking at their condo complex in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Later that night, Hicks turned himself into police. Ever since, authorities have housed Hicks at North Carolina’s Central Prison in Raleigh for “safe-keeping.”
Hicks had many anti-theistic posts on his Facebook wall and had threatened the Muslim couple before, as well as several other residents in the complex where they lived. In fact, it was so bad at least one tow truck company stopped answering Hicks’ phone calls.
On Monday, a grand jury indicted Hicks on three separate counts of first-degree murder.
Police confiscated a small arsenal from his apartment, which included two shotguns, four handguns, and six rifles, most of which were fully loaded.
Despite the fact that local authorities are blaming this tragedy on a mere parking dispute, the FBI said they are also investigating the incident. While many people, including the family of the victims, believe what occurred was a hate a crime, Hicks hasn’t been formally charged with one yet by State or Federal authorities, but neither jurisdiction has ruled it out yet either. It should be noted that the state of North Carolina designates a hate crime if the offense is committed “because of” the victim’s race, religion, nationality, or country of origin. Whereas the FBI sees a hate crime as the offense plus “an added element of bias.”
Hicks will appear in court during the first week of March.
· If you didn’t know, Big Bird has a Twitter account and last week he sent out his first tweet, which was “Tweet?” Of course he would tweet, that’s what birds do! No word on how he tweets with his big hands. It turns out that Big Bird’s friends, Cookie Monster, Elmo, and The Count also have active Twitter accounts.
· Lesley Gore, who was perhaps best known for her ode to teenage angst, "It’s My Party" and feminist anthem "You Don’t Own Me" (hello last scene of The First Wives Club!) died of lung cancer at 68 years old on Monday. Despite writing songs mostly about men breaking hearts, Gore was openly gay and leaves behind her partner of 33 years, Lois Sasson, who told the Associated Press, “She was a wonderful human being — caring, giving, a great feminist, great woman, great human being, great humanitarian.”
· You know how there’s been a huge problem with a shortage of lethal injection drugs? Well, Wyoming thinks it’s found a new old-fashioned solution to that problem. The state recently passed a bill that allows death by firing squad, if lethal injection drugs remain unavailable. It also requires that the prisoner be unconscious prior to the execution. The bill still needs to be singed into law by the governor of Wyoming, Matt Mead. A similar bill was also recently passed in Utah.