Controversial figure to speak at local college


The line between free speech and hate speech has become the balance beam that universities across the country have had to tiptoe along for months.

Controversial speakers have sparked protests, some violent, at colleges large and small.

The line is under scrutiny again this week, this time, here in the Heartland.

Robert Spencer runs the website "Jihad Watch" and has written 16 books on Islam -- titles including, ‘The Complete Infidel's Guide to ISIS,’ ‘Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World's Fastest Growing Faith,’ ‘The Myth of Islamic Tolerance: How Islamic Law Treats Non-Muslims,’ and ‘Religion of Peace? Why Christianity is and Islam Isn't.’

An outspoken critic of Islam, Spencer has made frequent appearances on Fox News and speaking at universities across the country.

On Thursday, he comes to the Heartland, a guest of the College Republicans at Truman State.

"We wanted to choose something that was an issue that affected everybody, that was something current to today's day and age and we decided on radical Islam because it seems like every week in the news we hear about another attack from ISIS or some such organization," said Ben Terrell, Chairman of the College Republicans at Truman State University.

In response to Spencer -- who's seen by some as conservative and anti - Muslim, Truman’s Muslim Students Association is hosting a different speaker, in a time slot just before Spencer's: Faizan Syed, the director of the Council on American-Islam Relations in Missouri.

In a Facebook post on the college organization's page -- that event is described as, "A great way to learn what Islam really is so everyone will be well informed before the next speaker arrives."

"I was ecstatic to hear that the Muslim student organization sees that this is a topic that affects a lot of people today and because of that, they're willing to engage in this discussion," said Terrell.

Both the Muslim Students Association and the College Republicans, in association with other university organizations, are hosting an essay contest, that's encouraging writers to be objective translators on the views of others.

Travis Miles, a spokesman for Truman State University, said in a statement that, “As an institution of higher learning, the university supports the idea of an open dialogue on all topics. This often includes viewpoints many people strongly oppose. Cordial discourse on even the most contentious of topics is a fundamental tenant of a liberal arts education and a hallmark of a free society.

The College Republicans and the Muslim Students Association believe in the ability of the campus community to listen to diverse perspectives, to think critically, engage in civil discourse and draw conclusions based on the evidence presented.”

The university and both organizations are discouraging violence at the event.

The Muslim Students Association declined our request for an interview, but issued this statement about the upcoming events --

"While the Muslim Students Association as an organization is not participating in any protests, we want to thank the people who have been so quick to support us and the Kirksville Muslim community. We ask that any demonstrations be kept civil and non-disruptive."

The university says Truman’s Department of Public Safety will be in attendance, and no backpacks, purses, or bags of any kind will be allowed.

Faizan Syed will be speaking at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Robert Spencer's speech will begin at 8 p.m.

Both will be in Violette Hall 1000 on the Truman Campus.

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