On Feb. 2, 2009, Hussain Turk, a Kalamazoo College sophomore, attended “Israel 101,” led by the Hillel Organization, a Jewish student group on WMU’s campus. He came alone and in protest with a sign that read “AmeriKKKa Funds Israeli Terrorism.”
Turk refused to leave after a student asked, and security was called. He was ordered to be silent and threatened with arrest several times.
Turk claims that he and onlookers were victims of racism at the hands of the WMU public safety officers and the Hillel Organization students, all of whom were white and most of whom were male.
He emphasizes that it seemed the public safety officers “assumed a connection between the color of his skin, his name, and the sign,” seizing him without direct evidence that he even held the sign.
It is illegal to make an “organized protest” on WMU’s campus without a permit. Turk says it is a shame that “at WMU, individual freedom of speech hinges on a permit.” He asks, “To what extend does one person expressing political dissent count as a form of organized protest?”
Turk claims Israel is “not a democracy,” because citizenship “hinges on exclusion by race and religion.”
He also suggests United States’ funding for Israel could be used to help “Americans who actually need it,” especially in the sectors of “welfare, healthcare, and education.”
He says “four-times as many Africans die of AIDS each year as there are Israeli citizens in Israel, but we spend three-times the amount on each Israeli citizen as we do on Africans dying from AIDS.”
As far as the Israel/US “connection” to the KKK, Turk follows the logic that, since “the KKK wants an all-white, Christian United States and wants to deny the rights of others, and Israel wants an all-white, Jewish state, US support of Israel implies US support of the KKK.”
Why does Turk take such a firm stance on those issues? “If it affects me, I don’t like to let it roll off my back… If it affects my family… I feel obligated to at least expose the problem,” he says.
He says, “Seeing my father politically active in his home country set an example for me to be politically involved in my home country,” the United States.
He believes he owes something to Kalamazoo and wants to “stay and solidify some roots as an adult… so that [he] can come back… in the future and return the favor.”
He needed much time to evaluate what it means to him to be Muslim, especially as a gay man, and says Islam has “a lot of cultural values” and he appreciates the “comfort of having shared identity with other people.”
For Turk, “Religion played a huge role in giving [him] something to believe in, and something to keep [him] grounded,” after he was suspended for excessive alcohol consumption and drug use after his first year at K .
He says recovery is a daily struggle and he would not be alive had he not gone through a rehabilitation period to start him on the track toward sobriety.
He has been sober since May 31, 2008, and says sobering up has lent more credence to his passion for politics and social justice.
He was alone at the protest at WMU and says it’s frustrating not to have much support. But, as he puts it, “Changing the problem starts with exposing it, and sometimes that’s [just with] one person.”
Note: This article appeared in The Index on March 5, 2009. The original article can be found here.