A Frightening Gaffe



University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann got more than she bargained for when she opened up her residence to students for her annual Halloween costume party. Like other revelers, student Saad Saadi had his picture taken with Gutmann, who was dressed as Glinda, the good witch of the north, from "The Wizard of Oz."

But Saadi's costume was a little more contemporary than Gutmann's. He came dressed as a suicide bomber, replete with fake explosives and a toy gun. Not content with that, Saadi apparently stayed in character at the party, as the pictures of the event posted on his personal Web site showed him posing while reading the Koran and pointing a gun at the heads of other guests, who were kneeling in the attitude of hostages about to be executed.

Unfortunately for Gutmann, the photo of her alongside the would-be bomber spread quickly via the Internet. The student soon apologized. And before going to ground and refusing further comment, the Penn president issued a statement, in which she said she had not realized the "offensive" nature of Saadi's costume until after the photograph was snapped. "The student had the right to wear the costume just as I, and others, have a right to criticize his wearing of it," she added.

She's right about that. Those huffing and puffing about this incident do need to be reminded that the incident took place at a Halloween party — and not during a Mideast-studies course. Compared to the ongoing murder campaigns being waged by both Palestinian and Iraqi Islamist terrorists, the execrable taste of Saadi and the poor initial judgment of Gutmann are small change indeed.

But had any student entered the party dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan, for instance, he or she would undoubtedly not have simply flown under the radar. It was only after the fact — when the entire civilized world got a look at the picture — that anyone at Penn thought to express horror at Saadi's behavior.

It's also not out of place to note that at schools where some professors speak of Islamic terrorists as being morally equivalent to the Israeli or even American militaries, tolerance for the "humor" practiced by this college student seems to be very much in context. If it is considered within the bounds of acceptable behavior to portray suicide bombers, it may well be so because academics are at pains to "understand" or even justify terrorism in the classroom.

As Penn's president learned, a price must be paid for promoting moral relativism. Amy Gutmann may have been the unwitting victim of a student prankster this Halloween, but the more we think about the way elite schools teach about the Middle East, the more serious such "jokes" seem.


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