“The United States is a terrorist state. Support the Intifada. Qassam lives.”
These black painted words jump off the walls as you step into the Concordia Student Union (CSU) club room on the sixth floor of the Hall Building.
Considering all the recent debate about freedom of speech that fills the halls of the university, these statements have some students questioning where free speech ends and insults and threats begin.
“I see that graffiti every time I walk in the room,” said Brent Farrington, co-president of the United States of America Student Association (USASA). “Some club representatives and members are very upset by it. The CSU says it’s freedom of speech, but it’s making people feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. These are political statements that separate and divide students, and they should not be there.”
Funded by fees students pay to the student union, the room is used mainly by clubs supported by the CSU. It provides a copying machine and computer, as well as a meeting place for those groups.
Kealia Curtis, VP internal for the CSU, affirmed she knew of the graffiti, but said the CSU could not be held responsible for it. “Graffiti happens. We can’t prevent it. Personally, I wish it weren’t there.”
Raising an important consequence of removing the graffiti, and in her opinion, limiting free speech, Curtis stated: “If I were to take down one thing, though, I may end up having to take down everything. Really, critiquing a state is very different from being offensive.”
However, some club representatives do not see it that way. They said statements like ‘Qassam lives’ were ambiguous. Qassam, a Palestinian martyr that lived in the early 1900’s, is also the name of a missile used against Israel by the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
It’s this kind of double meaning that has some club members calling for the CSU to get rid of the graffiti.
Noah Joseph, co-president of Concordia Hillel and a CSU councillor, deems the graffiti inappropriate. “These statements represent only a few students and I find it unfortunate that they are on the wall. They clearly indicate that the CSU supports terrorism. If the CSU didn’t, then they would remove them,” Joseph said.
CSU VP Academic and Advocacy Ralph Lee said: “When you criticize a state’s policy, some students will feel offended. That’s natural. But if there’s a greater good to the message, then we support it.”
Lee affirmed that the CSU condemns violence and hate. “And I don’t oppose graffiti that states the same thing,” he continued. “So, if you believe that the U.S. government is violent, then I agree with [the graffiti] and would even write it myself.”
But, wondered Farrington, “Where’s the line to be drawn about what goes on the walls? The CSU may not stand for hate, but it is spreading it on a subconscious level by allowing the graffiti.”
Ann-Marie Brescio, co-president of USASA, added: “As an American, it makes me sad that I decided to go to school here in Canada. The graffiti sends a message to Americans that we are not welcome at Concordia.”
Curtis did not know who painted the statements on the wall nor how long they had been there, but said that many groups from both inside and outside the university have access to the room. She stressed that removing the graffiti would be pointless because she believed it would just reappear.
“I have only received one complaint about what’s written in that room,” Curtis said. And as a result, she added, the CSU offered to buy paint for any clubs willing to repaint the room.
However, Farrington rejected that solution and said the responsibility of ridding the walls of the statements falls on the CSU. “Why should we have to paint the room?” he questioned. “We didn’t put the graffiti there.”