Lawyer John Banzhaf is thrilled and chagrined about the publicity he has received over the complaint he filed with the Washington DC Office of Human Rights. It has been widely reported in the press that Muslims represented by Banzhaf are suing Catholic University because their “rights” have been violated. This is false.
What actually happened is that Banzhaf filed the complaint in his own name: no Muslims are named and no Muslims joined him in the complaint. CU President verifies this. Further, this is a complaint not a lawsuit; the OHR is not a court. To explain the lack of co-respondents Banzhaf offered a non sequitur and said he submitted the complaint on his own “because this is what the Human Rights Act both permits and encourages.” What a dismal Act this must be!
To clarify his antagonism towards Catholic University, Banzhaf has issued a new press release. Even if this topic is of little interest to you, Banzhaf’s use of the media and his manipulation of sources is still worth studying.
In particular, his selective quoting from a Washington Post about Muslim students at Catholic University is a minor masterpiece of cheating.
For example, here is Banzhaf’s version of Muslim student Reef Al-Shabnan’s experience at Catholic University:
In one corner was a life-size painting of Jesus carrying the cross. In another, the portrait of a late priest and theologian looked on. And high above the room hung a small wooden crucifix. THIS WAS NOT, SHABNAN ACKNOWLEDGED, THE IDEAL SPACE FOR A MUSLIM TO PRAY IN,… [capitals, ellipsis Banzhaf’s]
Here is the actual quote, which reveals the opposite of what Banzhaf intimated:
In one corner was a life-size painting of Jesus carrying the cross. In another, the portrait of a late priest and theologian looked on. And high above the room hung a small wooden crucifix.
This was not, Shabnan acknowledged, the ideal space for a Muslim to pray in. After her more than two years on campus, though, it has become routine and sacred in its own way. You can find Allah anywhere, the 19-year-old from Saudi Arabia said, even at the flagship university of the U.S. Catholic world.
Now, an ellipsis is meant to elide over material that can be safely omitted such that the meaning of the passage is not changed. But it can also be used maliciously as a sleazy rhetorical trick to cast aspersions. Banzhaf’s ellipsis continued with this:
Although other Catholic schools have established prayer rooms and student associations for their growing Muslim populations, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY HAS NEITHER. For their five daily prayers, MUSLIMS OFTEN SCRAMBLE to find empty classrooms where they can kneel, face Mecca and bow before God.
Here is what he omitted:
Muslim students say they enroll at Catholic schools for many of the same reasons as their classmates: attractive campuses, appealing professors and academic programs that fit their interests. But there is also a spiritual attraction to the values that overlap the two faiths.
“Because it is an overtly religious place, it’s not strange or weird to care about your religion here, to pray and make God a priority,” said Shabnan, a political science major who often covers her head with a pale beige scarf.” They have the same values we do.”
Echoing Islam’s conservative culture, the school separates men and women in its dorms and imposes visiting hours. The university prohibits sex before marriage. Daily prayer and periodic fasting are common concepts.
The Post goes on to say that religion is a required course. Of that, Shaban said, “I was looking for an easy course,” she said. “I learned a lot that was new to me . . . and just seeing how someone completely outside our religion views it was fascinating. [ellipsis original]” It was after all this, and a paragraph about the difficulties of avoiding pork, that the quotation Banzhaf used began.
The Post also quotes from student Ali Basri and his experience:
But at Catholic, he has forged new ways to connect spiritually. Several times a week, the electrical engineering student makes his way past the marble statue of the Virgin Mary at the Caldwell chapel entrance and listens in the pews to Islamic prayers on his MP3 player.
“I feel there is something powerful here because people are thinking about God all the time and not just about their own life or studies,” Basiri said.
Basri did try to start a school-sponsored Muslim association, and it was rejected by that private religious school’s administration because the beliefs of these groups “run contrary to church teaching.” Banzhaf makes a meal out of this: it forms the basis of his (Banzhaf’s) complaint. But here is what Basiri said about it:
When asked about the experience, Basiri is hesitant to say anything negative about a school that he says has embraced him so fully and given him a chance to grow in faith and academics.
“I understand the difficulty,” he said. “In Iran, if you tried to start a Catholic group at a Muslim university, that would be just as strange and hard to make it work.”
…In his years at Catholic, Basiri said, he has experienced a long list of firsts: meeting a nun and priest, celebrating Mass, witnessing Easter and Thanksgiving. [ellipsis mine]
Basiri said his Islamic faith has grown and matured in the past four years while studying in buildings named after Catholic leaders, in classrooms adorned with crucifixes, and with classmates often named after saints.
“The face of my prophet and my God has changed,” he said. “It is even more beautiful now.”
You can’t say better than that.