In his column, Farooq Tirmizi claimed that “Students for Justice in Palestine Misses the Point” (THE HOYA, Jan. 30, 2007, A3). One thing that Mr. Tirmizi’s criticism makes clear is that he is uninformed about the nature of SJP at Georgetown and about the movement at large around the country.

Students for Justice in Palestine is not a religious or ethnically based group. Georgetown’s SJP has members from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, both Muslim and non-Muslim, Palestinian and non-Palestinian. I have been an active member of the group for two and a half years, and I am neither uslim nor Arab. The mission of SJP is to promote human rights, adherence to international law and basic justice in dealings with the Palestinian people.

Tirmizi seems to argue that Muslims in the United States should engage in politics and civic life in their role as citizens of that country. Personal faith will always inform one’s convictions and beliefs about what is just, but faith is not a political platform. The decisions about whether American Muslims should concentrate their civic efforts on domestic or foreign policy issues is one the community must make for itself, and not an area in which I as a non-Muslim American or Mr. Tirmizi as a non-American Muslim really have a place to speak.

Furthermore, it would be inaccurate to say that Muslims in the United States do not spend a great deal of energy advocating for domestic policy issues. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil liberties advocacy group, promotes action on a host of domestic issues, including immigration reform, civil liberties for uslims living in the United States and providing citizen-law education.

Recently, CAIR highlighted racially motivated violence against three Palestinian students by three American students at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C. Encountering and countering racism in the United States is a fundamentally domestic issue in which all Americans should be engaged.

While I agree with Mr. Tirmizi’s assertion that different peoples should resolve their own problems and conflicts, my interest in the Palestinian issue has to do with its place on the U.S. foreign policy agenda and the role the United States has played and continues to play in the conflict. It is not my place to dictate how the Palestinians should organize their national government or react in the face of occupation. But it is my place as an American citizen to tell my government that I do not think it should be providing military and diplomatic aid to Israel, a nation I believe to be responsible for human rights abuses against Palestinians.

It is my civic duty to raise the awareness of my fellow citizens and tell them that – despite the State Department’s annual human rights report criticizing the actions of the Israeli occupation – the Israelis continue to construct illegal settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank with the assistance of loan guarantees of the American people.

Such settlement construction is an injustice done in our name with our money. The nature of our democracy is one in which all citizens are ultimately responsible for the policies of their government. If we are silent about that which we can speak out against, then we are complicit in the government’s misdeeds.

Human rights abuses happen throughout the world. Sometimes the actions of the U.S. government give invaluable support to national struggles for justice and self-determination, but at other times they are not so helpful. When people criticize activism about Palestine in the United States, I think about the brave American activists in the 1980s – many of them veterans of the civil rights movement in this country – who insisted that the U.S. government stop its support for the South African apartheid government. Brave activists, including students on Georgetown’s campus, stood up and insisted that U.S. trade and aid policy stand on the side of human rights and justice.

There are many civic issues which deserve our attention as Americans, and no citizen should be criticized for the desire to hold his or her government accountable for its foreign and domestic policies.

Victoria Zyp is a graduate student at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies and a member of Students for Justice in Palestine.

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