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Brandeis clergy, students decry vandalism

Posted by Leslie Anderson  March 10, 2010 07:33 PM

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Last week, Muslim students at Brandeis University were rejoicing in their newly renovated suite in the student center’s basement. Finally, they had a kitchen, prayer room, and a sign announcing their presence on campus.

But on Friday morning, the Muslim Students Association’s president walked in to find it had been vandalized overnight, with lamps turned upside down, appliances unplugged, and a Koran missing.

‘‘We fought for this space,’’ Neda Eid said. ’’And for this to happen, I’m shocked, and frustrated. I’m angry.’’

As Brandeis University officials investigated Thursday, the four school chaplains — representing Islamic, Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic faiths — gathered there to deplore the vandalism.

‘‘All people of good will and conscience at Brandeis University ... stand together in condemning the vandalism,’’ they read from a statement that was e-mailed to the student body. ‘‘Any act of vandalism, especially those that target a particular religious or cultural community is deplorable. This is a sad moment for our Brandeis family but we will emerge from this time with a renewed spirit of understanding and cooperation.’’

Officials at Brandeis, a nonsectarian Jewish-sponsored university founded in 1948, said they were working closely with the leadership of the Muslim Students Association and Imam Talal Eid to fully investigate the vandalism. The results will be shared with the entire university community.

‘‘We do not believe it is a hate crime, but that assessment will be made during the investigation.’’ said Brandeis spokesman Dennis Nealon. No similar incidents against Muslims have been reported at the school, according to Nealon, students, and clergy.

However, the Muslim Student Association has long struggled for recognition and better physical accommodations, according to its president. ‘‘I’m realistic about how this university was formed. And this is a place for Jewish identity’’ said Neda Eid, who is the imam’s daughter. ‘‘But the MSA fought for recognition and for our space.’’

Other students at Brandeis expressed dismay at the vandalism and said it does not represent their school. Some have taken their outrage to the school’s unofficial blog, innermostparts.org.

‘‘A lot of people have expressed their disappointment,’’ Hannah Kirsch, a Brandeis senior, said in an interview. ‘‘I don’t think people see it as part of a trend, that’s why so many people are shocked and upset.’’

But Kirsch said she understands the frustration of Muslim students, whose meeting space is in a hard-to-find basement area of the Usdan Student Center. ‘‘It’s always been sort of a point, that there are these two Christian chapels, and the Jewish chapel, but there is no Muslim edifice,’’ said Kirsch. ‘‘Instead they have this small suite.’’

Most of the damage was to the imam’s office, where a computer and other appliances were unplugged, and a door that had been sealed shut showed scratches and signs of tampering.

His Koran, which contained notes and sermons, was gone. ‘‘It’s minor, but it’s irreplaceable,’’ said Talal Eid.

The chaplains are debating restricting the suite in the future to people with access cards, but Eid said this idea troubled him.

‘‘I don’t want to see it locked,’’ the imam said. ‘‘This is supposed to be an open space.’’

Of about 3,300 undergraduates and more than 1,000 graduate students at Brandeis, Eid estimated that about 200 are Muslim, though there is no formal count of students’ religious affiliation.

‘‘All faiths are represented and active here on campus, we’re trying to make sure that is underscored,’’ Nealon said. ’’There is an active interfaith dialogue. ... All of our students here are welcomed through that mechanism.’’

The Muslim Students Association’s space, which was tripled with the $80,000 renovation project, remained open Thursday. To the group’s president, locking it up now seems as great an affront as the vandalism itself.

‘‘We’re being forced to find ways to secure it, and it feels embarrassing to be honest,’’ Neda Eid said. ‘‘I’m embarrassed that this had to happen at this school, because this is not the impression I have of Brandeis.’’

Jason Woods can be reached at jwoods@globe.com.

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