The very first person killed on 9/11 was an MIT student, Daniel Lewin, someone I knew well. Before I moved to a dorm or even considered applying to MIT, I was a resident of Westgate Low-Rise, that collection of squat apartment buildings past Next House clustered around a playground. My mother was a graduate student in Course 11 in the late 1990s; Daniel and his young family lived in the apartment above mine. He became a second dad to me after my father was felled by a brain tumor, but my relationship with him was not unique. He was widely loved here on campus.
A Special Forces commando before enrolling at MIT, Daniel was a PhD in Course 6 flying to a business meeting for his startup on 9/11, and he died trying to prevent hijackers on the first plane from entering the cockpit. His startup was none other than Akamai, the Cambridge-based company he founded with Professor Leighton, which now handles up to 35 percent of all web traffic at any moment in time. MIT lost a loved community member and the planet lost a visionary, someone who by 31 years of age had already fundamentally changed the World Wide Web. Today, he is commemorated by “Danny Lewin Square” at the corner of Vassar and Main streets.
I was appalled to learn that next week, Palestine@MIT and the Arab Students Organization will host Dr. Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian physician and politician who openly supports the 9/11 attacks.
Just weeks after those attacks, Gilbert told a Norwegian newspaper, “If the US government has a legitimate right to bomb and kill civilians in Iraq, also the oppressed have a moral right to attack the United States with the weapons they may create.” When asked if he outright supported the attack, he responded, “Terror is a poor weapon, but my answer is yes.” He continued, “The white world does not understand that it is possible to see such an action in a different perspective.”
Only a few short years after the Boston Marathon bombing and the killing of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, how could we possibly welcome a man who praises 9/11 on our campus? Clearly, some members of our community have forgotten that terror is far from a foreign concept here at MIT, let alone to the families and friends of over 3,000 innocent people from over 90 nations killed on 9/11.
The MIT mission statement ends with the following: “We seek to develop in each member of the MIT community the ability and passion to work wisely, creatively, and effectively for the betterment of humankind.” Danny Lewin and Officer Collier embodied these values, whereas promoting and supporting terror could not be more contrary to our mission.
If this speaker is so antithetical to MIT, who is even attending this talk? According to the organizer’s Facebook event, not many of the 1,500 attendees appear to be MIT community members. It’s also unclear where the money to host this speaker is coming from, as neither group co-hosting this event received Finboard funding during this fall cycle. Yet the size of the event requires the hosts to pay for an MIT Police detail. In case you didn’t believe what you just read, I’ll say it again: Palestine@MIT and the Arab Students Organization are requiring the MIT Police to provide protection and support for an event promoting a speaker who supports terrorism. This is two and a half years after terrorists murdered Officer Sean Collier in the line of duty right here on campus.
If MIT students aren’t the main audience, and MIT doesn’t appear to be funding this event, why is this speaker being hosted on our campus? It is to benefit from our space, our police, and most of all — our name. Even if very few of us share Gilbert’s illegitimate, dangerous beliefs, allowing this event to be hosted on our campus for an open audience lends implicit support of those beliefs. It gives them legitimacy. In that way, this event seeks to use MIT’s name and take advantage of the legacies of the talented, caring people who have spent over 150 years building this Institute, including each and every one of us currently contributing to this community.
To our administrators: we don’t need MIT listed on this man’s resume of places where he has been asked to speak. Cancel this event and publicly declare what we know to be true, that MIT will not stand for this hate to be lent legitimacy by our Institute. This event is an affront to the memories of Officer Sean Collier and Daniel Lewin, as well as to all who have lost their lives, a friend, or a loved one to the terror that this speaker supports.
Isaac Silberberg is a member of the Class of 2016.