Fresno State professor’s comments are untimely, but should not be silenced

Sam Rosenblatt, Opinions Editor

Many Americans mourned the passing of Barbara Bush, former First Lady to President George H.W. Bush, and mother of former President George W. Bush. In contrast, Fresno State professor Randa Jarrar took to Twitter to bash the matriarch of the Bush family.

“Barbara Bush was a generous and smart and amazing racist who, along with her husband, raised a war criminal,” Jarrar tweeted.

Jarrar followed with another post that said, “I’m happy the witch is dead. [C]an’t wait for the rest of her family to fall to their demise the way 1.5 million Iraqis have.”

These posts quickly incited reactions across social media, which ranged from those upset by the timing of the remarks, to those who called for the professor to be fired from the university. Undaunted, Jarrar responded by calling her critics “racists,” lamenting that Arab-Americans could not freely express their opinion, and noting that she could not be fired because she is a tenured professor at Fresno State. The university’s president, Joseph Castro, told local reporters that Jarrar’s tenure should not prevent her from being held accountable for her actions.

Ultimately, there are two separate issues at stake with Jarrar’s posts. First, Jarrar tweeted her thoughts on Bush just hours after her death. Regardless of one’s opinion of a person, it’s horribly inappropriate to release such judgments in the immediate aftermath of a loss. This is not to say that mourning should restrict our speech; however, if a critic wants to be taken seriously, their words will only be interpreted as immature if spoken at such an untimely hour.

Second, both ends of the political spectrum must recognize the hypocrisy in what language they deem “offensive.” If liberals rail against ultra-conservative speakers who challenge their beliefs, they should be cognizant that insulting the former First Lady who, according to The Washington Post, was “widely regarded as genteel,” will be far from well-received. Likewise, conservatives should use this incident to recognize that this respect goes both ways, so neither side is truly innocent in their war of words.

Of course, Jarrar is entitled to her own opinion. If Americans want to engage in honest discussions across the aisle, they should not be afraid to express criticism, even if it is directed towards a generally revered figure like Barbara Bush. We can infer from Jarrar’s “war criminal” comment that she clearly did not support the invasion of Iraq, a position shared by many Americans in retrospect. Jarrar’s cries that the late First Lady is a “racist” and a “witch” demonstrate her general disapproval of the family, which she has every right to, as all Americans have the right to criticize President Donald Trump, former President Barack Obama, and all other politicians, past and present.

Jarrar should be held accountable for her comments on the grounds that they were poorly timed and insensitive to the situation. However, she should not be fired for her actions. We do not know precisely what experiences and ideologies produced Jarrar’s opinions on Barbara Bush, but it is not in our power to diminish the importance of those experiences.

Thus, we should temper our reactions to Jarrar’s remarks by acknowledging her side of the story. Perhaps the Bush family’s shortcomings appeared so egregious to Jarrar that she could not wait to speak her mind. I do not agree with her statements and I wish she had waited for a more appropriate time to launch these attacks. The problem lies more with when Jarrar made these comments, rather than what she said.

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