Monday, November 06, 2006

Right to Lie

At a Halloween party, University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann posed with a student, Saad Saadi, who was dressed up as a suicide bomber:

(Photo courtesy of The Democracy Project where there are more photos)

President Gutmann released a statement on November 3rd:

Each year, the president hosts a Halloween party for Penn students. More than 700 students attend. They all crowd around to have their picture taken with me in costume. This year, one student who had a toy gun in hand had his picture taken with me before it was obvious to me that he was dressed as a suicide bomber.

Big gun and bright red explosives. Not immediately obvious. Hmm. Another academic fooled.

He posted the photo on a website and it was picked up on several other websites.

The costume is clearly offensive and I was offended by it.

As you can see from her smile in the photograph. It's oozing offense.

As soon as I realized what his costume was, I refused to take any more pictures with him, as he requested.

Courageous decision. And brave leadership.

The student had the right to wear the costume just as I, and others, have a right to criticize his wearing of it.

Just as she has the right to lie.

I wonder if President Gutmann would stand up for student rights, had someone dressed up as a Klu Klux Klansman or Adolf Hitler?

On second thoughts, let's not contemplate her stand on that one.

UPDATE 1: Jerusalem Post's Michael Freund discovers that Gutmann might not exactly be telling the truth:

But the Post found that in an interview on Friday with the campus newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, Saadi offered an account that varied sharply from the one provided by Gutmann.

According to the paper, Saadi said that Gutmann "did not seem to take his costume too seriously." He added that when he approached her for the photo, Gutmann joked with him about it, telling him, "How did they let you through security?", implying that the president did in fact realize what Saadi's costume signified before being photographed with him.

This is a strange situation - whose version should be believed, a dressed-up suicide bomber or President Gutmann?

UPDATE 2: As reported by Jerusalem Post, apology now offered:

As many of you have heard or seen by now, there was a photograph from our annual Halloween party that has taken flight over the Internet. The photograph is embarrassing for the University and me alike. I posted a formal response on our website last week. However, I wanted to provide more context.
Read as "the pressure has not dissipated since I put out my damage control press release".

Following a long standing Penn tradition, I host an annual Halloween party at the President's House. Hundreds of students show up dressed in every imaginable costume -- witches and warlocks, Jasons and Michael Myers, ax murderers and Frankensteins. In keeping with the spirit of the event, I appeared as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. In this context, it's hard to imagine that someone could create an actually offensive costume, but at least one of our students did.

Mitigating factors, your Honour!

Part of the Halloween party tradition is the opportunity to be photographed with the President. This year, one student holding a toy gun was photographed with me before it was obvious to me that he was dressed as a suicide bomber. As soon as I realized the full extent of his costume, I refused his request for additional photographs.

Gutmann and Saadi's stories still don't reconcile. Whose Lie is it Anyway?

Some have mistakenly interpreted the photograph as my support for terrorism. Nothing could be further from the truth. I abhor terrorism, suicide bombers and everything they do. My record is unabashedly clear on this point.

Yes, as clear as that smile in the photo.

The student has since apologized, and I accept his apology. I too apologize for the offense this photo has caused. Some images are too horrific even for Halloween.

And some people are too skeptical to believe this is a genuine apology.

Can an apology be sincere if it comes in Press Release #2?

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