The ethnicity of Abdulsalam Al-Zahrani, the man charged in the Dec. 4 stabbing of Binghamton University anthropology professor emeritus Richard Antoun, has caused speculation on campus regarding the motives behind the attack.
Al-Zahrani is Saudi national, and is reported to be of the Islam religion.
Professors of Arabic studies within the Classical and Near Eastern studies department and campus groups such as the Muslim Student Association (MSA) are hoping that people do not carry any misconceptions linking the stabbing and the suspect’s religious beliefs.
“We would like to think that we all can stay committed and not generalize about a culture based on one individual,” said Kevin Lacey, an associate professor of Arabic studies since 1990 at BU and a close friend of Antoun.
According to Lacey, there have not been any changes in the Classical and Near Eastern studies department among its students; they have stayed dedicated to the study of the language and its culture.
Tayseer Gomaa, another professor of Arabic studies who has taken two seminars with Antoun, agreed that the department has not been affected by recent events.
“I am very sad for Professor Antoun,” Gomaa said. “We condemn acts of violence, of course, against any culture, but hope that this incident will not provide a basis for stereotyping.”
According to Gomaa, the department has seen unexpected changes in the past during times of crisis.
Lacey and Gomaa both said that they received more students than ever before into the Arabic studies department at BU after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks because students were interested in gaining a more scholarly approach to education of Middle Eastern culture.
“A mutual respect and understanding of the culture is what we strive for,” Lacey said.
He added that it is important to follow Antoun’s philosophy toward different ethnicities.
“It is very important, right now, for us to be breaking down the walls of misunderstanding and bias.”
According to Lacey, books, ideas and the study of the culture should be the focus, rather than the recent stereotyping that often happens with the Islamic culture. He hopes these recent events will not have an adverse effect on students or programs at other institutions.
The MSA is also hoping previous biases and stereotyping will not be repeated after the recent tragedy.
According to Maaz Sohail, president of the MSA, Al-Zahrani was never a member of the MSA.
“I have never seen the man they suspect for the stabbing before,” Sohail said. “I asked a lot of the members of the Muslim Student Association and they have all said they have never seen him.”
Sohail said he believes the stabbing should not have an impact on the Muslim community.
“There is no justification for something — just to speculate like that,” he said, adding that if a crime has “no religious base,” the person who committed it is to blame, not the religion.
According to Sohail, the biggest shock is that a student would resort to these extreme acts of violence.
Like many others on campus, Sohail said that his condolences go out to the Antoun family.