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Photo by Daman Singh

Palestinian-American activist Dr. Omar Suleiman visits U of C after encampment and police confrontation

By Nazeefa Ahmed and Daman Singh, May 12 2024—

On May 12 at 12 p.m., Palestinian-American activist Dr. Omar Suleiman spoke at MacEwan Hall to a crowd of over 400 students, faculty and Calgary community members as part of a protest hosted by the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) of the University of Calgary. 

Encampments at post-secondary institutions are a part of a greater movement in both the United States and Canada. The goal of many of these groups is to demand that their institutions cut ties with Israel and recognize Palestinian genocide

The encampment at the U of C was set up on May 9 at 5 a.m., by students from the Mohkinstsis (Calgary) Student Movement at the Taylor Family Digital Library Quad. By midnight, the encampment was dispersed and taken down by the Calgary Police which sparked backlash from the student community. Suleiman spoke in support of the encampments at the U of C.

“I want to express my gratitude to the brave students and the courageous students that have braved night in night out day in day out here at the encampment,” said Suleiman. 

Photo By Daman Singh

Omar Suleiman is the President of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research and a professor of Islamic Studies at Southern Methodist University. He visited Edmonton on May 11 and spoke after the University of Alberta encampments were shut down by the Edmonton Police Service. Video footage from the People’s University For Palestine YEG Instagram shows police beating students and leaving injuries.

Screenshot from Waqar Khan (@/awaqark on Instagram). May 11, 2024

“Your encampments are so potent of a weapon against their oppression that they need to resort to unjustified, unnecessary force to try to shut you down because they know that they can’t compete with the very real images of genocide,” Suleiman continued. 

He encouraged the crowd to continue their advocacy for Palestine despite opposition from law enforcement and university administration. 

“My message to this encampment that was brutalized and shut down in the nights before, every single time they tear down an encampment, build another one,” said Suleiman. “Every single time they shut down a protest, they start a new one. Every single time they intimidate, escalate.”

Besan Jadalowen, member of the Palestinian Advocacy Club states that the club sent a joint letter with other organizations on campus to the Office of the President at the U of C. The club received an email this morning and, according to Jadalowen, there is the possibility of conversation between administration and students. 

“There is progress and we will open dialogue and create change,” said Jadalowen. 

Following Suleiman, Salam Kafri, media spokesperson for the University of Calgary encampment addressed the crowd. 

“This is an academic space. My understanding is this is public land, this is stolen land. And it is a right for students who contribute to the tuition to this university to make our voices heard,” said Kafri.

“We [had] the blessings of indigenous leaders and elders to be on stolen land. And it is our right to peacefully protest a matter that has made us complicit in genocide.”

Kafri called out the actions of the U of C and the Calgary Police’s response on Thursday, May 9. 

“Administration chose to protect their stolen land, instead of their students,” he said. “Calgary Police resorted to using force to disperse protesters and made arrests, although, promises were made that that would not be the case if we cleaned up our own encampments.” 

Photo By Daman Singh

“This resulted in many individuals injured and many bruised and broken bones. And although students have been forced off the encampments, we have not abandoned the cause.”

Kafri critiqued the U of C mottos and signs around campus pointing out the irony in the signs in consideration with the response to the encampments. 

“‘Be a trailblazer’ they say, but don’t make too much noise. ‘Be disruptive’, but not that kind of disruptive. They want us to be changemakers, but call us troublemakers when we try to instill change.” Kafri continued, “Shame on these systemic colonial systems that still exist.”

Ending his talk, Kafri stated that this cause isn’t a single religion issue, that it goes beyond muslims.

“This cause is bigger than muslims. It cannot be categorized by a single religion.”

Halfway through the protest and speakers, police were spotted in the area observing from a distance. 

Conflict between organizers due to transgender and queer exclusion

On May 17, the original encampment group, the Calgary Student Movement posted a statement on their instagram condemning the actions of those organizing Suleiman’s visit to the U of C.

“We denounce in the strongest terms the offensive behaviour exhibited by the organizers of the Omar Suleiman event at the University of Calgary on Sunday May 12,” read the statement. “The organizers of the event made the reprehensible decision to intentionally cover the 2SLGBTQIA+ progress flag painted on the stairs of MacEwan Hall using a tarp.”

Statement then describes how members of the Calgary Student Movement were able to compel the organizers to remove the tarp.

This story is being updated as the situation progresses. 

Last updated May 17, 2024 at 1:28 p.m.

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