On Friday, well-known Palestinian writer and activist Mohammed El-Kurd spoke to an audience of a little more than 50 students and community members on WCU campus. El-Kurd, 23-years-old, is a controversial figure who has had his presence challenged on multiple college and university campuses across the country. Some see him as a crucial voice for the Palestinian population, while others consider his views and rhetoric anti-Semitic. In the recent past, his presence has caused controversy at both Georgetown University and American University, where El-Kurd’s presence was protested and petitioned.
There were students present at the event on campus Friday in opposition to the talk, distributing flyers and speaking to attendees as they entered. These students believe that Kurd’s poetry and tweets have shown repeated and clear examples of anti-Semitisim, including blood libel. Supporters of El-Kurd cite his work with groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace as evidence of the contrary. Although he is surrounded by many different accusations and controversies, El-Kurd’s event on Friday was relatively calm, consisting of reading some original poetry, descriptions of his personal experiences, as well as a brief question-and-answer period.
I had the chance to speak to Mohammed briefly, who said that he was grateful for the students attending and listening to his words, and for the faculty for the invitation to speak as well as their advocacy for his appearance. After the main event, El-Kurd took time to sign copies of his book of poetry, “Rifqa,” as well as to converse with students and staff. Despite controversies at other institutions, even the counterprotests at this event were relatively quiet and unobtrusive.
El-Kurd also acknowledged that there had been controversy surrounding his visit, commenting on the design choices of flyers that had been distributed earlier, calling him an anti-Semite. Despite the numerous allegations, there weren’t any notable examples of these comments while E-Kurd spoke; instead, he detailed specific experiences and situations he faced in his childhood, like the dispossession and seizure of his family home by Israeli settlers. He mentioned that Palestinian building permits in Israel have “a rejection rate of 94%, and an even larger 99% in the West Bank.” Although the poetry written about these scenarios have created tension and drawn criticism before, El-Kurd was more focused on explaining his thoughts behind the poems and giving the context that his quoted work often lacks. For example, he explained the details and legal trouble both his own family and their eight neighboring families were dealing with in keeping their homes when he wrote a specific poem before sharing it — giving a different meaning to his words than what can be taken away when they are read as a fragmented quote on a website.
El-Kurd did mention his distaste for unnecessary glamorization of his own tragedy, saying, “I’m not one of those poets, I don’t trauma dump. You’re not my therapist.” His use of humorous tone was one of the few reminders of his age, something that is quickly forgotten when he describes his own life.
El-Kurd made clear his belief in the power of humor over art, because of the ability to relate interpersonally through laughter. While he is a writer by trade, he added, “I couldn’t read a poem to a checkpoint and watch it collapse.” He did also note some personal experiences in America that changed his worldview, describing his time in Atlanta and the suffering he saw in the forms of police brutality, homelessness and mass incarceration. As he listed the experiences he had in our country, he highlighted the realization he had: that suffering was not limited to regions with a history of conflict, but rather that it is everywhere, even in the U.S. and other nations typically associated with a high standard of living.
Mohammed El-Kurd is currently the Palestine correspondent for The Nation magazine.
Henry Campbell is a third-year English major. HC933776@wcupa.edu