WASHINGTON (JTA) -- More than 350 students and alumni at Brandeis University called on columnist Martin Peretz to apologize for saying Muslims do not value human life or deserve free speech.
"Recently, in your September 4th column, you claimed that Muslims don't value human life, that they are soft on terrorism, and that you wish to strip them of their First Amendment Rights," said the letter to the editor in chief of the New Republic, initiated on Saturday by Innermost Parts, a blog by students at the suburban Boston, nonsectarian Jewish university. "That was unacceptable, irresponsible, and wrong."
Peretz, a 1959 Jewish graduate of the university, posted an item on his TNR blog, the Spine, about the recent controversy over an Islamic center planned for within three blocks of the site of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The post concluded: "Frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by Imam [Feisal Abdul] Rauf," the center's chief planner, "there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood. So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse."
By midday Monday, the protest letter had 364 signatories. Among its co-sponsors were J Street U, the Brandeis affiliate of the dovish pro-Israel lobby, and the Muslim Student Association.
On Monday, he apologized for his comments on the First Amendment, but would not retract the statement about Muslim life being cheap.
"I do not think that any group or class of persons in the United States should be denied the protections of the First Amendment, not now, not ever," he said.
Of his contention that Muslim life is cheap, he said, "This is a statement of fact, not value."
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