From Michael Rakowitz at Northwestern University

Dear President Jackson,

My name is Michael Rakowitz. I am an artist and an Associate Professor
in the Department of Art Theory and Practice at Northwestern
University. I am writing to you in support of Wafaa Bilal, who is a
friend of mine and an esteemed colleague who has produced many
fascinating works of art that deal with the Iraq War through his own

I urge you to overturn your decision to suspend the presentation of
Wafaa’s Virtual Jihadi project, an artwork that RPI bravely supported.
While not everyone may agree with the artist’s politics or the work
itself, it is imperative that the work be seen, from the very basic
reasons concerning free speech, to the discomfort that the work
creates in the viewer. Clearly, Wafaa’s work does not  purport to make
its audience feel good. The subject matter alone—war—should create
uneasiness. But the work also teaches us a number of other
uncomfortable  facts: introduced to Wafaa’s avatar, we learn that his
brother and father were killed in the war; we learn that fighters are
recruited, by the US Army and by Al Qaeda, using online video games;
we also learn how easily populations become radicalized, whether
through casualties incurred, or through the presentation of
information, as is the case with certain members of RPI’s community.

We all know that federal agents had already informed campus officials
that Wafaa was not a person of interest. There is no wrongdoing on the
part of the artist or of the artwork itself. It is raising a
complicated issue that draws passionate responses on all sides. This
country, and especially its learning institutions, need to accommodate
the resulting discourse and debate. It is what this country was built
upon. It is these liberties and human rights that Wafaa risked his
life to attain, here in this country. Please do not betray his belief.
Please do not betray our belief, that we can make our national
situation better by providing platforms for discourse, capable of
embracing all opinions and views. If it is these freedoms that we are
indeed fighting for, then now, more than ever, we need to see them in

President Jackson, please be brave and do the right thing and reopen
Wafaa Bilal’s work at RPI with an admission that the school was wrong
to close it in the first place.

With best regards,

Michael Rakowitz


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