Faisal Saeed Al Mutar and Yasmine Mohammed at Harvard University, “Fight for Justice Conference”

Event Description:

Written by Harvard CTF fellow Natalie Le

The Students for Liberty “Fight for Justice” conference focused on social issues that both libertarians and progressives generally support, such as reforming the criminal justice system and laxing drug regulations. The intent for this event was to provide student activists and professionals a platform to understand the heart of the issue, engage in civil discourse, and build a collective power. More importantly, the hope was that the conference ignited people to make those efforts realized because while it is fruitful to discuss these ideas, problems still permeate in our community without taking action.

CTF sponsored two panels at this conference.

The first panel, “Freedom from Extremism: How an Ex-Hasidic Jew and the Ex-Wife of Jihadi Fought for Freedom,” featured Yasmine Mohammed, the Founder of Free Hearts Free Minds, and Ari Hershkowitz from the acclaimed Netflix documentary, One of Us. Both revealed how they left ultra-religious communities and the difficulties of acclimating outside of those enclaves. Mohammed shared her story of how she was in a forced marriage with an Al-Qaeda member and immediately left the Islamic fundamentalist household with her daughter after her ex-husband was captured by Canadian authorities. Hershkowitz described how he fell victim to abuse and was deprived of education due to how closed off the Hasidic community is from the outside world. While these two came from different walks of life, what both have in common is their passion for individual freedom and advocating for the protection of it.

The second panel encompassed some of the same ideas, but with a focus on tyrannical governments that just don’t work. Entitled “Escaping from Authoritarianism,” the closing keynote featured Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, the CEO and Founder of Ideas Beyond Borders, and Laura Nicolae, the President of the Harvard Libertarian Club, with Reason Magazine Editor-at-Large, Nick Gillespie, as moderator. Al Mutar described his upbringing during Saddam Hussein’s regime, escaping to the U.S. as a refugee, and founding a non-profit that focuses on promoting open dialogue and inquiry with the goal of preventing authoritarian narratives from taking root. Nicolae shared her parent’s story of how they escaped from communism during the Bolshevik Revolution and criticized students’ appeal for this dangerous ideology and their disdain for capitalism, even though they themselves participate in capitalist mechanisms. These stories further remind us that authoritarianism suppresses personal freedoms and that we ought to be concerned of its increasing appeal to many.

Attendees walked away with an appreciation for the intersectionality of social justice and classical liberalism and the desire to create radical change. Despite how controversial and uncomfortable these ideas are, we need to be challenged and tolerate thoughts and opinions that are in conflict with our belief system. By transforming these ideas and making our passions realized, we can inspire the rest to pursue a freer society.

Media Coverage: Student Activists Fighting for Social Justice at Harvard