Update About the WorldFest Incident, Including Recent News Articles

Edit (4/26): The newest, (I think) the most clear and useful, and (I hope) the last article about this incident, from whatculture.com’s contributor Aeryk Pierson, who was a third-party witness to the incident.

Edit (4/25): One last Houston Chronicle article, that was posted online on Wednesday (4/24).

Edit (8pm): Just as I was writing this post, a sort-of apology was posted on the World Fest Facebook page.  Please feel free to read the post on their Facebook page, but I will also quote it at the bottom of this post so it is easier to find.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to give an update on the WorldFest incident and what has been happening in the last two days.  I thought the initial post was becoming too heavy with edits and updates. On the other hand, I’m worried that people will not see this update because the news stories have so far linked to my initial post.

In any case, just to fill everyone in who may (or may not) care:

As of 7:00pm on Tuesday, three separate online news sources have covered the story:

Houston Press, The Houston Chronicle, and Culture Map Houston.

These articles attempt to portray both sides of the story: my brother’s and Hunter Todd’s, and for the most part they have been fair.  The Houston Press article ran mostly based upon my blog and my brother’s facebook post. They attempted to contact Hunter Todd without success, but later added his response when he contact them.  The Houston Chronicle article interviewed Hunter Todd, but only ran with the information  from Mike’s facebook post. Mike later contacted the Chronicle because they had a few facts wrong, which they have now changed, but they did not add any additional comments from Mike. The Culture Map article did interview BOTH Hunter Todd and Mike.  I think Hunter Todd’s responses in each article speak for themselves.  I found it terrifying that Hunter Todd does not deny searching the Muslim student’s bag, and even explains that he did so BECAUSE she was wearing a hijab and demands: “What am I supposed to do?  Allow a terrorist to blow up 200 people?” (quoted in the Houston Chronicle article). THAT, my friends, is the DEFINITION of profiling.

I am concerned about a few things, however. Hunter Todd is resorting to character attacks on my brother, calling him a liar – particularly in regards to Mike’s claim that Hunter Todd tried to take his phone.  AND YET, at least one University of Houston student and one other WorldFest attendant (who commented on my initial blog) have CONFIRMED that Hunter Todd did in fact try to take Mike’s phone.  Unfortunately, neither the Houston Chronicle article nor the Culture Map article have included this information (and the Houston Press article only briefly mentions it), despite the fact that both witnesses said they were willing to go on record to corroborate the story. Thus, the news stories make it LOOK as if it is merely a case of he said/he said, with no proof on other side — when in fact TWO witnesses CAN and are WILLING to confirm at least parts of my brother’s version of events.

On TOP of this: from what I understand, The School of Communications at University of Houston have written a formal letter in defense of both the Muslim student and my brother.  Apparently, Hunter Todd has given a response.  I do not know what either letter contained, however, because the School of Communications has so far made neither their letter nor the response public.  This is unfortunate, as the fact that no one is aware that the University has become involved makes it even easier for Hunter Todd to attack Mike’s character with impunity, because the news articles present Mike as if he is a lone unsupported voice.  I fervently hope that the School of Communications, and preferably the whole University, will publicly support both the Muslim student and my brother and help to defend them both from accusations of lying.

And let me add this: Obviously, I was not at the event and I did not witness this incident. I am only involved so far as spreading the word is concerned. But I believe and trust my brother.  Besides which, what POSSIBLE motive could he have for lying about ANY of this?  I hope you all who have showed an interest and concern about this will continue to support us, and particularly my brother, as this situation moves forward, because I fear it is going to get worse before it gets better, and I do not want my brother to run under the bus because he was trying to do the right thing.

Thank You.

PS: on a side note, some of the comments on the Houston Chronicle article are absolutely HORRIFYING, and just go to show how far and how deep these ignorant, racist, Islamaphobic attitudes run. It makes me horribly sad.

The “apology” post from the World Fest Houston Facebook page:

WorldFest sincerely regrets any actions that were misconstrued or deemed offensive due to the recent situation during the organization’s master class at the Westchase Marriott this past weekend. WorldFest organizers acted on instinct for the safety of all based on the recent events in Boston. The emergency alarm and evacuation of the hotel resulted in great concern for the organization which felt its actions were justified to protect the well-being of all participants. WorldFest apologizes for responding in a way that may have seemed insulting but ultimately, everyone’s safety was the primary concern.

WorldFest plans to increase security in 2014 so festival staff can focus solely on enriching Houston’s film culture. WorldFest strives to provide a safe environment for persons of every background to collaborate with and learn from international film and filmmakers through cultural exchange, dialogue and master classes. As always, the festival and all of its events are open to the general public. We hope every culture, religion and nationality will be represented in the 47th annual WorldFest-Houston, April 2014.

Hunter Todd
WorldFest Founder and Chief Executive Officer

I hope you’ll forgive me for giving my own opinion of this post (I suppose I should just let you come to your own conclusions, but it is my blog, so I guess I’m entitled to share my opinion). This is the worst kind of false apology, one I’ve seen many times under a variety of circumstances, in which the person apologizes but insisted it was all a big misunderstanding, and thus not REALLY his/her fault, and implying that it is really the victim’s fault for “misconstruing” and therefore over-reacting. Furthermore, this “apology” such as it is only apologizes for what he claims was a legitimate security concern (which is ludicrous), and does not even admit to the secondary problem: that Hunter Todd did, in fact, have physical contact with my brother and tried to take his phone.  I hope the public will see this frantic face-saving move for the B.S. it is.

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