by Jonathan Rosenblum
March 18, 2005
The idealized university campus is a place of disinterested intellectual inquiry in the pursuit of truth. The reality could hardly be more different. Two weeks ago, we discussed the manner in which departments of Middle Eastern studies at a number of elite universities have become private fiefdoms in which professors are granted full rein to propagandize their students.
This week we shall discuss the process whereby principles such as free speech, academic freedom, and hate speech are manipulated in order to favor certain groups and harm others. The search for truth has no place in this process.
In our previous column, we quoted a column in the semi-official Egyptian daily Al Ahram written by Professor Hamid Debashi, the Chairman of Columbia University’s department of Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC). Debashi claims, "Half a century of systematic maiming and murdering of another people has left . . . its deep marks on the faces of the Israeli Jews, the way they talk, walk, the way they greet each other. . . There is a vulgarity of character of character that is bone-deep and structural to the skeletal vertebrae of its culture."
Debashi apparently subscribes to Lamarkian genetics. Not only have the alleged actions of Israeli Jews effected changes in their very bone structure, but those changes are transmitted to subsequent generations. Debashi’s depiction of the debased Jewish physiognomy is racism pure and simple. Yet even with all the unwanted publicity focused on MEALAC, no one has suggested that Debashi might be fired or even reprimanded for speaking non-scientific nonsense. The principle of academic freedom is said to protect even the most errant nonsense when spoken by tenured professors.
But let us ask ourselves what would have been the likely response had an Ivy League professor written that black teenagers have distended ears from prolonged exposure to ghetto boomboxes held close to their ears, and wide lips from eating too many watermelons. The hapless professor who made such remarks – even if he were tenured – would quickly find himself summoned for a disciplinary hearing and sensitivity training for injuring the sensitivities of other members of the university community. In addition, his classes would be boycotted and the black students union would stage a sit-in to demand his ouster, which would surely follow.
Two recent cases highlight the degree to which certain favored groups are protected from ever hearing a discouraging word, while it is possible to say whatever one wants about other groups. A professor at the University of Los Vegas was recently forced to forego his next pay increase and endure sensitivity training for making the rather obvious observation that homosexuals, who do not generally have children, show lower rates of saving. Truth was no defense once a student complained that he had been offended.
Actress Jada Pinkett Smith, who was recently honored by the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, must have thought she was being suitably politically correct when she said in her acceptance speech, "Women . . . you can have it all. A . . . devoted husband, loving children, and fabulous career." This rah-rah feminism, however, offended Harvard's Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, and Supporters Alliance with its assumption that women hope for a devoted husband, and so Pinkett-Smith was forced to apologize and the Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, which invited her, is now undergoing sensitivity training.
University of Colorado professor of Ethnic Studies Ward Churchill is one of the familiar breed of academic hucksters. Ethnic Studies, like Middle Eastern Studies, is one of those new academic disciplines that seems to attract a high number of such hucksters. Yet neither the hatefulness of Churchill’s writing, nor his professional incompetence, nor his false claim that he is an American Indian has put his job in danger.
Churchill has written that those who died in 9/11 were "little Eichmanns" and that millions more Americans would have to die to balance the Indians killed by American settlers. In his professional writing, he has argued that American settlers provided Indians with smallpox infected blankets in order to wipe them out. That theory fails to take into account, however, that the means by which smallpox is transmitted would not be known for another century. Yet despite the moral repugnance of his writings on 9/11 and the demonstrable idiocy of his historical accusations, Churchill remains shielded by claims of academic freedom.
No such dispensation, however, exists for Lawrence Summers, the embattled president of Harvard, against whom much of the Harvard faculty has risen in open rebellion. Summers sin: to suggest tentatively, with much hemming and hawing and with many qualifications, that there could be differential aptitudes between men and women in certain scientific disciplines. Summers did not suggest that Harvard should stop seeking to hire qualified woman in scientific or mathematical fields. Nor did he imply that individual differences within genders are not far greater than those between genders, or that there are not many women of sufficient scientific ability to win positions on Harvard’s science faculties. At most, he implied that at the very pinnacle of scientific excellence we should not expect to find exact numerical parity between men and women.
For the heresy of suggesting that men and women might not be identical in every respect, Summers was figuratively drawn and quartered by the faculty. No one seemed particularly interested in debating the proposition that Summers had put forward for discussion; its mere mention as a subject for further academic inquiry was deemed beyond the pale. Neither academic freedom nor free speech protected Summers from Harvard faculty screaming for his scalp.
The only clear distinction between Summers suggestion for further research and Churchill’s rantings is that Summers was arguably right, whereas Churchill’s are incapable of rational defense. There is, for instance, a considerable body of scientific research on innate differences between men and women, including abilities of direct bearing on scientific achievement. And many feminists do not themselves shy away from claiming superior language or empathetic skills for women. Only the claim that men may excel in any particular area dare not raise its head.
One rule seems to emerge from a consideration of various cases in academia where issues of academic freedom and free speech are juxtaposed to the "right" of groups not to be hurt by the speech of others within the academic community: those accorded victim status by the forces of political correctness – women, Palestinians, left-wing professors always win.
This manipulation of "rights" will not surprise anyone in Israel where it is an everyday fact of life. Incitement, for instance, is by definition confined to the political Right or the religious. When a prominent secular figure offers to cast the first stone in an intifada against the chareidim or claims that his greatest public service (and by implication the greatest public service that others could render as well) would be to mow down people in Meah Shearim with a machine gun, however, his remarks are automatically understood by law enforcement authorities to be not really serious or metaphorical.
Tatiana Susskind sat in jail for two years for posting a picture of Mohammed as a pig. But no derogatory remark about Judaism or the great sages of Jewish history is ever deemed actionable. Rabbi Yisrael Eichler was ordered to pay Shulamit Aloni a large fine for calling her an "anti-Semite." But she remains free to say whatever she wants about every aspect of Judaism and every figure of the Torah.
The Supreme Court denied Shmuel Schnitzer an Israel Prize for one column over a journalistic career spanning half a century, because he raised the issue of rampant disease among the Falashmura. But when the Supreme Court was presented with a list of truly hateful statements by Shulamit Aloni, it declared itself to have no jurisdiction over the award of the Israel Prize.
Or consider the time Binyamin Kahane, hy"d, was convicted of incitement by the Israeli Supreme Court on the same day that the identical panel of the Supreme Court, with the same justice writing the opinion, reversed the incitement conviction of an Arab journalist, even though the latter’s remarks were far more likely to encourage violence than those of the former.
And so on and so on. Neither neutral principles nor the pursuit of truth can be allowed to stymie the quest for unchallenged political correctness.
Related Topics: Peace Process
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