Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Rick, You Blew It

Rick Martinez wrote in his Oct 6 N&O column that Duke was cowardly, caving in to "political correctness" by allowing the PSM conference.

Even a moment's thought reveals this is absurd. It would have been much easier for us not to host the conference. There would have been less debate, fewer heated discussions, and fewer unsettling disagreements. In fact, we could just not have any discordant ideas at all, and never argue with each other. Duke could look like this.

But debate, discussions, and even unsettling disagreements are the reasons we have universities. True, if Duke had denied PSM, we would not have violated the 1st Amendment. It is also true putting PSM off would have denied our students, our faculty, and the larger community an opportunity to learn, and to speak out in opposition if that is their desire.

As a fellow conservative, I generally enjoy and appreciate Mr. Martinez's commentaries. But as a conservative in the academy, I recognize just how important a universal commitment to real freedom of expression can be. You are dead wrong on this one, Rick.

When I was asked by PSM if my Department would co-sponsor, I readily agreed, and gave money. Nonetheless, if you come to Duke's campus, you will find me outside, joining those protesting PSM's message. I disagree with PSM vehemently. But I defend Duke's decision to sponsor the conference just as vehemently. Note to Rick: C'mon over! You'll get angry. And you might even learn something.


Anonymous said...

Sadly, Canada...well Concordia did not follow Duke's example. Two years ago, the campus was rocked by violent protest when Netanyahu tried to speak (emphasis on tried as he never actually got in a word before windows and such were broken). On Tuesday, Concordia made the great decision that mob rule is acceptable and disallowed Ehud Barak the right to speak on campus (yes, he was sponsored by a recognized student group). A wonderful post from a McGill History professor of his speech given at a protest of the weak Concordia administration follows below.

Tommy the Canuck

Concordia's weak response to the public's outrage at its actions can be found at:

Montréal] has barred former Israeli Prime
Minister Ehud Barak from speaking on campus, citing a "security risk
assessment" that deems hosting him too dangerous.

There was a rally today [Oct. 5] at Concordia calling for academic
freedom. The speakers were Jason Portnoy (the student who invited
Barak), the Rev. Darryl Gray (a minister and an activist), the head of
the Concordia Student Union, and me. I was dressed in full academic
regalia. Here are my remarks:

------- ------- -- -------- --------
I usually don these robes once a year –- for graduation. And I tell you,
it never fails. Every time I wear these academic robes –- with their
origins stretching back to the Middle Ages –- it fills me with awe, it
offers a living link to an illustrious tradition, it reaffirms the
values I cherish, it reminds me why I became an academic. To me, these
robes represent the ideals of academic freedom, of vigorous thought, of
open inquiry, of mutual respect, of civility, of learning from one
another –- even those with whom we might disagree.

Usually I wear these robes to march with dozens of other colleagues in
an academic processional, to welcome thousands of graduates into the
“company of educated men and women.” I usually feel proud, I feel
pleased, I delight in the achievements of my colleagues and our students.

Unfortunately today, I stand before you feeling very alone, feeling very
concerned, feeling very sad. Where are my colleagues to stand up for the
values of academic freedom so central to the mission of the university?
Where are the students, from the left and from the right, black and
white, Jew and non-Jew, to stand united and say, “we are here, we are
ready, to defend the free and open and civil inquiry so essential to our
educations, both in the classroom and outside.”

I’m well aware that I’m a guest here on this particular campus -– and I
thank the students for inviting me -- but I’m here today because this is
an issue that affects us all. And I stand before you in these academic
robes, not as a Harvard man, and not as a McGill professor.

I stand here as a concerned and outraged member of the academic
community, I stand here as someone who has devoted his life to
fulfilling these fundamental academic and democratic ideals which are
under assault today. I am wearing these robes as a challenge – every
time we are forced to rely on police to escort a guest to campus – let
alone bar him or her from speaking – we fail as academics; we should be
able to provide our own security, if necessary mobilizing in a
multi-colored procession of academic gowns rather than having to cower
behind a thin blue line of noble, brave police officers.

There are three essential facts to this case.

1. Jason Portnoy, a legitimate, full-time, tuition-paying student at
Concordia University wanted to stretch his education by inviting former
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to speak. In so doing he was
exercising a basic right enjoyed by dozens of students on this campus
every year –- and by thousands of students on campuses throughout the
world. Portnoy’s complaint –- if you will –- is a legitimate one. Why is
he being discriminated against, not being allowed to host his choice of
speaker in his academic home?

2. The “security risk assessment” -- and the subsequent decision to ban
Barak from the Concordia campus -- punishes the potential victims and
not the potential perpetrators of the crime. It risks giving hooligans a
violence veto. It is unfathomable to me that the mere threat of violence
can silence speakers, especially one known internationally as a
peacemaker. It is unconscionable for a university to create this kind of
a precedent. And I ask, who’s next, what’s next, what other discussions
will be squelched because they are too “provocative”?

3. Offering an off-campus site is the problem, not the solution. It
implicitly admits that something is broken here, that something is
seriously wrong on this campus. If the good administrators of Concordia,
if my distinguished colleagues, cannot control their own campus. Who,
may I ask, is running the show, just who is in charge?

So I ask again, where are the Administrators, where are the leaders of
this university to make sure this university lives up to its name
Concordia –- and fulfills its academic and CIVILIZING mission?

I ask, where are my colleagues, where is the faculty to defend academic
values of free and vigorous debate and to point out that appeasement is
not peace. The problems here will not be solved until distinguished
guests can be hosted freely and peacefully on this campus?

I ask, where are colleagues from McGill, UQAM, U de M, U of T, and UBC?
As educators are we comfortable with a campus which only gives a
one-sided perspective on any topic, from the Middle East to the Middle
West? Don’t we need to challenge our students to show to them that there
are other perspectives other than Noam Chomsky’s?

I ask, where is the Mayor? Are you, Mr. Mayor, aware of the fact that
here in Montreal we are being told that it is too risky to learn from
the former leader of a sister democracy?

I ask, where is the Premier of this Province, where is the Prime
Minister of this great land. Do you Mr. Charest, do you Mr. Martin,
sleep well at night knowing that fundamental Canadian values of decency,
civility, and dialogue are being threatened under your watch, that there
is no peace, no order, no good government, when we cannot even sit and
reason together on a university campus?

A special word, if I may, to the security forces, to the brave men and
women of Concordia Security, of the local Montréal police, of the Sureté
de Quebec, of the RCMP. We honor your service to us, to your fellow
citizens, to this country. We do not wish to disrespect you or dismay
you – we are not the ones who riot, we are not the ones who cursed you,
we are not the ones who have threatened or now threaten you with violence.

But you know better than any one of us, about the broken windows theory
of policing – that little problems unchecked metastasize into big ones,
just as vandalism becomes a gateway to other crimes, so too does giving
in to intimidation. If we allow trouble to fester, if we don’t stand for
our rights right here, right now, it will only get worse. We simply ask
you to work with us, to protect us -- and to help make it clear who the
potential criminals are -– and how they can be stopped effectively,
legally, equitably.

I know this is a bigger issue. And that’s why I’m here. I know that in
too many places in the world today Israelis are demonized, marginalized,
banned by the forces of unreason who libel even Ehud Barak despite his
peacemaking efforts.

I would love to see pro-Palestinian professors and students here and
elsewhere standing up and saying: I disagree with Ehud Barak, but I will
defend his right to speak; just as I say I disagree with Norman
Finkelstein and literally dozens of other Israel- America- and Canada-
bashers who have spoken here in these last two years, but I just don’t
defend their rights to speak, I welcome the opportunity to learn from
them, to shake up my views.

I know that when rights of free speech and peaceable assembly become
optional not mandatory, when they become contingent on liking those who
wish to speak freely or assemble peaceably, we’re sliding down that
slippery slope to intellectual totalitarianism.

I know that in campuses throughout North America people are struggling
over the boundaries of speech, that there is all too often in too many
places a toxic environment that festers, that politicizes everything,
that polarizes everyone, that divides colleagues, silences dissenters,
and conquers our spirit.

I know that there are too many people –- ironically in the name of
diversity –- who think the “UNI-iversity” means perpetuating only one,
alternative, quite marginal school of thought. And woe to any free
thinkers who deviate from the line of the day, the methodological trend
of the moment, the political perspective of the narrow-minded thought
police who might be temporarily ascendant.

But we know that the university means UNIted in civility to learn from a
DIVERSITY of opinions. Come, let us reason together, come, let us stand
together, come let us fight this assault on us all, Because if we don’t
take that stand right here, right now, it will only get worse and worse.

I said that I was feeling alone in my robes -– and it’s only half true.
When I look out in this crowd, when I see student-heroes like Jason
Portnoy, when I hear about the coalition building with Hillel and
Amnesty International and the CSU [Concordia Student Union], when I’m
honored to share the podium with a blessed peacemaker such as the Rev.
Darryl Gray, I know I am not alone, we are not alone, we will not waver,
and we shall prevail.

Anonymous said...

if only you would explain why you so vehemently disagree with PSM

mungowits said...

Fair enough. More on that next week.

Justin Sabrsula said...

I completely agree with your characterization of this. I have never understood the people at Duke who only want freedom of speech for people who agree with them (see Horowitz controversy when I was a freshman). I think it is wonderful that PSM is coming to campus - more dialogue about Israel-Palestine (or at least group shouting) will happen because of the PSM conference than would have happened all year long without it.