Middle East studies in the News
A New Free Speech Movement, Starting With Alumni
by Ronald S. Lauder
Forty years ago, in the fall of 1964, when I was in school at the University of Pennsylvania, something happened on the opposite end of the country that affects all of us to this day. That something was erroneously called the Berkeley Free Speech Movement - one of the great misnomers of all time - and it swept over campuses across America. But instead of leading to freer speech and an open dialogue of ideas - something colleges and universities should always strive toward - it has led to just the opposite. Today, our academic institutions have been thoroughly subverted by a mind numbing political correctness and left-leaning bias that rarely - if ever - allows for opposing viewpoints, whether they come from students, faculty, or outside speakers.
Though this movement disappeared from the headlines and feels as out of date today as the clothing and hairstyles of the 1960s, its impact is still with us and as strong as ever. Since 1964, leftist political theory - whether it is taught in history, economics, or Middle East studies - has become the mainstay of intellectual thought, as the students of the 1960s have become today's professors. Four decades later, these former students are now the heads of departments. They teach our children. They control an important debate in many of our institutions. And, perhaps most important, they decide which graduate students become tomorrow's professors. All of which is well and good if they offered a free exchange of ideas as they preach their own. Sadly, this is not always the case, in spite of their loud protests to the contrary.
Professors without tenure who don't believe that all of the world's ills emanate from Washington understand they have to keep silent if they desire any advancement in their careers. It's no different for undergrads. In the real world, the majority of people who read the ravings of the extreme end of this point of view - from the likes of Noam Chomsky of MIT - dismiss it immediately for what it is, beyond the pale of rational thought. Part of this is because the vast majority of the population who live outside academia don't have lifetime job guarantees through tenure and, frankly, can't identify with that life. To anyone in the business world, these ideas just don't seem based in reality. To many outsiders, universities seem as foreign as Mars - and as hospitable.
Much has been said lately of this problem. And it's not exactly news that there is a vast discrepancy of leftist versus conservative thinking within the ivy walls. But in the academic world, where all ideas should be thrashed out, these are the people who hold sway. And it's in this universe where people not only discuss, but deeply believe that Washington brought on the September 11 attacks because of its "racist" treatment of people in the third world ... and it is there that this view is taken seriously. In this world Islamic fundamentalism is not the problem, it is Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, which is viewed as the evil post-colonial oppressor of the Palestinian masses. And if, God forbid, a professor or student may openly agree with the views of the Republican Party on campus (along with the majority of Americans as evidenced in our most recent election), the airing of these contrary opinions can be the kiss-of-death to future advancement or grades. Witness the recent one-sided nature of faculty voting and contributions to the Kerry campaign. On some faculties, the number of liberals to conservatives runs at 20-to-1 ratio. Readers may be surprised it's not worse.
This bias against America or any democracy knows no bounds, while at the same time it dismisses or pays only lip service to the true evils on the other side of the equation. Never mind the lack of democracy in much of the world or the horrible treatment of women from Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia, never mind the festering hatred taught to Moslem children, never mind the intolerance of all other religions and the destruction of sacred religious sites. These professors also conveniently refuse to acknowledge the growing and ugly anti-Semitism coming from the left.
Instead, in this view, it is America that is oppressing the inhabitants of the third world. It is America that has been the great terrorist. (Somehow, the lessons of the millions of people who died under Communist dictatorships are often left out of the lectures). And in this limited worldview, the greatest threat to our civilization comes not from the army of terrorists who have openly and repeatedly called for jihad on the West, but Christians here in America.
It's almost impossible to remember a time when universities rallied around the president and Washington, but there was such a time. It occurred after Pearl Harbor. In the present climate, it is almost laughable to think of colleges acting in a similar fashion in 2004. Today, instead of support coming from academic institutions, there is derision, skepticism, and outright falsehoods. Yet it is precisely the expertise of universities, especially the Middle East Studies departments, that our country needs most right now to fight a very serious war against Islamic fundamentalism. Yet it is precisely these departments that are often the most critical of America.
This argument against America fits perfectly into the worldview of the far left. While ignoring the evils on the other side, they take aim at our own institutions without any fear of a counter debate. It's all so simple. But the good news is that this argument falls apart with any degree of inspection. And there's more good news: Many faculty members educated in the 1960s are out of step even with their own students, many of whom see these views flat-out wrong.
Having an open debate on issues is crucial today more than ever. Having a free flow of ideas helps students as well as the rest of us. But turning this around is not an overnight process. Imagine a super-tanker steaming full speed. Just slowing it down is an endeavor when the people at the helm are either incapable or unwilling to do so. But this doesn't mean it can't be done.
Thousands of alumni send money to their alma maters every year. They do so with fond memories of their time spent in college and gratitude for the training they received and for their achievements in life. But too often, their money goes to fund faculty who, at times, project views that are antithetical to the beliefs of these funders.
It's fine to donate money to your college. I can think of no better institutions in our country to be the recipients of your philanthropy. But get to know your alumni association, follow the news at your college, do your homework, and don't be afraid to ask questions. The next time you fill out that check, make sure your money is designated to some place or someone whose viewpoints wouldn't make you cringe.
Finally, what I am arguing for is not censorship or a right-wing agenda on campus or in our country. What I would like to see is something we don't see much of these days in universities - a free flow of ideas on all sides. In other words, let's call it free speech.
Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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