IN THE SPRING OF 2001, I embarked on a widely reported campaign to place ads against slavery reparations in 70 college newspapers across the country. The ad was titled, "Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery Is A Bad Idea – And Racist Too." More than half the newspapers refused to print the ads on political grounds because the opinions expressed were anathema to the political left. Despite the fact that the ads were reasonable statements of a widely accepted point of view, the censoring editors claimed that the content was "insensitive," and that it would be "offensive" to members of the college community.
On the other hand, papers that had the temerity to stand up to the censors were subjected to attacks that were alarming. Editors who printed the ad were denounced as "racists." There was physical intimidation; protest demonstrations were staged at editorial offices; there was theft and destruction of newspapers and demands that the money paid for the ad be turned over to the protest groups; and there were appeals to college authorities to withdraw their support for an unruly and independent press. These attacks were led by a small but determined coalition of hard leftist groups – black separatists, self-styled "Communists," and "anti-globalist" Marxists, who are the enforcers of political correctness on a range of issues. After the World Trade Center attacks of 9/11, the same coalition reappeared on campuses spear-heading demonstrations to denounce America’s "racist war on terror."
During the reparations debate, faculty academics who had a better grip on the intellectual issues than the raucous protesters, and who normally could be expected to champion free speech, were uncharacteristically silent. Their reticence was understandable. In the current campus climate, being called a "racist" – whether by campus extremists or merely the emotionally overwrought -- can spell the end of a professional career.
One of those absent from the field of this battle was Harvard Law Professor, Alan Dershowitz, usually an aggressive seeker of the public spotlight, when issues like free speech are at stake. His familiar voice was nowhere to be heard in a controversy in his own backyard. (The leaders of the reparations movement are his colleagues at the law school and the Harvard Crimson was one of the papers that initially turned down the ad). But now – a year after the fact --Dershowitz has come forward to attack the book I have written about these events, and to join the left’s campaign to make me rather than those who attempted to silence me the villain of the piece. In the process, he has provided a case study of how – in matters of race -- the liberal mind can seduce itself into betraying the very principles it claims to defend.
I wrote Uncivil Wars to record events, which reveal that on matters of race American university campuses are -- virtually without exception -- the most conformist and repressive institutions in America. In the present atmosphere of "political correctness," not even the president of Harvard can ask one of his most highly paid professors to refrain from giving all his students A’s or to produce a modicum of scholarly work without being accused of "subtle" racial harassment -- because the derelict professor happens to be black -- and suffering a humiliating public defeat. Half the text of Uncivil Wars is a documentation of what took place on campuses where a totalitarian left ran amuck intimidating everyone in its path, but encountered no notable opposition -- and indeed enjoyed a great deal of support -- from university administrators and faculty members.
The Dershowitz attack appeared in the Los Angeles Times Book Review on June 2, 2002 and was called "Bully Pulpit:"
[Horowitz] claims that the subject of his book is an idea: the "dubious idea of reparations" and in a larger sense "the intellectual vulgarities of American universities in an age of ‘political correctness." This is a misleading characterization of Uncivil Wars, which is, in fact, all about Horowitz and his in-your-face brand of confrontation. Reparations are an important symbol of black solidarity on college campuses, and his ad was calculated to stir raw emotions. If it was accepted for publication, he knew it would create a backlash against the editors who agreed to publish it. If it was rejected, he knew he could cry "censorship."
This attempt to turn the victim of an attack into its perpetrator is based on a falsification of what actually took place. As I made clear in Uncivil Wars, the ad was originally written as an article for the left-liberal Internet magazine, Salon.com, where its publication caused no particular clamor. Salon’s editors responded in a way that one would expect of a free press -- by inviting a supporter of reparations to respond. That was both the end of the matter and the reason I emphatically did not expect a nationwide uproar to follow the ad I culled from its text nine months later. The outrages that occurred on college campuses were entirely a result of the sorry state of the democratic ethos on American campuses, and had nothing to do with my "confrontational" personality. If my ad was guilty of anything it was the exotic use of candor to criticize an idea, reparations, which is both politically extreme and historically absurd but also a shibboleth for the campus left.
Like the left, Dershowitz insists on portraying my offense as an insult to black people in general, a particularly damaging smear. By characterizing reparations as an "important symbol of black solidarity," Dershowitz implies that my attack on reparations is an attack on the black community in the same way that an attack on the cross or the American flag might be taken as an attack on Christians or Americans. By failing to exhibit proper deference to this symbol, I am guilty of being both a "bully" and "tone-challenged." While Dershowitz concedes that I am "not a racist," this does not let me off the racial hook: "[Horowitz’s] animus is based not on the color of people’s skin but on their attitudes regarding race; he is a race-issue-baiter." I wonder how many people listening to that sound bite would catch the difference. And what is a "race-issue-baiter" anyway? In this case someone who thinks that calling for reparations that will be paid to blacks who were not slaves by individuals of many races who had nothing to with slavery, might be, well, racially divisive and a bad idea.
Reparations for slavery 137 years after the fact is not a community symbol. It is a sectarian policy, historically promoted by a political fringe. It is only in the last year that reparations has been accepted by a majority of black Americans, and that is mainly because there has been so little opposition – thanks to these tactics of intimidation -- from the vast majority who are opposed to reparations. The black majority for reparations is smaller percentage-wise in fact than the black majority that cheered OJ Simpson’s acquittal and thought of him as an innocent victim of racial persecution. Does Dershowitz think Marcia Clark, Chris Darden and other believers in OJ’s guilt were racially insensitive to a symbol of "black solidarity"?
In other controversies over community symbols – for example the push for a Constitutional amendment to ban flag burning or the flap over NEA funding for "Piss Christ" – Dershowitz was on the other side of the battle lines. But for Dershowitz – and many other First Amendment liberals – issues affecting blacks are apparently an exception, because they see blacks as, well, defenseless victims: "Horowitz is something of a bully, since he is a mature adult who knows how to take advantage of the sensitivities and emotions of young students."
It was an ad, Alan! Describing 20-year-old hooligans as sensitive violets moreover is absurd. Dershowitz’s reference is to militants who burst into student editorial offices to demand recantations of "racism" and money besides. These are the militants whom university administrators considered dangerous enough to assign between ten and thirty armed police officers at every campus appearance I made. At the University of Wisconsin, the "Multicultural Students Coalition" organized a mob so menacing outside the Badger-Herald that campus police advised the student editors to lock themselves in their dorm rooms for their own protection. The Coalition then demanded space from the Cardinal, a rival campus paper which they used to denounce the Badger-Herald as a "racist propaganda machine." The mob leader, a 22-year-old radical named Tshaka Barrows, told the Cardinal that "only whites can be racist." Barrows’ father Paul, is the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs. When the intimidation campaign failed to destroy the offending paper, Barrows Sr. organized 72 University of Wisconsin administrators, among them advisors to the besieged editors to sign yet another ad reprimanding their students for having committed an act that was "destructive to the community and our joint humanity." Some sensitivity!
When the dust cleared, the Multicultural Students Coalition stepped up to the plate to demand that the student government provide them with $1.5 million in student funds to repair the damage that had been done by the publication of the ad. This reparations demand was successful. The Multicultural Students Coalition was given $1 million to fund its operations for the coming year. Compare this to the $500 that provided to conservative groups like the Students for Objectivism for their operations.
In attacking my efforts, Dershowitz was not only defending the student racialists, but also their mentors:
Horowitz is a master in the art of overstatement. He describes professor Charles Ogletree as exhibiting ‘hostility to America generally and to white Americans in particular.’ Now I may lack some objectivity with regard to this accusation because Ogletree is my colleague at Harvard Law School. But in all the years I have known him, both as a student and as colleague, I have never heard him express anti-American or anti-white sentiments. Nor does Horowitz quote or cite a single word uttered by Ogeltree, beyond his support for reparations that would justify such a defamatory characterization.
Ogletree is a leader of the reparations movement. His rationale for reparations from a government that had gone to war to end slavery, that had sent federal troops to end southern segregation, that had outlawed discrimination nationally and spent trillions of dollars to help black Americans was this:
It’s been 250 years of slavery, 100 years of Jim Crow legal segregation and we have not fully addressed or remedied the 350 years of direct suffering that African-Americans have endured in the United States.
When asked what he thought the lingering effects of slavery were, Ogletree answered:
Racial profiling, selective incarceration, disparate sentencing, inner city poverty, limited opportunities, the whole issue of economic inequality, substandard health care and other life-threatening health issues. Discriminatory lending practices, redlining, and a host of other issues that are directly related to race. They are as apparent in the twenty-first century as they were in the seventeenth century. (emphasis added)
The idea that America is responsible for every statistical deficit experienced by African Americans and that these oppressions are as evident today as they were more than three hundred years ago, would seem to qualify as hostility. Particularly since under the laws and institutions of this country, African Americans have become the richest and freest black people on earth. Contrary to Ogletree, the United States did not inflict 350 years of suffering on blacks no matter what one thinks of this history. The United States was created only 226 years ago and slavery existed for only 78 years from the signing of the Constitution to the emancipation. To include in this indictment, as Ogletree does, the two centuries when slavery was an institution of the British empire, betrays an astonishing indifference to political events (like war and revolution) and to political principles, and indicates instead an animus against all the non-black inhabitants of this continent that one can reasonably conclude is racial. If drawing this conclusion is "overstatement," so be it.
One odd aspect of Dershowitz’s review of Uncivil Wars is that he doesn’t even mention the issue of reparations, which is obviously at the center of the controversy and the book. Is he in favor of reparations or against them? Are the arguments contained in my ad persuasive? Reasonable? Or not? Dershowitz doesn’t say. What are we to make of such intellectual cowardice? The answer really is what Uncivil Wars is about:
"This narrative, then, is about a dubious issue – reparations for slavery – and the fierce response that an effort to initiate a dialogue about this issued caused…. It shows that the term ‘politically correct’ is actually far too genteel a description for what is better understood as a totalitarian mind-set. It reveals, in the inner sanctums of our most elite universities, swamps of almost bottomless ignorance and malice. It makes disturbingly clear that the liberal arts divisions of American institutions of higher learning are breeding grounds of some of the most retrograde ideas and reactionary trends in our political culture and, worse, shows that the behaviors are protected and even encouraged by the guardians of the institutions themselves."
Israel. We must also not take part in a regional conference with Arafat or his representatives. We must not fall into this trap under any circumstances.
"When the Prime Minister turned to me and asked me to take part in the information effort, I responded willingly, and met with many Senators and Representatives. If I had any difficulties in explaining, it was not regarding why we want to expel Arafat; it was why we were *not* expelling him!
"The biggest mistake that was made [a reference to Sharon, among others] was to promise the greatest prize for Palestinian terrorism: the establishment of their own independent state. Most people now feel that a state under Arafat would be a terrorist fortress dedicated to our destruction. But some say that without Arafat, and without the Tanzim, and with a different leadership, things would be different. Let's see if this is true. We want to ensure that such an entity does not receive more than self-rule. But it will demand all the powers of a state, such as controlling borders, bringing in weapons, control of airspace and the ability to knock down any Israeli plane that enters its area, the ability to sign peace treaties and military alliances with other countries. Once you give them a state, you give them all these things, even if there is an agreement to the contrary, for within a short time they will demand all these things, and they will assume these powers, and the world will stand by and do nothing - but it *will* stop us from trying to stop them. We will thus have created with our own hands a threat to our very existence. Arafat said it best when talking to reporters the day he signed the Oslo accords: "Since we can't defeat Israel in war, we must do it in stages, we must take whatever area of Palestine we can get, establish sovereignty there, and then at the right time, we will have to convince the Arab nations to join us in dealing the final blow to Israel.". Self-rule, yes. But a state with which to destroy the State of Israel - no.
"All the Likud governments objected to a Palestinian state, and with that we received our mandate from the public, and to this mandate all Likud leaders are bound. And yet something strange happened here: Without anyone approving it, without any democratic process - not in the party, not in the government, not in the Knesset, and certainly not in the country - but only with some ill-advised remarks [by Sharon in favor of a PA state], one of the foundation stones of our national security has been shaken, and suddenly the position of Sarid and Peres has become the official policy of the Government of Israel - and as a result, also that of the United States. Ladies and gentlemen, is this how critical decisions on our national existence are made??
"Just today we heard in the news that Shimon Peres met with Arafat's top aide, Muhammad Rashid, in order to discuss the 'reforms that must be made in the PA in order to enable a PA state.' We are told that we must not tie the government's hands in this matter - and I say that in this existential matter, we must tie its hands and stop this danger! If we end this evening without a clear decision on this matter, not only will we not stop the train of a PA state, we will even speed it up. For it will mean that the Likud has retreated from its principled positions..."