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Brown Forecast: Low 20's and Plenty of Smug By: Sean Quigley
Brown Daily Herald | Monday, March 05, 2007


I grew up in Rhode Island, though my family is not originally from the Northeast. Both of my parents originate from the southwestern part of Pennsylvania, having moved here when I was an infant for job-related reasons. When they were preparing to move to Ivy country, common advice from friends back home ranged from "watch out for that Northeast elitism" to "prepare for some Ivy League smug." And just as my parents received the aforementioned advice from many friends, so too would I willingly dispense it to any newcomer in the Northeast.

Now, you may suggest that Northeasterners in general are the smug ones, and that Brown students who come here from outside become unfairly characterized by this undesirable trait. On the contrary, I believe that the insufferably liberal Ivy League students and professors who move to the Northeast to partake in the elite academy cause Northeasterners in general to be viewed as smug. In other words, Ivy League pretentiousness gives the whole region a bad name.

I do not have the time to fully explain why describing the Ivies as pretentious is an accurate assessment, but I feel that many people's personal experiences will vindicate my assertions. We all know the stereotype of the whiny liberal, with a protest sign in one hand and a fair trade coffee in the other, is alive and well here at Brown. But that is not the worst form of pretentiousness that is displayed at our beloved University.

Let us return to the night of Feb. 7, when Nonie Darwish spoke in Salomon 101. I attended her lecture and found it to be rather provocative, if slightly unrefined. But I am glad that Darwish had the courage to speak to a frequently hostile audience. Considering her view that Muslim radicals and Arab culture are at odds with modernity is so politically incorrect, she was especially bold.

Yet many of my fellow students did not seem to appreciate Darwish's coming to speak at Brown. During the question and answer session, one gentleman, in a valiant display of soundbyte bravery, took it upon himself to denounce the "way in which (Darwish) was brought here" and openly sought "to embarrass the people who brought (her) here."

Although this gentleman's beliefs were hard to discern, I concluded from the rant that his objection to Darwish's lecture was the very fact that it took place. He seemed to make an ill-constructed parallel between the forced repression of free speech in virtually the entire Muslim world and the fact that Darwish "forced" her views on the Brown population.

His objections were reminiscent of the David Horowitz incident of March 2001, when angry students stole 5,000 copies of The Herald because Horowitz had dared to question the victimhood of blacks. On Feb. 7, a new Horowitz (Darwish) came to question the victimhood of another group (Muslims) and to express doubts about the assertion that America and its "Zionist-Jew allies" are responsible for all the Muslim world's problems.

Drawing primarily from years of personal experience, Darwish concluded that Islamic culture was the main culprit responsible for the troubles facing the Muslim world. But such an "insensitive" viewpoint was heresy in the eyes of many Brown students.

I suppose the value of free speech has a caveat: One can never criticize a "victim."

Later in the night, some questioners attempted to seize their 15 minutes (literally) of fame by quoting obscure passages from Darwish's book and past statements, and attempting to disprove them by citing information immaterial to the discussion at hand. Invariably, these students were reading what appeared to be prepared statements, which digressed from the topics Darwish actually addressed. That sort of thing makes me wonder if those students even listened to her lecture.

Other students tried to attack Darwish's credibility, focusing on her lack of a formal doctoral degree. Repeatedly, students criticized Darwish for not being a "scholar of Islam" or for not having the paper credentials they deemed indispensable for the formation of a valid opinion. I suppose that Darwish's having lived in Egypt for 30 years, where she received an extensive education in the despicability of the Americans and the Jews, was a trivial detail. Ditto to the fact that the Israeli Defense Forces killed her father in a targeted assassination. She didn't have a Ph.D., so she knew nothing.

This is precisely the sort of elitism my family was warned against when it moved to the Northeast. The sort of snobbery that refuses to believe that reasonable people can disagree. The sort of snobbery that refuses to give due consideration to a fellow human's perspective - that places little value on actual experience, but limitless value on a diploma under glass.

True, the night of Nonie Darwish's lecture may have been an isolated incident, when a few liberal students vented their frustrations by spewing personal attacks that failed to contest the actual content of Darwish's speech. But to me, this seemed like just another manifestation of Northeastern smug. Although, since I don't have a doctorate, I probably don't have a right to an opinion.

Mrs. Darwish, when defending herself against the attack that she was not "worthy" to speak at Brown and to offer an opinion, asserted, "I do meet the criteria of a human being." I, for one, am willing to accept that.

Sean Quigley '10 sometimes drinks fair-trade coffee because it's the only type available at Brown.

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