Last week belonged to conservatives: Over one hundred campuses across the country hosted events as part of Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, a project initiated by the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Publisher of Frontpagemag.com and a 1959 Columbia University graduate, Horowitz returned to his alma mater Friday, unwelcome to many. "When I came to this campus as a freshman 52 years ago," Horowitz said, "the gates and the atmosphere was a lot more hospitable to actual thinking than it is today." Horowitz was a Marxist as an undergraduate.
Another veteran activist/author who increasingly finds herself on the politically right side of the divide, Phyllis Chesler, spoke during an earlier event at Columbia on Wednesday. Joining her were Ibn Warraq, founder of the Institute for the Secularization of Islamic Society, and Christina Hoff Sommers, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men.
"It is time to take the campus back so that the rights of free speech and academic freedom also apply to those who tell the truth about Islam and who espouse minority and dissident intellectual points of view," Chesler said to the 100-person crowd.
"We’re breaking the taboo of ‘you can’t talk about Islam critically or objectively without risking being called a racist’…. It’s tragic that we need security to do so," she told The Jewish Press, referring to the security guards hired by David Horowitz for the evening.
Chesler and Sommers spoke extensively on the plight of women in Islamic societies. Noting a nascent Islamic feminist movement – "an idea whose time has come" – Sommers said: "We must find effective, intelligent, tactful ways to help [the feminists] in any way we can." She did note, however, that in the eyes of people like former Columbia professor Edward Said and current Columbia professor Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, helping Arab feminists would amount to an "imperialist civilizing mission."
Warraq, author of the recent Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism discussed Said and the "pernicious influence" of Said’s work.
"The [book Orientalism] taught an entire generation of Arabs the art of self pity," he said. It taught them to think, "Were it not for the wicked imperialists, racists and Zionists, we would be great once more…. Instead of bringing the East and West closer…Said created this extraordinary hatred between the two."
After quoting Said – "[E]very European in what he could say about the Orient was consequentially a racist, an imperialist, and totally ethnocentric" – Warraq noted that Arabs today still study books by German scholars on the Middle East. Warruq accused Said of "intellectual terrorism."
"He intimidated Westerners who were afraid to say anything critical about Muslim cultures…. People were terrified of being called Orientalists."
Columbia University College Republicans, with over 600 members, organized both events. According to Beccy Dunnan, director of public relations for the group, "The gist of the week is to get people to talk and think in a way that’s uncomfortable." Dunnan came to Columbia as a Democrat. Ironically, it was partly Columbia’s pervasive liberalism that made her pause and rethink her positions rather than simply "following the masses."
Unfortunately, Dunnan said, she sensed that many in the crowd did not attend the lecture with an open mind.
She probably had in mind people like Mary Lou Greenberg, a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party. While also concerned about women’s plight in the Middle East, she said she opposes supporting President Bush’s War on Terror, which she (and, to some extent, Horowitz as well) saw as the evening’s true purpose.
"The U.S should get out of the Middle East, stop trying to dominate countries and wage war on countries…. What the U.S. has done has created more terrorists…. The U.S. has created so much hardship and suffering for people around the world. It’s by far the greatest horror for people."
Greenberg has been active in the women’s and peace and social justice movements since the 1960’s.
A frustrated student who did not wish to reveal her name told The Jewish Press that much of what the lecturers said was "entirely inaccurate." As an example, she pointed to what she saw as the contradiction between Sommer’s observation that Iranian women are attaining great levels of education and her assertion that the Iranian regime discriminates against them.
A flyer hanging in the hallway outside the lecture room from The National Project to Defend Dissent and Critical Thinking in Academia proclaimed that the week’s events seek "to unleash a pogromist and hate-filled atmosphere against Muslim students, equate dissent and critical thinking with treason, attack Women’s Studies Departments, and build the US ‘will to fight’ more wars of aggression in the Middle East, particularly against Iran."
Despite the rhetoric and heightened tensions, however, the crowd remained respectful, not interrupting the speeches or storming the podium, as some of the organizers apparently had feared.
Chesler expressed satisfaction with the evening. She only regretted that Columbia President Lee Bollinger did not introduce her, as he did Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.