Freedom of expression does not allow for insults of the prophet of Islam. So claimed hundreds of Muslim students while protesting the recent showing of the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed at the University of California at Irvine. One might think that professors would frown upon such illiberal attempts to suppress dissenting views at the very places designed for the free exchange of ideas. Instead, as the attacks by leftist academics on David Horowitz’s new book, The Professors, reveal, professors are the leading enablers of these campus censors.
Consider the case of Mark LeVine. An associate professor of history at UC-Irvine, LeVine refers to himself on his academic website as a “leader of the new generation of historians and analysts of the modern Middle East and Islam.” Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t appreciate the fact that Horowitz’s book knocks him off his self-erected pedestal. Specifically, The Professors documents LeVine’s tendency to primarily blame America and Israel for the “war on terrorism” (quotation marks his). The PLO and Hamas are innocent of the violence in the Middle East, he says, because Israel “as the occupying power bears primary responsibility for the continued conflict.” It is further LeVine’s opinion that Israel is a “violent regime that should receive no funding from the West” and the United States is “a criminal nation.”
That his evident hostility to Israel and the United States might color the objectivity of his scholarship troubles LeVine not at all. On the contrary, this “disgruntled ex-hippie” and musician -- he’s toured with Arab/Muslim heavy metal and hiphop artists -- is proud of his “long history of blending art, scholarship and activism.”
The publication of The Professors, coinciding with the display of the cartoons at his university, provided LeVine with a perfect opportunity to formulate yet another one of his wacky theories. In a tongue-in-cheek essay appearing on March 6 in Mother Jones, LeVine begins by thanking Horowitz for what he deems “at worst a minor annoyance and at best a chance to have a bit of fun, get some free publicity, and maybe increase book sales.” Odd words indeed for a man who has claimed that capitalism is the cause of the Arab world's economic woes. In fact, just a few paragraphs on, LeVine admits to arguing that capitalism and globalization have caused “war and misery” and derides Horowitz for not arguing that they don’t.
The most outrageous assertion in the essay, however, is that “The Professors and the kind of political and cultural discourse it represents, are dangerous to the functioning and purpose of the university, and to the larger notion of both free speech and civil debate that have long been cornerstones of American higher education.” LeVine considers the unveiling of the Danish cartoons at the panel event to be another example of this dangerous political and cultural discourse. As he sees it, both the panel discussion and The Professors are attempts at “Jerry Springer and professional wrestling-style confrontation” and not “actual attempts at reconciliation.”
Not so. Having attended the UC-Irvine event and the subsequent unveiling of the cartoons last week at UCLA, I can attest that most of the panelists did in fact desire reconciliation—with moderate Muslims. Indeed, Jesse Peterson, Ted Hayes and Lee Kaplan—speakers on the UC-Irvine panel—actually stood up when asked to rise if they “loved Islam.” This didn’t strike this observer as especially confrontational.
LeVine disagrees. Thus he argues that these are “events designed for maximum exposure through maximum insult.” Yet, just a month earlier, on February 7 in another Mother Jones article, he made the case that the West was exaggerating the Muslim reaction to the cartoons since “most Muslims had not taken to the streets.” Judging the protests that did take place through the lenses of a Marxist critic, LeVine wrote that “the reasons behind them often involve issues of class, politics, and religious identity, as the consulates are often located in wealthy neighborhoods where the countries’ elites and wealth foreigners live, and which feature expensive shops far beyond the means of most protestors.” In other words, even LeVine once dismissed the notion that the silly cartoons could be so insulting as to be the primary motivation for the protests.
Another charge LeVine levies against The Professors is that Horowitz overlooks his consistent criticism of Muslims. Here LeVine is guilty of confusing his own moral relativism with an honest accounting of the hijacking of Islam. The professor has a habit of adding one or two lines of bland criticism of Muslims to his anti-America and anti-Israel screeds. In an Orange County Register column on the cartoons, he devotes only one sentence to the plethora of anti-Jewish speakers Muslims groups have invited to speak at UC-Irvine. He describes them as speakers “whose rhetoric is as anti-Jewish as the 'unveiling' was anti-Muslim.” That comparison would be absurd to anyone who has ever listened to the incitement spouted as some of these rallies.
Contrary to LeVine’s view, the cartoons do have a “relationship to the reality of the situation they’re meant to represent.” While most Muslims are not terrorists, most terrorists are Muslims. So even the most unsophisticated of the cartoons, such as the ubiquitous one portraying Mohammed with a bomb in his turban, shed some light on the dangerous state of the world today. The reason that no European newspaper has published a cartoon of, say, a rabbi with a bomb in his yarmulke, is not because of any lack of anti-Semitism in Europe. It is because rabbis are not exhorting young Jews to blow themselves up. That this fact escapes professors like LeVine only underscores their inability to recognize the obvious.
At least some are open to persuasion. Khaleel Mohammed, a Muslim professor on the UCLA panel, brought up the paucity of cartoons depicting rabbis with bombs on Friday evening. Dr. Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute rationally explained to him that when Jews start martyring themselves, those types of cartoons might become appropriate. At the end of the night, however, Professor Mohammed seemed to have grasped at least one obvious truth: He stated that an Islamic Reformation can’t happen as long as control of Muslim countries is in the hands of extremists. If this is what Mark LeVine regards as "professional wrestling-style confrontation", he may want to consider jumping into the ring.
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