Friday, May 11, 2007

Liberal Bias at Harvard? If only!

Over the years, I've applied repeatedly for an opinion column in The Crimson, the campus newspaper. I never made it. They don't tell you why they reject your column, it could be for bad writing, could be for your politics, I don't know. Though I have my suspicions. Since I have a lot of columns written and nowhere to put them, I will start publishing parts of them here. Here is the first installment, excerpts from an article about liberalism at Harvard:

Don’t worry, this isn’t a rant about liberal bias at Harvard. Just the opposite: Harvard isn’t liberal enough. Yes, teachers here give to the Democrats as if it were a tithe, and yes, students here pee in the bushes not from drink but from principled opposition to the injustice of gendered bathrooms. But liberalism at Harvard stops at America’s shores. Women’s rights, gay rights, free speech, and their relations are human rights, not American ones – they should be fought for the world over, not just in Cambridge. Unfortunately, as my years at Harvard go by, I fear myself more and more alone in that conviction.

The problem concerns Islam. Harvard’s liberals will trip over one another in their rush to defend the rights of anyone unlucky enough to have been detained simply for being a Muslim at the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong World Trade Center blueprints. Yet when a Muslim is forced into an arranged marriage, or is murdered by her own brothers for going to nightclubs, or executed by the state for being a victim of rape, there is silence. Those whose grandiloquence knows no bounds when it comes to defending the right of a bespectacled young Saudi man to board a plane with as much contact solution as he damn well pleases, thank you very much, are all too quick to change the subject when it comes to a young Muslim woman’s right to live.

Others who bemoan the liberal double-standard over Muslim rights blame multiculturalism. A reluctance to judge other cultures by the standards of our own, they argue, leads to moral paralysis. I think the real reason is simpler: most liberals are scared. They know that despite the platitudes about Islam being a religion of peace, it’s the bloodiest religion of peace around these days. Yes, I hurry with the caveat that the overwhelming majority of the world’s Muslims are peace-loving pillars of their communities, with nice little dental practices in the suburbs and the firm conviction that jihad is a strictly internal struggle, maybe a good thumb-wrestling match at the most. It’s unfortunate that the tiny minority, the ones who bomb embassies and behead journalists, are rather motivated overachievers. The barbaric violence of their demonstrations, death threats, and public executions worked long ago to frighten Muslim reformists into silence, and they have of late managed to scare the dickens out of Europe, too. Most Europeans, when it comes to Islam, now act the role of henpecked husbands, tiptoeing around the house, apologizing profusely when confronted, all the while without the faintest idea of what they’re in the doghouse for this time. Now, if Harvard is any clue, it looks like the fundamentalists have made their mark in America, too.

Harvard’s renowned late political theorist Judith Shklar coined the term “the liberalism of fear” to describe how the fear of cruelty can serve as a powerful foundation for moral claims. She seems to have overestimated the resolve of her campus, for these days at Harvard, as in much of the West, the liberalism of fear best refers to a liberalism that wets itself and flees as soon as its enemies brandish a knife. Many Republican policies do merit condemnation, and do not lack for it. But no one has ever been in bodily danger for bashing Bush, unless you include the remote possibility that they may drop the Palme d’Or on their foot. Attack Islam, however, and chances are the only thing standing between you and a knife to the throat is a lifetime of police protection. If Europe is any indication, things will only get worse unless we change. We must stand up to our fear, exercise our freedom with no shame, no apologies, and fight just as hard for human rights abroad as we do at home.

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