Latest update: March 21st, 2014
Perhaps when literary critic C.S. Lewis despaired of “omnipotent moral busybodies . . . who torment us for our own good,” he was speaking about those well-meaning but naïve college students who “torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
Lewis’s observation seemed to have been given credence in the past weeks by the very public, tendentious rants of two coeds, one at Harvard University and one at UCLA, as they railed against a world in which their dreams of social justice for the oppressed and weak was not being realized, despite their best efforts.
In the first instance, in an op-ed in the Harvard Crimson titled “The Doctrine of Academic Freedom,” Sandra Y.L. Korn, who is majoring, tellingly, in the history of science and studies of women, gender and sexuality, decided that academic freedom was undeserved by those who hold beliefs different than hers and her fellow “moral busybodies” – those who have decided what is moral and what is acceptable ideology on Harvard’s campus and in the world beyond.
“Why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of ‘academic freedom?’ ” she asked, seemingly without embarrassment. Academic freedom, she contended, should be put in check so that unwelcomed viewpoints can be suppressed. As an alternative virtue, she suggested “a more rigorous standard: one of ‘academic justice.’ ”
One example of how that justice might be applied, at the expense of academic freedom, was the recent boycott against Israeli academics called for by the American Studies Association (ASA). Though the boycott was subsequently denounced by over 200 university presidents and scores of academic organizations and scholars, Ms. Korn thinks the loss of academic freedom by Israelis is of secondary importance to her notion of “academic justice” – that is, justice for the oppressed and the victimized.
“The ASA, like three other academic associations,” she wrote, “decided to boycott out of a sense of social justice, responding to a call by Palestinian civil society organizations for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions until Israel ends its occupation of Palestine.” Despite universal protestations from many people far more insightful than Ms. Korn, in her mind any critics of the boycott are, by definition, morally wrong, and, she asserted, “only those who care about justice can take the moral upper hand.”
The UCLA incident revealed a similar leftist obsession with obtaining social justice for the Palestinians, even if it necessitates the weakening or destruction of the Jewish state. On February 26 the UCLA undergraduate student government voted 7-5 against a Students for Justice in Palestine-proposed “Resolution to Divest from Companies that Violate Palestinian Human Rights.” After the charged hearings, which included some 500 people in the audience and went on for ten hours, an identified UCLA undergraduate, who was serving as a note taker for the hearings, broke down and railed at the cameras with an expletive-laden rant about how disappointed she was that the resolution failed, how bad the people were who voted against divestment, and how Palestinians would now continue to be “hurt” because of their inaction. For two minutes the hysterical woman can be seen screaming “I’ve never been so [expletive] disappointed” and complaining that “we just [expletive] blew it” by not passing the corrosive divestment resolution.
This UCLA student, like the Harvard undergraduate who wishes to live in a world where only her predetermined virtues and worldview prevail, feels quite strongly that, in the case of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, at least, the answers are black and white, there is a moral side and an immoral side, and that anyone who does not, or cannot, see things as clearly and unambiguously as these gifted undergraduates do is a racist, an oppressor, or a supporter of an illegal, apartheid regime trampling the human rights of the blameless Palestinians.
This cynical, and historically and factually inaccurate, view has meant leftists frequently denounces Western democracies as imperialistic, racist, militaristic oppressors precisely because they wish them to evolve to a purer, newly-structured society and feel that they, the leftists, have the collective insight and moral strength to effect this change as they strive for the social justice or its intellectually-flaccid offspring as articulated by Ms. Korn – “academic justice.”
Thus, when such radical campus groups as Students for Justice in Palestine have as their core mission bringing their own vision of justice to the Middle East, it is justice only for the oppressed, the Palestinians, and not for the perceived oppressor, Israel, whose position of power was made possible only because of military strength and imperialistic tendencies.
In their mission to protect the sensibilities and emotional well-being of identified campus victim groups, universities – often violating their own written guidelines and codes of behavior – have instituted speech codes to prevent what is generally called “hate speech” but which has become a perverse tactic to marginalize, and exclude, the speech and ideology of those with whom liberals and leftists do not agree – those individuals who express ideas that offend the sensibility of Ms. Korn, for example.
The acting out and vitriolic language against Israel that so often defines campus anti-Israelism may make the activists feel good about themselves for striving for social justice, but, as journalist Khaled Abu Toameh has contended, these are hollow efforts; that “[i]nstead of investing money and efforts in organizing Israel Apartheid Week, for example, the self-described ‘pro-Palestinians’ could dispatch a delegation of teachers to Palestinian villages and refugee camps to teach young Palestinians English . . . .”
What was Abu Toameh’s conclusion about this misdirected effort to support the Palestinian cause? “What is happening on the U.S. campuses,” he wrote, “is not about supporting the Palestinians as much as it is about promoting hatred for the Jewish state. It is not really about ending the ‘occupation’ as much as it is about ending the existence of Israel.” And, he added, “we should not be surprised if the next generation of jihadists comes not from the Gaza Strip or the mountains and mosques of Pakistan and Afghanistan, but from university campuses across the U.S.”
“The whole problem with the world,” observed philosopher Bertrand Russell, “is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.” That these two undergraduates display a certainty that is so stringent and so contrary to intellectual inquiry should give us all pause, and might make us question if we are teaching a whole generation of college students what to think instead of how to think.Richard L. Cravatts
About the Author: Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D,, is immediate past president of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and the author of the forthcoming book “Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.”
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