In the past few years, the students and faculty of Columbia University have found themselves in the midst of a culture war. They’ve seen their Middle East Studies department targeted as “anti-Israel” by one right-wing organization, the David Project. Two assistant professors, Joseph Massad and Nadia Abu El-Haj, were publicly smeared by another right-wing outfit, Campus Watch, as they underwent tenure review (see “The New McCarthyism” by Larry Cohler-Esses). And at the start of this school year their own president, Lee Bollinger, seemed to pander to this right-wing pressure by slamming Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the name of “the modern civilized world.”
This week they’ve got David Horowitz, of the modestly named David Horowitz Freedom Center, best known in recent years for his ads in campus papers opposing slavery reparations, in which he argued that there is no evidence that the legacy of slavery has harmed any living African-American and demanded “the gratitude of black America” for the white Christians who “created” the antislavery movement. Now he’s here to teach them about “Islamofascism.”
His “Islamofascism Awareness Week” descended this week on dozens of college campuses across the country (he claims more than 100) with vigils here, sit-ins there and scattered forums featuring “aware” individuals such as former Senator Rick Santorum. But Columbia has been showered with special largesse: an entire week of activities, kicked off by a candlelight vigil on Monday, where a dozen or so College Republicans remembered “the untold millions who suffer under tyrannical Islamic regimes” and closing on Friday at noon with a speech by Horowitz himself (Columbia College class of ’59).
“I had thought, probably stupidly, that the David Project had accomplished its purpose when they hit us so hard a few years ago,” says Bruce Robbins, a professor of English and an organizer of a recent initiative to end Columbia’s investment in companies that do business with the Israeli military. “But our academic freedom has not been extremely well defended in the past, so we’ve been shown to be rather vulnerable in that way.”
At Wednesday night’s Oppression Panel, some eighty students and assorted gadflies had the chance to see a self-satisfied panel of Ibn Warraq (Why I Am Not a Muslim), Phyllis Chesler (The Death of Feminism; The New-Anti-Semitism) and the American Enterprise Institute’s Christina Hoff Sommers (Who Stole Feminism?) apply Horowitz’s patented PC-bashing technique. “I encourage [conservatives] to use the language that the left has deployed so effectively in behalf of its own agendas,” he wrote in 2003. “Radical professors have created a ‘hostile learning environment’ for conservative students. There is a lack of ‘intellectual diversity’ on college faculties and in academic classrooms. The conservative viewpoint is ‘under-represented.'”
Thus we had Warraq telling us that it was Edward Said, by means of his book Orientalism, who “encouraged Islamic fundamentalism” by teaching “an entire generation the art of self-pity.” It was Said–not, say, Campus Watch, with its hit list of faculty labeled as apologists for suicide bombings and militant Islam–who created a “climate of fear in academia” and whose “aggressive tone” was tantamount to “academic terrorism.” We had Chesler declaiming perversely that the right to free speech “belongs also to those of us who are pro-American and pro-Israel, and not only to those who demonize the West.” College campuses, she said, have been “Stalinized,” “Palestinized.” And we had Becky Dunnan, class of ’08, spokesperson for the Columbia University College Republicans, sponsors of the event, gamely tell a reporter, “We really have to take back academic freedom for the minority viewpoint on campus–and that’s the conservative view.”