Search results for: "nazis"

Jon Zimmerman is a colleague of mine at New York University and a fellow historian of education. He uses his deep knowledge of history to write on many topics. He is amazingly prolific.

Zimmerman writes:

NEWSDAY

April 16, 2014

Brandeis Betrays its Educational Mission

Jonathan Zimmerman

In 1949, Wayne State University president David Henry blocked an invited speaker from appearing on campus. The speaker was Herbert Phillips, a well-known philosophy professor. And the reason was simple: Phillips was a Communist.

“It is now clear that the Communist is to be regarded not as an ordinary citizen but as an enemy of national welfare,” Henry explained. “I cannot believe that the university is under any obligation in the name of education, to give him an audience.”

I thought of this episode—and many similar ones–as I read about Brandeis University’s decision to withdraw its offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the prominent women’s rights activist who was slated to appear at its commencement exercises in May. Citing Ali’s controversial remarks about Islam, Brandeis said these comments were “inconsistent” with its “core values.”

But the core value of the university is—or should be—open dialogue and discussion. And it was Brandeis—not Ali—who who violated it, just as universities did by keeping out Communist and other left-leaning speakers during the McCarthy era.

A Somalian native who fled a forced marriage, Ali moved to Holland and was eventually elected to its Parliament. She also wrote the screenplay for a 2004 film about the treatment of Muslim women, which earned her death threats and led her to move to the United States.

And in a 2007 interview, Ali called Islam “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death”; later that year, she told another interviewer that “there is no moderate Islam” and that it must be “defeated.”

Over the top? Definitely. Offensive? I think so. But Ali’s comments hardly put her in the same category as Nazis or white supremacists, as several critics have recently charged. Unlike fascist ideologues, who stressed the second-class status of women and their duty to reproduce for the fatherland, Ali has spent her life fighting for female independence and equality.

She has also been at the center of an ongoing debate about the degree to which Islam has enhanced or inhibited women’s rights. I was appalled by her blanket condemnation of the religion, which contains much more diversity than Ali allowed. But she has raised utterly legitimate questions, and the university should be in the business of exploring rather than quashing them.

Ditto for Communists in the 1940s and 1950s, who raised tough issues about the morality of capitalism and its role in promoting imperialism. Some American Communists went to absurd lengths in apologizing for murderous behavior by the Soviet Union, to be sure, and a small number of them actually spied for the USSR. But they also had important things to say about economic and international affairs, if Americans cared to listen.

At nearly all of our colleges and universities, they didn’t. Communist novelist Howard Fast was banned from speaking at Columbia and at my own institution, New York University. Likewise, the German Communist Gerhart Eisler was barred from the University of Michigan and several other schools.

And it wasn’t just Communists who were kept out; so was anyone suspected of sympathizing with them. So Miner Teachers College—a historically black school in Washington, D.C.—blocked the writer Pearl Buck from speaking; another teachers’ college in California banned Carey McWilliams, editor of the Nation; and Ohio State University turned away Cecil Hinshaw, a leading Quaker pacifist.

Each situation was different, but the rationale was always the same: Communists (and their “fellow travelers”) were supposedly inimical to the essential mission of the institution. And it’s also what protesters at Notre Dame said in 2009, when the university tapped President Obama as its graduation speaker.

Over 300,000 people signed a petition urging Notre Dame to revoke the invitation to Obama, a long-standing supporter of abortion rights. In hosting the President, the petition said, the institution was “betraying its Catholic mission.”

But turning away Obama would have betrayed the university’s academic mission: to promote dialogue and understanding across our myriad differences. Fortunately, Notre Dame held firm to its invitation. Obama gave his address, and hundreds of graduates demonstrated their opposition to his abortion views by affixing pictures of baby feet to their motor boards.

That brings us back to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who won’t have the opportunity to address the Brandeis graduation next month. More to the point, though, students won’t have the chance to challenge and debate her. That’s the core value of the university, and also of a liberal society. Too bad that Brandies—and its avowedly liberal defenders—seem to have forgotten it.

Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history at New York University. His most recent book is “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory” (Yale University Press).

Peter Greene, an English teacher and blogger in Pennsylvania, reviewed the wild and wacky video made by the staff at the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Apparently the kids there wanted the world to see them as fun-loving buddies who can laugh at themselves, but Greene thinks it didn’t work. Despite the high production values, there is something unfunny about Fordham’s policy ideas (no to smaller classes, yes to Common Core).

Greene, you will note, updated his post at a time when he was teaching William Faulkner’s Light in August to high school students, a task we may assume is as valuable (more valuable?) to society than having a desk job in Washington and telling the nation’s teachers what they ought to be doing.

He writes:

“Final effect? People making wacky shenanigans out of policy ideas that are being used to destroy public education? It’s a hard thing to parse– how would “Springtime for Hitler” have come across if it had been staged by the Nazis themselves? I am not meaning to suggest that Fordham = Nazis, but I do wonder what we’re to make of people making themselves look more ridiculous that we could make them look on purpose.

“It is part of the tone deafness problem. I want to shake them and say, “Did you not see this? Do you not know how you look, both awkward and opposite-of-cool, while making jokes about policies being used to destroy peoples’ careers?” Somehow while shooting for cool and relaxed and with it, they’ve hit uncool and callous, thereby suggesting that they are imbued with so much hubris and arrogance that they either can’t see or don’t care (because only unimportant people will be bothered, and they don’t matter). This is the education industry equivalent of those bankers’ videos of obscenely wealthy parties, the Christmas cards from wealthy apartments, the total lack of understanding of what things are like out there on the street, because the street is just for the commoners who don’t matter.

“It’s an oddly fascinating train wreck. Is it awesomely funny because it’s so awful, or is it too awful to be funny. Whatever the case, it gives a strong 2:20 feel for what sort of attitude permeates Fordham, and it is just as bad as we ever imagined. maybe worse.”

A few days ago, I received an email from the Anti-Defamation League of New York City saying that it had received “several complaints regarding references and analogies to Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust that appear in the comments section of your blog.”

It went on:

In researching the complaint, we see that  you defended the postings on free speech grounds. As a staunch supporter of free speech and the First Amendment, ADL has historically fought hate and offensive comments not by censoring, but by fighting bad speech with good speech. While you certainly have the right to leave the material up, we believe you have an opportunity here to address the insensitivity of the comments with your respected voice, rather than allowing them to go unaddressed.”

“We urge you to use your speech–as an educator and blog moderator–to address the hurtful analogies, and encourage readers to think about the impact of their words.”

(signed)

I was surprised when I read this as I am very sensitive to hate speech. In addition, I am Jewish. Members of my mother’s family were annihilated in the death camps in Hitler’s time. None survived.

I couldn’t think of what he was referring to. Last Sunday, when I first saw the email, I responded and asked if he might point me to specific examples, but I have heard nothing more.

Using the search function, I scanned the comments, and the only exchange that I could find was in the discussion following a post called “For the Children?”

When someone complained in that exchange about a reference to Nazis, I replied:

“Commenters exercise freedom of speech.
So do I.
So do you.”

I will not tolerate hate speech on the blog. I have the power to delete comments. I have deleted comments that I thought were beyond the bounds of civility. And I am not going to spell out the rules beyond that, because this is my blog and I will delete whatever offends me.

But having said that, I think that historical analogies are acceptable, even if they are overstated.

The supreme irony here is that in 2003, I published a book called The Language Police, which was a plea against censorship in schools, textbooks, and tests.

The book ended with these words:

“Let us, at last, fire the language police. We don’t need them. Let them return to the precincts where speech is rationed, thought is imprisoned, and humor is punished.”

“As John Adams memorably wrote in 1765, ‘Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write…Let every sluice of knowledge be opened and set a-flowing.'”

I believe that.

So, dear readers, consider yourself informed of my views about the importance of free speech and the free exchange of ideas.

Diane

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 118,346 other followers