Commentary Magazine


Topic: Columbia

The Noose Around Columbia

“Madonna G. Constantine, whose specialty is race, racial identity, and multiculturalism, stood before protesters at midday and thanked her supporters.” So reported the New York Times this morning. Constantine is a professor at Columbia University Teachers College, and on Tuesday some unknown person had hung a noose around her office door.

Campus reactions picked up by the Times were intense. Constantine declared she was “upset that the Teachers College community has been exposed to such an unbelievably vile incident.”

“It’s like throwing a match on a haystack,” said Christien Tompkins, a Columbia senior, who is co-chairman of the United Students of Color Council.

University President Lee Bollinger, fresh from his encounter with the genocidal anti-Semite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had to face what the Columbia Spectator called  “a deeply frustrated and often angry audience” confronting him about the incident.

Students, reports the Spectator, “were much more palpably angry at and less supportive of the way the University was conducting itself” than had been the case at the meeting Bollinger held with students three weeks ago after Ahmadinejad was invited to Columbia. They accused the administration “of being unresponsive and disconnected.” At several points, Bollinger “found himself defending and justifying his record on issues such as diversifying the faculty.”

Columbia is not the only target of the fury. The noose incident, said Tompkins, is the “latest and maybe most visible and extreme case of a climate of racism that we face in our entire society.”

What can one say about this episode? Hanging a noose is indeed an ugly act, and given the implicit threat it contains, it is also perhaps a crime. The “noose thing” said Mayor Bloomberg is “despicable and disgraceful.”

But am I alone in detecting, along with all the outward indignation, a strong whiff of opportunistic glee in the outrage now on display?

Draping a noose on the office door of a professor at work on a book called “Addressing Racism,” was, in all likelihood, the work of a lone and disgruntled perpetrator, whose race–black, white, Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander, to use the official check list–is as yet unknown. The avidity with which the incident is being blown up into something far larger–an indictment of our entire society for alleged widespread racism, and a torch for reigniting the race battles of yore–should not escape notice.

It is bad enough that so many students and members of the Columbia faculty are carrying on in this way, and let us hope that the perpetrator of the crime is swiftly apprehended and justice is done. But Bollinger’s handwringing appeasement of the protestors’ assault on his university–an abdication of his basic responsibility to put things in perspective–is yet another example of the atmosphere of intellectual dishonesty that has descended on our campuses when it comes to the set of issues that are Professor Constantine’s specialty: “race, racial identity, and multiculturalism.”

“Madonna G. Constantine, whose specialty is race, racial identity, and multiculturalism, stood before protesters at midday and thanked her supporters.” So reported the New York Times this morning. Constantine is a professor at Columbia University Teachers College, and on Tuesday some unknown person had hung a noose around her office door.

Campus reactions picked up by the Times were intense. Constantine declared she was “upset that the Teachers College community has been exposed to such an unbelievably vile incident.”

“It’s like throwing a match on a haystack,” said Christien Tompkins, a Columbia senior, who is co-chairman of the United Students of Color Council.

University President Lee Bollinger, fresh from his encounter with the genocidal anti-Semite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had to face what the Columbia Spectator called  “a deeply frustrated and often angry audience” confronting him about the incident.

Students, reports the Spectator, “were much more palpably angry at and less supportive of the way the University was conducting itself” than had been the case at the meeting Bollinger held with students three weeks ago after Ahmadinejad was invited to Columbia. They accused the administration “of being unresponsive and disconnected.” At several points, Bollinger “found himself defending and justifying his record on issues such as diversifying the faculty.”

Columbia is not the only target of the fury. The noose incident, said Tompkins, is the “latest and maybe most visible and extreme case of a climate of racism that we face in our entire society.”

What can one say about this episode? Hanging a noose is indeed an ugly act, and given the implicit threat it contains, it is also perhaps a crime. The “noose thing” said Mayor Bloomberg is “despicable and disgraceful.”

But am I alone in detecting, along with all the outward indignation, a strong whiff of opportunistic glee in the outrage now on display?

Draping a noose on the office door of a professor at work on a book called “Addressing Racism,” was, in all likelihood, the work of a lone and disgruntled perpetrator, whose race–black, white, Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander, to use the official check list–is as yet unknown. The avidity with which the incident is being blown up into something far larger–an indictment of our entire society for alleged widespread racism, and a torch for reigniting the race battles of yore–should not escape notice.

It is bad enough that so many students and members of the Columbia faculty are carrying on in this way, and let us hope that the perpetrator of the crime is swiftly apprehended and justice is done. But Bollinger’s handwringing appeasement of the protestors’ assault on his university–an abdication of his basic responsibility to put things in perspective–is yet another example of the atmosphere of intellectual dishonesty that has descended on our campuses when it comes to the set of issues that are Professor Constantine’s specialty: “race, racial identity, and multiculturalism.”

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Cartoons After Columbia

Unctuous bows, veiled threats, and smug mockery do not an edifying speech make, but Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s performance at Columbia University offers at least one consolation: the cartoons. The utter absurdity of the event has drawn forth a pageant of arresting editorial cartoons, some quite amusing. But only one managed to capture its essential grotesqueness—the ostentatious display of tolerance to a man whose most notable characteristic is his murderous intolerance, killing with roadside bombs today and atomic weapons tomorrow.

Presumably because of the pressure of deadlines, most cartoonists did not deal with the substance of the Iranian president’s talk, and depicted the event only in generic terms. Ed Stein of the Rocky Mountain News, for example, simply showed the worm in the Big Apple. Others focused on the theme of free speech. Pat Oliphant showed a disdainful Statue of Liberty, holding a diminutive Ahmadinejad at arm’s length as he jabbers away harmlessly; for Tom Toles, Columbia gave its speaker a rope long enough with which to hang himself, the noose labeled “free speech.”

Those who waited until after the speech to draw produced more penetrating images. Jerry Holbert of the Boston Herald had Ahmadinejad telling a politically incorrect joke (“a bunch of American infidels, a rabbi, and a suicide bomber walk into a bar”), which, while amusing, was not enough removed from reality to be truly funny. Far less amusing was the smattering of cartoonists who evidently have no objection to Ahmadinejad at all. Some like Tony Auth, the graphically inept cartoonist of the Philadelphia Inquirer, did not even think the event worthy of note. But then this discreet silence is preferable to the work of Lalo Alcaraz, who writes the daily comic strip La Cucaracha. His cartoon showed the Iranian under a sign labeled Republican Party Dept. of Homosexual Control, sitting between a photograph of President Bush and a sign “22 days gay free.” In other words, the only real problem Alcaraz finds with Ahmadinejad, whose regime enforces the public execution of homosexuals, is that the Iranian leader reminds the cartoonist of Republicans—whose actions might just conceivably remove the death threat from those same homosexuals.

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Unctuous bows, veiled threats, and smug mockery do not an edifying speech make, but Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s performance at Columbia University offers at least one consolation: the cartoons. The utter absurdity of the event has drawn forth a pageant of arresting editorial cartoons, some quite amusing. But only one managed to capture its essential grotesqueness—the ostentatious display of tolerance to a man whose most notable characteristic is his murderous intolerance, killing with roadside bombs today and atomic weapons tomorrow.

Presumably because of the pressure of deadlines, most cartoonists did not deal with the substance of the Iranian president’s talk, and depicted the event only in generic terms. Ed Stein of the Rocky Mountain News, for example, simply showed the worm in the Big Apple. Others focused on the theme of free speech. Pat Oliphant showed a disdainful Statue of Liberty, holding a diminutive Ahmadinejad at arm’s length as he jabbers away harmlessly; for Tom Toles, Columbia gave its speaker a rope long enough with which to hang himself, the noose labeled “free speech.”

Those who waited until after the speech to draw produced more penetrating images. Jerry Holbert of the Boston Herald had Ahmadinejad telling a politically incorrect joke (“a bunch of American infidels, a rabbi, and a suicide bomber walk into a bar”), which, while amusing, was not enough removed from reality to be truly funny. Far less amusing was the smattering of cartoonists who evidently have no objection to Ahmadinejad at all. Some like Tony Auth, the graphically inept cartoonist of the Philadelphia Inquirer, did not even think the event worthy of note. But then this discreet silence is preferable to the work of Lalo Alcaraz, who writes the daily comic strip La Cucaracha. His cartoon showed the Iranian under a sign labeled Republican Party Dept. of Homosexual Control, sitting between a photograph of President Bush and a sign “22 days gay free.” In other words, the only real problem Alcaraz finds with Ahmadinejad, whose regime enforces the public execution of homosexuals, is that the Iranian leader reminds the cartoonist of Republicans—whose actions might just conceivably remove the death threat from those same homosexuals.

In compensation for this, the event has produced at least one instant classic. In the cartoon by Sean Delonas of the New York Post, Ahmadinejad is shown at the podium as he calls on a questioner, saying “One last question, yes, the gentleman in the back.” Our point of view is from behind Ahmadinejad, and we must peer deep into the crowd to see the questioner, a skeletal concentration camp victim, in his stripes and yellow star. He wears a mournful and weary expression, and we are not even certain if he is dead or alive.

In every sense it is a masterpiece. Most editorial cartoonists think schematically, like Toles or Stein, placing cut-out figures on flat backgrounds. But Delonas typically employs dramatic perspective, as here with the haunting juxtaposition of foreground and background. Rather than a self-contained visual pun entailing a single joke, Delonas’s image implies much more than it shows, and we can’t help but imagine what is about to be said. Whatever the reason, it does what all successful graphic art must do: present an unforgettable image that resonates in the mind. It is a work of great dignity that almost washes away the vicious agitprop of Alcaraz.

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A Verbal Beating

Nothing that happened during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appearance at Columbia in any way changes the moral calculus involved in the question of whether the Iranian president should have been invited to speak at an American university: he should not have been, and the university’s decision to do so, and the reasons it gave for that decision, were dubious and hypocritical.

But the event itself defied expectations. We—those of us who are appalled at the thought of someone such as Ahmadinejad being given any respectful treatment in America—thought that Bollinger would put in a timid and even obsequious performance, while Ahmadinejad, who has rightfully earned a reputation as a master manipulator of his useful-idiot western interlocutors, was expected to deliver a rousing condemnation of the Bush administration, American foreign policy, and Israel.

But instead, Bollinger administered a verbal beating to Ahmadinejad the likes of which I cannot recall a head of state ever receiving—and Ahmadinejad, instead of hewing to his usual repertoire of propaganda, meandered through an almost totally incoherent pop-theology sermon that culminated in an awkward and ineffective attempt at dodging the audience’s questions. It was a dud, a performance of total sophomoric windbaggery. The exact opposite of what everyone expected to happen ended up taking place.

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Nothing that happened during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appearance at Columbia in any way changes the moral calculus involved in the question of whether the Iranian president should have been invited to speak at an American university: he should not have been, and the university’s decision to do so, and the reasons it gave for that decision, were dubious and hypocritical.

But the event itself defied expectations. We—those of us who are appalled at the thought of someone such as Ahmadinejad being given any respectful treatment in America—thought that Bollinger would put in a timid and even obsequious performance, while Ahmadinejad, who has rightfully earned a reputation as a master manipulator of his useful-idiot western interlocutors, was expected to deliver a rousing condemnation of the Bush administration, American foreign policy, and Israel.

But instead, Bollinger administered a verbal beating to Ahmadinejad the likes of which I cannot recall a head of state ever receiving—and Ahmadinejad, instead of hewing to his usual repertoire of propaganda, meandered through an almost totally incoherent pop-theology sermon that culminated in an awkward and ineffective attempt at dodging the audience’s questions. It was a dud, a performance of total sophomoric windbaggery. The exact opposite of what everyone expected to happen ended up taking place.

Bollinger’s performance was particularly satisfying precisely because the person on the receiving end of his condemnation was the Iranian president, a political leader who represents a revolutionary Islamic government that has enshrined as a fundamental premise the conviction that America, along with being the great source of evil in the world, is a brittle facade of a superpower, and is thus worthy only of derision. The ideology of the Iranian Revolution holds America in contempt—an intense contempt that systematically has been vindicated, in the eyes of the Iranian leadership, by America’s three-decades-long refusal to punish Iran for its many killings and provocations (in the words of Martin Kramer, “The contempt arises from the fact that the United States has radiated irresolution and weakness in the face of challenges put up by Middle Eastern assailants”).

Ahmadinejad, more than any other jihadist leader (including Osama bin Laden himself), has come to exemplify this swaggering contemptuousness. This is why, I think, it was so spectacular and unexpected to see an American academic—a person who by all estimates is a standard-bearer of the modern academy’s worst tendencies toward relativism, appeasement, and dialogue-worship—stun Ahmadinejad with such vigorously disrespectful words. Bollinger did something inadvertently brilliant by doing this: he turned the tables on Ahmadinejad; suddenly it was an American spokesman expressing blunt contempt for Iran, and directly to the president’s face no less. Ahmadinejad surely was taken aback by this treatment, and he perhaps even emerged from the auditorium at Columbia with a tinge of doubt as to the barrenness of America’s wellsprings of self-confidence.

Will Bollinger’s words have any lasting effect on the confrontation between America and Iran? I doubt it. But perhaps he deserves applause for salvaging the Ahmadinejad invitation from the shameful farce that it seemed destined to be. And if video of Bollinger’s words ends up circulating widely inside Iran, providing much-needed succor to the Iranian people and undermining the regime’s credibility, then so much the better.

 


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Columbia’s Master Class

If Columbia University President Lee Bollinger had a burning desire to expose Columbia students to Islam and the realities of contemporary Iran, then inviting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak was not the most effective method of exposure.

Ahmadinejad is first and foremost a politician, an extraordinarily shrewd one at that. His goal is not education, but rather propagation of his odious ideas.

Given the two leaders’ divergent goals—one to educate and the other to indoctrinate—it seems odd that President Bollinger extended Ahmadinejad an invite. Why not ask Iranian scholars or journalists to illuminate aspects of Iranian society? Well, SIPA, Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, has done just that. As it says on SIPA’s website:

“Over the course of the 2007-2008 academic year, SIPA will host a lecture series examining the thirty year history of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Political leaders, scholars, and human rights activists will be invited to discuss the impact of the Islamic Republic of Iran on international security, peace, human rights, energy, and other critical issues.”

Dandy. I guess inviting Ahmadinejad rounded out the playbill, and had the added benefit of making not only the Columbia President, but also the Iranian President, look good.

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If Columbia University President Lee Bollinger had a burning desire to expose Columbia students to Islam and the realities of contemporary Iran, then inviting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak was not the most effective method of exposure.

Ahmadinejad is first and foremost a politician, an extraordinarily shrewd one at that. His goal is not education, but rather propagation of his odious ideas.

Given the two leaders’ divergent goals—one to educate and the other to indoctrinate—it seems odd that President Bollinger extended Ahmadinejad an invite. Why not ask Iranian scholars or journalists to illuminate aspects of Iranian society? Well, SIPA, Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, has done just that. As it says on SIPA’s website:

“Over the course of the 2007-2008 academic year, SIPA will host a lecture series examining the thirty year history of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Political leaders, scholars, and human rights activists will be invited to discuss the impact of the Islamic Republic of Iran on international security, peace, human rights, energy, and other critical issues.”

Dandy. I guess inviting Ahmadinejad rounded out the playbill, and had the added benefit of making not only the Columbia President, but also the Iranian President, look good.

The New York Times today sang Bollinger’s praises, singling out how the lawyer and First Amendment scholar “defended the event as in the best tradition of America’s free speech, then freely told Mr. Ahmadinejad: ‘You exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator.’”

It is true that President Bollinger presented a scathing indictment of the Iranian President, addressing him: “I doubt that you will have the intellectual courage to answer these questions, but your avoiding them will in itself be meaningful to us. I do expect you to exhibit the fanatical mind-set that characterizes what you say and do.”

And while it is possible that with these words Bollinger redeemed himself in the eyes of some Columbia alumni and trustees, when Ahmadinejad did finally reach the microphone, he was able to use Bollinger’s insults to his own advantage, morphing himself into the rooted-for underdog.

According to the Times’s live blogging from the Columbia event yesterday,

Mr. Ahmadinejad began: “At the outset, I want to complain a bit about the person who read this political statement against me. In Iran, tradition requires that when we invite a person to be a speaker, we actually respect our students and the professors by allowing them to make their own judgment and we don’t think it’s necessary before the speech is even given to come in with a series of claims…”

The room erupted in applause.

Out of the fray, then, of the critical salvos, Columbia President Lee Bollinger emerges, in the eyes of many, as a strong critic of tyranny, while Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad turns up as an advocate for free expression.

Too bad the event wasn’t billed as a master class in image manipulation.

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The Tittering at Columbia

There are no homosexuals in Iran, Iran’s president said yesterday at Columbia University, and there are also no—or there will not ever be any—nuclear weapons.

Although Columbia’s president said that the purpose of inviting the Iranian leader was to foster dialogue and the clash of ideas, as Bret Stephens points out in a brilliant column in today’s Wall Street Journal, it is questionable whether the university president’s “confidence in ‘dialogue and reason’ is well placed.” It is even more questionable “whether confronting ideas is a sufficient condition for understanding the world,” let alone for protecting ourselves from the menace represented by those ideas as they are expressed in the strategic and theological aspirations of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Of course, it pays to listen to Ahmadinejad’s statements—including his false ones—with great care. But is it required of us to listen to them at the podium of an Ivy League university? And to pretend to be engaging in an academic “dialogue” with the Holocaust-denying, homosexual-denying, nuclear-weapons-denying, genocide-bent Iranian leader is something even worse.

The English language has a rich supply of words to label the Columbia dean, John Coatsworth, who said, in defending the invitation, that the university would also have been happy to invite Hitler to a debate in 1939. Which is the best term?

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There are no homosexuals in Iran, Iran’s president said yesterday at Columbia University, and there are also no—or there will not ever be any—nuclear weapons.

Although Columbia’s president said that the purpose of inviting the Iranian leader was to foster dialogue and the clash of ideas, as Bret Stephens points out in a brilliant column in today’s Wall Street Journal, it is questionable whether the university president’s “confidence in ‘dialogue and reason’ is well placed.” It is even more questionable “whether confronting ideas is a sufficient condition for understanding the world,” let alone for protecting ourselves from the menace represented by those ideas as they are expressed in the strategic and theological aspirations of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Of course, it pays to listen to Ahmadinejad’s statements—including his false ones—with great care. But is it required of us to listen to them at the podium of an Ivy League university? And to pretend to be engaging in an academic “dialogue” with the Holocaust-denying, homosexual-denying, nuclear-weapons-denying, genocide-bent Iranian leader is something even worse.

The English language has a rich supply of words to label the Columbia dean, John Coatsworth, who said, in defending the invitation, that the university would also have been happy to invite Hitler to a debate in 1939. Which is the best term?

“Imbecile,” according to Webster’s, suggests someone “incapable of earning a living”—so that is not right because our Columbia dean’s accounts at TIAA-CREF are undoubtedly doing quite well.

Is “idiot” better? Perhaps, because it is defined as someone who is “incapable of avoiding the common dangers of life.” But since the term also refers to someone who is “incapable of connected speech,” it too is inaccurate. Coatsworth’s words may be deficient in various ways, but they are certainly connected; indeed, as Stephens shows, they are a constituent element of an entire worldview.

“Simpleton” implies “silliness or lack of sophistication,” and while Coatsworth is worse than silly, he is certainly sophisticated; indeed, he is a dean at one of our leading universities.

In the end, perhaps “fool”—a person “lacking in judgment or prudence”—is the most appropriate word. But as Webster’s points out, when all of these terms are used in their most general way, they all fit the bill insofar as they are often applied interchangeably to refer “to anyone regarded as lacking sense or good judgment.”

Fortunately, there are other and better solutions being developed than anything in the works at Columbia to deal with Ahmadinejad’s nuclear-weapons program, elements of which are buried deep underground in hardened facilities across Iran.

Defense Daily reports today that Northrop-Grumman is making rapid progress in bringing on board a new weapon. Here is its dispatch based upon an interview with Harry Heimple, a company spokesman:

By next year a 30,000-pound bomb capable of blasting into subterranean tunnels will begin operating in the Air Force’s bomber fleet, according to industry officials.

The Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) built by Boeing will be integrated by Northrop Grumman on both the B-2A Spirit stealth bomber and the B-52 Stratofortress. . .

The B-2A can carry two MOPs, one in each of its weapon bays. The munition Northrop Grumman calls “like” the Joint Direct Attack Munition with a guidance system aided by the Global Positioning System, MOP contains more than 5,300 pounds of conventional explosives inside of a 20.5-foot-long steel enclosure. The weapon is said to be able to penetrate up to about 60 feet of dirt and concrete.

The mass makes it three and a half times as powerful as the Air Force’s heaviest weapons, Heimple said. After extensive testing to gauge whether it is better to drop multiple bombs in the same spot or to drop one enormous bomb, the Air Force has opted for the MOP, saying more mass is the right answer, Heimple said.

The first lethality test of the weapon took place at the end of March at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in a tunnel complex with helicopters and jeeps inside. The bomb was placed nose-down in the complex and fired. The Air Force measured the blast for pressure and temperature.

“The results were pretty amazing,” Heimple said.

The private sector is thus doing things that are far more significant than the laughter on Morningside Heights which greeted the Iranian president’s remarks about homosexuality. Since Columbia continues to exclude ROTC from campus, the complacent tittering at Ahmadinejad is the university’s only contribution, thus far, to our common defense.

 

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Hitler at Columbia

How many American soldiers perished because the bomb built by Georg Elser to kill Adolf Hitler in a beer hall in Munich in November 1939 failed to go off on time and the dictator lived to prosecute the war he had launched two months earlier? 

The number is known to precision: 292,131, including 31,215 from the state of New York, where Columbia University is located. The total number of casualties in that war–U.S. and foreign, Axis and Allied, military and civilian alike–is considerably higher: perhaps as many as 72 million.

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How many American soldiers perished because the bomb built by Georg Elser to kill Adolf Hitler in a beer hall in Munich in November 1939 failed to go off on time and the dictator lived to prosecute the war he had launched two months earlier? 

The number is known to precision: 292,131, including 31,215 from the state of New York, where Columbia University is located. The total number of casualties in that war–U.S. and foreign, Axis and Allied, military and civilian alike–is considerably higher: perhaps as many as 72 million.

As I noted recently in the Weekly Standard, Elser, who was apprehended by the German border police, handed over to the Gestapo, and subsequently executed, explained his action this way: “I wanted through my deed to prevent even greater bloodshed.”

John Coatsworth, the dean who invited the nuclear-bomb-seeking Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia today, would have had a different approach. As he told Fox News on Saturday, he would have extended an invitation to Hitler: “If he were willing to engage in a debate and a discussion, to be challenged by Columbia students and faculty, we would certainly invite him.”

Coatsworth’s name will not make it into the standard histories as Elser’s has. But it deserves to be recorded for posterity. The university’s invitation to the genocidal aspirant Ahmadinejad is repugnant on many grounds. The outrage committed by Dean Coatsworth upon the dead of World War II–and, along the way, upon the memory of Georg Elser, who readily sacrificed his own life for the peace of the world–staggers the imagination. 

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“Confronting Ideas” at Columbia

Regarding Columbia University President Lee Bollinger’s invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak this coming Monday on the Columbia campus, the Columbia Spectator today reports:

David Feith, CC ’09 and editor of the Jewish affairs publication the Current, expressed his concern that there was a difference between refusing to suppress hateful speech and actively inviting and providing a platform for it. Bollinger responded that the invitation very well may serve to help controversial speakers, but that the negative is “far outweighed by the importance of confronting ideas and not shielding ourselves from the world as it is.”

And what ideas will the Columbia community confront when it hears President Ahmadinejad of Iran? Denial of the Holocaust and pleas for the destruction of Israel. As Victor Davis Hanson writes on the Corner, “This is not a matter of free speech but of common decency and the most elemental common sense.”

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Regarding Columbia University President Lee Bollinger’s invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak this coming Monday on the Columbia campus, the Columbia Spectator today reports:

David Feith, CC ’09 and editor of the Jewish affairs publication the Current, expressed his concern that there was a difference between refusing to suppress hateful speech and actively inviting and providing a platform for it. Bollinger responded that the invitation very well may serve to help controversial speakers, but that the negative is “far outweighed by the importance of confronting ideas and not shielding ourselves from the world as it is.”

And what ideas will the Columbia community confront when it hears President Ahmadinejad of Iran? Denial of the Holocaust and pleas for the destruction of Israel. As Victor Davis Hanson writes on the Corner, “This is not a matter of free speech but of common decency and the most elemental common sense.”

I would add that Bollinger’s move is also a flagrant exploitation of the notion of dialog that universities cherish. Dialog is not possible with a madman (or someone who adopts insane political positions for tactical reasons) as interlocutor. And there can be no doubt that Ahmadinejad falls into one of those two categories. Would Lee Bollinger invite the British Holocaust denier David Irving so that students could “confront ideas” about Auschwitz? What about Jean-Marie LePen, to help students “confront ideas” about racism and xenophobia?

Here are just a few of the criticisms of Bollinger’s decision. But note the absence of criticism on TNR’s the Plank or the Huffington Post. Where is the liberal outrage? Aren’t these people allegedly anti-theocracy? They are when it comes to the far milder effusions of American evangelicals. Isn’t Ahmadinejad precisely the kind of theocrat they should hate? Yet Josh Marshall, at Talking Points Memo, can’t understand why Ahmadinejad wouldn’t be allowed to go to Ground Zero, “[e]specially when free speech and letting even the obnoxious have their say are supposedly central to who we are?” If only “obnoxiousness” were the Iranian president’s primary character flaw.

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The Liberal Moment?

Washington Post columnist and Georgetown professor E. J. Dionne has written a thoughtful essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education on what he calls “The Liberal Moment.” With one eye on the polls—which show plunging support for Republicans among the young, Hispanics, and independent voters—Dionne writes that “American liberals and the Left now have their greatest political opening since the 1960’s and their greatest opportunity to alter the philosophical direction of the public debate since the 1930’s.” He’s right. But will liberals be able actually to seize the opening?

Dionne invokes the late social scientist Michael Harrington, arguing that the Left must embrace a program that “will radically improve the conditions of life of everyone in the society,” because “the politics of noblesse oblige simply will not mobilize a majority that includes a very large number of people who are not poor yet are still suffering from relative deprivation.” But the very mechanism by which the Left once was able to accomplish those goals—Keynesian pump-priming—has been obviated by the globalization of economies. And today the most frequent and vitriolic attacks on attempts by Democrats to use market mechanisms to advance liberal goals come from the Democrats: specifically, from the netroots activists. (The netroots, in other words, bring to the Democratic party the same blind and destructive partisanship Dionne rightly condemns in Karl Rove.)

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Washington Post columnist and Georgetown professor E. J. Dionne has written a thoughtful essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education on what he calls “The Liberal Moment.” With one eye on the polls—which show plunging support for Republicans among the young, Hispanics, and independent voters—Dionne writes that “American liberals and the Left now have their greatest political opening since the 1960’s and their greatest opportunity to alter the philosophical direction of the public debate since the 1930’s.” He’s right. But will liberals be able actually to seize the opening?

Dionne invokes the late social scientist Michael Harrington, arguing that the Left must embrace a program that “will radically improve the conditions of life of everyone in the society,” because “the politics of noblesse oblige simply will not mobilize a majority that includes a very large number of people who are not poor yet are still suffering from relative deprivation.” But the very mechanism by which the Left once was able to accomplish those goals—Keynesian pump-priming—has been obviated by the globalization of economies. And today the most frequent and vitriolic attacks on attempts by Democrats to use market mechanisms to advance liberal goals come from the Democrats: specifically, from the netroots activists. (The netroots, in other words, bring to the Democratic party the same blind and destructive partisanship Dionne rightly condemns in Karl Rove.)

And while the Bush administration, as Dionne rightly notes, suffered serious setbacks when it pushed for more market-oriented social programs (such as privatizing social security), liberals need to ask themselves why it is that in the very areas where their policies are most dominant (such as New York, or Boston, or Los Angeles), the social order is the least egalitarian. As a group, they won’t reconsider a social security program/tax that’s not only regressive and a job killer, but far more onerous for the lower-middle class than the income tax. They come up similarly empty-handed on education, where the powerful NEA is wedded to failure, and no amount of new spending seems to be able to improve the outcome. Nor, as a group, do liberals seem to be able to come to grips with the Jihadist thread within Islam. In short, the failings of the Republicans notwithstanding, it’s hard to discern the basis for a liberal revival.

Columbia sociologist Todd Gitlin, commenting on Dionne’s article, insists that liberals and Democrats represent the “party of reason.” (Was it reason, then, that motivated MoveOn.org to call General Petraeus “General Betray-us” in a full-page New York Times ad?) As long as the Left is still capable of rhetoric like this, there is not likely to be a “Liberal Moment” in the sense that Dionne means—just a political opportunity for the Democrats. And I’d say that, as was the case with Bill Clinton, the success of any future Democratic administration will depend on the degree to which it can break with liberal dogma.

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Pasqualini, Out of Print

Almost a decade ago, in October 1997, the human rights activist Jean Pasqualini died in Paris at 71. Born in Beijing to a French Corsican father and Chinese mother, Jean worked as a translator for the U.S. military and the British Embassy in Beijing until he was arrested in 1957, charged with counterrevolutionary activity, and sentenced to the nefarious Laogai system of penal colonies, also known as China’s “Gulag.” In 1964, thanks to his French background, Jean was released by Mao after France recognized China, whereupon he was exiled to France; there, some years later, I had the pleasure of getting to know him.

Jean’s 1973 book Prisoner of Mao, about his seven years in the Laogai, is a pioneering classic, although, sadly, Penguin has allowed it to go out of print. The ever-timely Prisoner of Mao should be reprinted immediately, especially as even out-of-print copies available from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com are challenging to find, detectable only by Jean’s Chinese name, Bao Ruo-Wang. An author search for “Jean Pasqualini” on both sites confusingly brings up the French edition of his book (which remains available from Gallimard).

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Almost a decade ago, in October 1997, the human rights activist Jean Pasqualini died in Paris at 71. Born in Beijing to a French Corsican father and Chinese mother, Jean worked as a translator for the U.S. military and the British Embassy in Beijing until he was arrested in 1957, charged with counterrevolutionary activity, and sentenced to the nefarious Laogai system of penal colonies, also known as China’s “Gulag.” In 1964, thanks to his French background, Jean was released by Mao after France recognized China, whereupon he was exiled to France; there, some years later, I had the pleasure of getting to know him.

Jean’s 1973 book Prisoner of Mao, about his seven years in the Laogai, is a pioneering classic, although, sadly, Penguin has allowed it to go out of print. The ever-timely Prisoner of Mao should be reprinted immediately, especially as even out-of-print copies available from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com are challenging to find, detectable only by Jean’s Chinese name, Bao Ruo-Wang. An author search for “Jean Pasqualini” on both sites confusingly brings up the French edition of his book (which remains available from Gallimard).

In a 1978 essay, the Belgian sinologist Pierre Ryckmans (born in 1935, who publishes under the name Simon Leys) called Prisoner of Mao the “most fundamental document on the Maoist ‘Gulag’ and, as such, the most studiously ignored by the lobby that maintains that there is no human-rights problem in the People’s Republic.” There, as Jean later revealed, brainwashed prisoners were forced to “reconstruct socialism with their two hands,” in order to “reform themselves.” Once safely in France, Jean remained an ardent supporter of human rights in China, despite a catastrophic series of ailments, including cancer and diabetes, caused by his imprisonment. In 1992 he co-founded the Laogai Research Foundation with the activist Harry Wu (Wu Hongda), author of the definitive Bitter Winds: A Memoir of My Years in China’s Gulag and the equally essential Troublemaker: One Man’s Crusade Against China’s Cruelty.

Jean radiated charm and humor, key tools for survival. His appetite for joy was reflected in his humorous anecdotes about how he worked for Columbia Pictures’ distribution branch in postwar China. Jean delighted in the most overblown Hollywood screen musicals, from The Jolson Story to Hello Dolly, as well as jokes about Columbia’s comic-villain studio boss Harry Cohn. At serious moments, Jean would confide that even after years away from the Laogai, Mao remained the most important person in ex-prisoners’ lives. As part of the “re-education” process, prisoners were driven to such mental anguish and self-recrimination for their “crimes against society” that one fellow prisoner—imprisoned for alleged sex crimes—was driven to self-mutilation as penance for his supposed offense. A brave, noble survivor whose humanity and sense of humor miraculously survived his ordeals, Jean Pasqualini deserves a better fate than to languish out of print.

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Bookshelf

• What did Leonard Bernstein, Victor Borge, Dave Brubeck, the Budapest String Quartet, Johnny Cash, Noël Coward, Miles Davis, Doris Day, Bob Dylan, Vladimir Horowitz, John Gielgud, Glenn Gould, Michael Jackson, Marshall McLuhan, Albert Schweitzer, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Igor Stravinsky, and the original casts of Waiting for Godot and West Side Story have in common? They all recorded for Columbia. Gary Marmorstein’s The Label: The Story of Columbia Records is a breezily written primary-source history of the company whose artistically serious, technically innovative approach to the making of records—it was Columbia’s engineers who invented the long-playing record album in 1948—left a permanent mark on the history of American music.

Although Columbia was founded in 1889, it wasn’t until a half-century later, when it was bought by CBS, that it began its rise to cultural power. To an insufficiently appreciated extent, the label was soon reinvented in the image of one man, an aspiring classical composer turned record-company executive named Goddard Lieberson, whose wit, elegance, and unshakable self-assurance set the tone for Columbia’s postwar activities. Lieberson is more than deserving of a full-length biography of his own, but The Label offers the most detailed portrait to date of this spectacularly improbable character. A polymath who wrote a string quartet and a comic novel, Lieberson stole one of George Balanchine’s wives and used the profits raked in by such Mitch Miller-produced exercises in sugar-frosted pop banality as Rosemary Clooney’s “Come On-A My House” (as well as the Lieberson-produced original-cast albums of such Broadway musicals as South Pacific and My Fair Lady) to underwrite the recordings of the complete works of Stravinsky, Bernstein, Aaron Copland, and Anton Webern.

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• What did Leonard Bernstein, Victor Borge, Dave Brubeck, the Budapest String Quartet, Johnny Cash, Noël Coward, Miles Davis, Doris Day, Bob Dylan, Vladimir Horowitz, John Gielgud, Glenn Gould, Michael Jackson, Marshall McLuhan, Albert Schweitzer, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Igor Stravinsky, and the original casts of Waiting for Godot and West Side Story have in common? They all recorded for Columbia. Gary Marmorstein’s The Label: The Story of Columbia Records is a breezily written primary-source history of the company whose artistically serious, technically innovative approach to the making of records—it was Columbia’s engineers who invented the long-playing record album in 1948—left a permanent mark on the history of American music.

Although Columbia was founded in 1889, it wasn’t until a half-century later, when it was bought by CBS, that it began its rise to cultural power. To an insufficiently appreciated extent, the label was soon reinvented in the image of one man, an aspiring classical composer turned record-company executive named Goddard Lieberson, whose wit, elegance, and unshakable self-assurance set the tone for Columbia’s postwar activities. Lieberson is more than deserving of a full-length biography of his own, but The Label offers the most detailed portrait to date of this spectacularly improbable character. A polymath who wrote a string quartet and a comic novel, Lieberson stole one of George Balanchine’s wives and used the profits raked in by such Mitch Miller-produced exercises in sugar-frosted pop banality as Rosemary Clooney’s “Come On-A My House” (as well as the Lieberson-produced original-cast albums of such Broadway musicals as South Pacific and My Fair Lady) to underwrite the recordings of the complete works of Stravinsky, Bernstein, Aaron Copland, and Anton Webern.

In addition to writing about Lieberson, Miller, and John Hammond—the producer-talent scout who spent much of his celebrated career recording jazz and pop for Columbia—Marmorstein depicts a cast of lesser-known backstage characters equally worthy of recognition. George Avakian, who brought Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, and Miles Davis to Columbia and recorded some of their best-remembered albums, is given his due, as is Deborah Ishlon, the master publicist who first spread the word about Glenn Gould, and talked Stravinsky into writing his “conversation books.”

To write consistently well about a company that recorded everyone and everything from Liberace to Don Juan in Hell demands a degree of cultural competence not possessed by the average human being. While Marmorstein has done his homework—to the point of having read Lieberson’s forgotten novel 3 for Bedroom C and Ishlon’s equally obscure roman à clef Girl Singer: A Two Part Invention—he does not exhibit a complete knowledge of classical music. (Somebody at Thunder’s Mouth Press should have told him that the Brahms First Symphony isn’t a piano concerto.) But the small errors that disfigure The Label do not diminish its effectiveness as journalism, and Marmorstein’s breathless summary of Columbia’s significance is in no way overstated:

In the overlapping epochs of the 78-rpm platter, the 33-rpm vinyl disk, the cassette tape, and the compact disk, Columbia Records seemed to be everywhere. That ubiquitousness was true for no other record label. . . . Decade by decade, Columbia launched the careers of our most seminal recording artists and deposited their sound prints onto the permanent record.

All that came to an untimely end when Columbia was bought by Sony in 1987, a transaction that led in short order to the dumbing-down of the classical and jazz divisions that had been Columbia’s pride. Now that the entire recording industry has been devastated by the rise of Web-based new media, younger music lovers are largely unaware of the role that Columbia Records played in the shaping of postwar American culture. Kudos to Gary Marmorstein for telling them what they missed.

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Good as Gould?

A few months ago, at Manhattan’s Yamaha studios, a large black piano stood onstage—minus any pianist—playing what was billed as a “re-performance” of Glenn Gould’s 1955 mono recording of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The feat was accomplished with a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) file containing vastly detailed information about Gould’s old record, including such matters as volume and tempo, fed through a Disklavier Pro piano, one of the few concert grands that can play such files.

But why bother? This bestselling record—Gould would rerecord the “Goldbergs” in stereo in 1981—has remained in print ever since it was first published by Sony Classical (now Columbia) in 1956. Why this staged display for a pianist who famously loathed concert performance, retiring at 31 from live recitals to devote himself entirely to recording, films, and radio? The event’s real protagonist, of course, was Zenph Studios, a North Carolina software company, which developed this technology.

Listening to the Zenph re-performance, it is immediately clear that no musician’s fingers are actually hitting keys. The notes may be faithfully replicated in terms of the duration of notes and their intensity, but the physical presence of a pianist is sadly missing. What is a piano without a pianist, except an odd-looking piece of furniture? When Franz Liszt began the tradition of piano recitals in the 19th century, one audience member was heard to ask quizzically, “A piano recital? How can a piano recite?” The question today—thanks to Zenph—becomes “Should a piano recite?”

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A few months ago, at Manhattan’s Yamaha studios, a large black piano stood onstage—minus any pianist—playing what was billed as a “re-performance” of Glenn Gould’s 1955 mono recording of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The feat was accomplished with a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) file containing vastly detailed information about Gould’s old record, including such matters as volume and tempo, fed through a Disklavier Pro piano, one of the few concert grands that can play such files.

But why bother? This bestselling record—Gould would rerecord the “Goldbergs” in stereo in 1981—has remained in print ever since it was first published by Sony Classical (now Columbia) in 1956. Why this staged display for a pianist who famously loathed concert performance, retiring at 31 from live recitals to devote himself entirely to recording, films, and radio? The event’s real protagonist, of course, was Zenph Studios, a North Carolina software company, which developed this technology.

Listening to the Zenph re-performance, it is immediately clear that no musician’s fingers are actually hitting keys. The notes may be faithfully replicated in terms of the duration of notes and their intensity, but the physical presence of a pianist is sadly missing. What is a piano without a pianist, except an odd-looking piece of furniture? When Franz Liszt began the tradition of piano recitals in the 19th century, one audience member was heard to ask quizzically, “A piano recital? How can a piano recite?” The question today—thanks to Zenph—becomes “Should a piano recite?”

Sony has signed up Zenph to produce a series of eighteen CD’s, half classical and half jazz. The jazz wizard Art Tatum’s Piano Starts Here, a compilation of performances from 1933 and 1949, is next in line to be Zenph’d, followed by recordings by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873–1943). Both of these will doubtless offer noisier originals to be cleaned than Gould’s 1955 record, whatever the loss in direct communication of personality may turn out to be.

All marketing surveys show that CD buyers are generally drawn to recent performances with high sound quality, not historically important material. And the Zenph release is clearly aimed at CD buyers who still find the sound quality of Gould’s previous recordings to be too old-fashioned, even when cleaned up by traditional engineering methods for CD. For these demanding purchasers, the best alternative may simply be to choose be a more recent Goldberg Variations: Murray Perahia (Sony; 2000), András Schiff (ECM; 2001), and Pierre Hantaï (on harpsichord, Mirare; 2003), all master musicians, have all produced them. Glenn Gould’s uniqueness apart, he was not the only fine performer to record the Variations, and—although rabid Gouldians may find it blasphemy to even hint as much—his may not have been the best recordings. Posterity will decide.

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Petr Ginz

Anne Frank has become such a singular figure in the literature of the Holocaust that it is easy to forget how many other precocious and articulate children also died in the camps. Elena Lappin, a translator and editor at Atlantic Monthly Press, has prepared an English edition of the diaries of one of them, the Czech boy Petr Ginz.

The story of the diaries themselves is an astounding tale. Born in 1928, Ginz lived in Prague until August 1941, when he was deported with his family to Theresienstadt and then to Auschwitz, in 1943, where he died in the gas chambers. His sister, Eva, survived, and managed to retain a few of her brother’s drawings, which she carried with her until her eventual emigration to Israel.

But had it not been for, of all things, the Columbia shuttle disaster in 2003, the bulk of Petr’s papers might never have been recovered. Colonel Ilan Ramon, an Israeli astronaut aboard the shuttle, was carrying one of the drawings saved by Eva; the news coverage attendant on his death prompted a resident of Prague to rifle through several boxes of old papers in his attic. These papers turned out to be Petr’s; Yad Vashem subsequently acquired them. Eva (now Chava Pressburger) arranged for their publication in the Czech Republic at the beginning of 2005.

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Anne Frank has become such a singular figure in the literature of the Holocaust that it is easy to forget how many other precocious and articulate children also died in the camps. Elena Lappin, a translator and editor at Atlantic Monthly Press, has prepared an English edition of the diaries of one of them, the Czech boy Petr Ginz.

The story of the diaries themselves is an astounding tale. Born in 1928, Ginz lived in Prague until August 1941, when he was deported with his family to Theresienstadt and then to Auschwitz, in 1943, where he died in the gas chambers. His sister, Eva, survived, and managed to retain a few of her brother’s drawings, which she carried with her until her eventual emigration to Israel.

But had it not been for, of all things, the Columbia shuttle disaster in 2003, the bulk of Petr’s papers might never have been recovered. Colonel Ilan Ramon, an Israeli astronaut aboard the shuttle, was carrying one of the drawings saved by Eva; the news coverage attendant on his death prompted a resident of Prague to rifle through several boxes of old papers in his attic. These papers turned out to be Petr’s; Yad Vashem subsequently acquired them. Eva (now Chava Pressburger) arranged for their publication in the Czech Republic at the beginning of 2005.

Ginz had great literary ability for an adolescent boy. Observing the newly mandated yellow stars on the lapels of his fellow citizens, he remarks in his diary: “When I went to school, I counted sixty-nine ‘sherrifs.'” He also served as an editor and writer for Vedem, a newspaper published in the boys’ barracks at Theresienstadt.

Atlantic Monthly Press will officially release Lappin’s translation on Sunday, which is Holocaust Remembrance Day. The book, though, has been available since the end of March. You can order it here.

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Weekend Reading

The ascent of Hamas to power in January 2006 has brought sharply into relief the intransigent rejectionism at the heart of much Palestinian politics and the disingenuousness of those who argue for a “right of return” as if the concept did not entail the destruction of the existing state of Israel. One of the leading Western proponents of Palestinian extremism was the cultural theorist Edward Said, a professor at Columbia and the author of Orientalism, a study of the supposedly racist Western attitude toward Muslims as revealed in the branch of scholarly knowledge devoted to the understanding of Islam.

That Said wildly distorted and misrepresented European scholars and their work has been definitively documented in a recent book, Dangerous Knowledge, by the British historian Robert Irwin (reviewed by Martin Kramer in the March COMMENTARY). As Irwin points out, Said’s book, despite its blatant falsifications, helped destroy the once-rigorous and prestigious academic discipline of Orientalism. But it did far more. Under the banner of “anti-colonialism,” it created a respectable-sounding framework for leftist Western intellectuals seeking to excuse, defend, or endorse the bloodthirsty activities of the PLO in its drive for power and international validation. Said himself served as a close adviser to the PLO leader Yassir Arafat, breaking with him only when Arafat signed the Oslo peace agreement in 1993.

Said’s own widely-vaunted moral authority derived in part from his status as himself an alleged victim of Jewish “imperialism”: he and his family, he wrote, had been uprooted from their home in Jerusalem by the armed forces of the nascent Israeli state. In 1999, Justus Reid Weiner, a scholar at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, published a lengthy article in COMMENTARY picking apart and unmasking this story of Said’s early years. “My Beautiful Old House and Other Fabrications by Edward Said” unleashed a flood of violent criticism and denunciation, which Weiner went on to answer point for point. This weekend we offer Weiner’s September 1999 article along with the voluminous letters it provoked and his thorough-going and devastating reply.

The ascent of Hamas to power in January 2006 has brought sharply into relief the intransigent rejectionism at the heart of much Palestinian politics and the disingenuousness of those who argue for a “right of return” as if the concept did not entail the destruction of the existing state of Israel. One of the leading Western proponents of Palestinian extremism was the cultural theorist Edward Said, a professor at Columbia and the author of Orientalism, a study of the supposedly racist Western attitude toward Muslims as revealed in the branch of scholarly knowledge devoted to the understanding of Islam.

That Said wildly distorted and misrepresented European scholars and their work has been definitively documented in a recent book, Dangerous Knowledge, by the British historian Robert Irwin (reviewed by Martin Kramer in the March COMMENTARY). As Irwin points out, Said’s book, despite its blatant falsifications, helped destroy the once-rigorous and prestigious academic discipline of Orientalism. But it did far more. Under the banner of “anti-colonialism,” it created a respectable-sounding framework for leftist Western intellectuals seeking to excuse, defend, or endorse the bloodthirsty activities of the PLO in its drive for power and international validation. Said himself served as a close adviser to the PLO leader Yassir Arafat, breaking with him only when Arafat signed the Oslo peace agreement in 1993.

Said’s own widely-vaunted moral authority derived in part from his status as himself an alleged victim of Jewish “imperialism”: he and his family, he wrote, had been uprooted from their home in Jerusalem by the armed forces of the nascent Israeli state. In 1999, Justus Reid Weiner, a scholar at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, published a lengthy article in COMMENTARY picking apart and unmasking this story of Said’s early years. “My Beautiful Old House and Other Fabrications by Edward Said” unleashed a flood of violent criticism and denunciation, which Weiner went on to answer point for point. This weekend we offer Weiner’s September 1999 article along with the voluminous letters it provoked and his thorough-going and devastating reply.

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Mosley and the New Anti-Semitism

The oldest hatred never ceases to astonish us with its ability to rejuvenate itself. Anti-Semitism—nowadays invariably focused on Israel and repackaged as “anti-Zionism”—is once again ubiquitous in western countries. In some quarters, it is even considered respectable. Just as this salon anti-Semitism served the Nazis in the 1930’s by denying the threat to the very existence of the Jewish people in Europe, so today the re-emergence of anti-Semitism in the West serves the Islamists by denying the existential threat to the Jews of Israel.

To see how history is repeating itself, it is useful to compare the tactics used by the new anti-Semites with those of one of the most notorious anti-Semites in the history of the English-speaking world: the pre-war leader of the British Union of Fascists, Sir Oswald Mosley.

One of the commonest arguments used by the new anti-Semites is that nobody is allowed to criticize or even mention the “Israel lobby”—which amounts to claiming that Jews are above criticism. In their scurrilous polemic “The Israel Lobby,” John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, professors at the University of Chicago and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government respectively, claim that “the Lobby’s campaign to quash debate about Israel is unhealthy for democracy.” (Gabriel Schoenfeld wrote about Walt and Mearsheimer in the November 2006 issue of COMMENTARY.)
Besides being wholly untrue—there are few subjects on which debate is livelier than Israel—this argument has a thoroughly disreputable pedigree. Here is Sir Oswald Mosley, even after the Holocaust, making exactly the same complaint: “If you wanted to stop some Jews profiteering, you were accused of wanting to destroy all Jews. If you objected to the way some of them treated their labor, you were accused of seeking to deny all of then the right to live. If you dared to criticise anything that any Jew did, you were accused of seeking to crucify the whole race.”

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The oldest hatred never ceases to astonish us with its ability to rejuvenate itself. Anti-Semitism—nowadays invariably focused on Israel and repackaged as “anti-Zionism”—is once again ubiquitous in western countries. In some quarters, it is even considered respectable. Just as this salon anti-Semitism served the Nazis in the 1930’s by denying the threat to the very existence of the Jewish people in Europe, so today the re-emergence of anti-Semitism in the West serves the Islamists by denying the existential threat to the Jews of Israel.

To see how history is repeating itself, it is useful to compare the tactics used by the new anti-Semites with those of one of the most notorious anti-Semites in the history of the English-speaking world: the pre-war leader of the British Union of Fascists, Sir Oswald Mosley.

One of the commonest arguments used by the new anti-Semites is that nobody is allowed to criticize or even mention the “Israel lobby”—which amounts to claiming that Jews are above criticism. In their scurrilous polemic “The Israel Lobby,” John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, professors at the University of Chicago and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government respectively, claim that “the Lobby’s campaign to quash debate about Israel is unhealthy for democracy.” (Gabriel Schoenfeld wrote about Walt and Mearsheimer in the November 2006 issue of COMMENTARY.)
Besides being wholly untrue—there are few subjects on which debate is livelier than Israel—this argument has a thoroughly disreputable pedigree. Here is Sir Oswald Mosley, even after the Holocaust, making exactly the same complaint: “If you wanted to stop some Jews profiteering, you were accused of wanting to destroy all Jews. If you objected to the way some of them treated their labor, you were accused of seeking to deny all of then the right to live. If you dared to criticise anything that any Jew did, you were accused of seeking to crucify the whole race.”


The new anti-Semites allege that the “Israel lobby” controls American foreign policy. Having dragged President George W. Bush into Iraq, they claim, it is now trying to manipulate him into attacking Iran. This argument, too, was a staple of Mosley and his blackshirts. In November 1938, immediately after the Kristallnacht progrom in Nazi Germany, Mosley wrote: “Why is it only when Jews are affected that we have any demand for war with the country concerned?” The anti-Semites and the appeasers were then and are now natural allies.

Mearsheimer and Walt claim that the new anti-Semitism is an invention of the Israel lobby. They also deny that anti-Semitism is rising in Europe, suggesting that this too is a myth created by the Israel lobby. (For a concise history of European anti-Semitism, see Paul Johnson’s article in the June 2005 issue.) Yet according to the Community Security Trust, which monitors anti-Semitic incidents in Britain, in 2006 there was a 37 percent increase in violent assaults on Jews and a 46 percent increase in attacks on synagogues, Jewish cemeteries, and other communal property. This is an alarming rate of increase in a single year, and the trend is long-term: the numbers have doubled over a decade and are now at their highest level since records began. In its impact on the daily lives of British Jews, anti-Semitism is now much worse than it was in Mosley’s time. The situation in much of continental Europe is even worse.

This is not yet the case in the United States, but that is no reason to be complacent. Some university campuses have become places where thinly-disguised anti-Semitism is openly propagated. One such is Columbia, which invited Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak last September. The invitation was withdrawn, but the fact that it was issued at all is bizarre. Another is Stanford, where groups calling themselves the “Coalition for Justice in the Middle East” and “Students Confronting Apartheid in Israel” invited Norman Finkelstein to address them last month. Mr. Finkelstein is not in the same league of infamy as the Iranian president, but his book The Holocaust Industry defames those who keep alive the memory of the Holocaust’s six million Jewish victims and has handed a potent slogan to anti-Semites everywhere. Like other self-hating Jews of his ilk, he has embraced the Islamist cause. He is associated with more overt anti-Semites such as David Duke and David Irving. Academic freedom does not have to extend to offering platforms to a Finkelstein or an Ahmadinejad. Europe has let the genie of anti-Semitism out of the bottle; America must not follow suit.

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