As a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley (class of ’91), a.k.a Berzerkely, I am by now fairly inured to displays of political correctness — the totalitarian impulse in action — on campus. I saw enough demonstrations — including one that turned into an actual riot with the burning of cars and the looting of stores on Telegraph Avenue — not to be shocked by most of what goes on in our citadels of higher learning. But I admit I am still deeply dismayed to see the treatment accorded in recent weeks to two of the people I most admire in this world — Michael Oren, the noted historian and Israeli combat veteran who is now Israel’s ambassador to Washington, and General David Petraeus, head of Central Command.
Oren spoke at the University of California, Irvine; Petraeus, at Georgetown. Both are unusually thoughtful individuals who are happy to engage in a civilized debate with just about anyone. But what greeted them was hardly civilized. Both speeches were thoroughly disrupted by hecklers — in the former instance, by members of the Muslim Student Union who are presumably opposed to Israel’s very existence (at least, judging by the rally they held afterward, chanting “anti-Israel, anti-Israel”), in the latter instance, by opponents of the war in Iraq, who loudly tried to read the names of Iraq War dead. You can see the videos here — for Georgetown and Irvine.
The demonstration at Georgetown was particularly disturbing in light of the common trope heard among the anti-war movement that they “oppose the war but support the soldiers waging the war.” In this case, their disrespect for our greatest general — a man who has repeatedly risked his life in the country’s service and whose son is now putting his own life on the line as a young officer — gives the lie to the slogan.
I can only hope that the universities in question take appropriate steps to deal with these campus hooligans. Anything short of expulsion, or at least suspension, would seem to be a wrist-slap that will only encourage more such misconduct in the future and make a mockery of the free speech that universities are supposed to champion.