Defending the Idea of a Hate Free University in Troubled Times
Provost Cole just doesn’t get it. In his “Defending the Idea of the University in Troubled Times,” published by the Record in the December 18th, Cole does defends the idea of the untouchable professor instead of the idea of a balanced education. Provost Cole twists the debate surrounding the incitement to murder issued by Tom Paulin in Al-Ahram into one on the idea of debate itself, and concerns himself more with history than with the true charge of educators, the future. In doing so, Provost Cole shows that he missed the point: in no way do the people that call for Columbia University to discredit and disavow Tom Paulin want to suppress debate. I cannot agree more with Provost Cole when he said: “the growth of knowledge is better served through the clash of ideas than through the blind acceptance of dominant ideologies and the silencing of criticism.” But even debate has rules.
Tom Paulin did not debate. He called for murder. And I am not accusing him of it: he admits it himself in a published interview. To say, as does Provost Cole, that Paulin has been accused “of strong and hurtful speech about Middle East politics” is like saying, and I borrow Paulin’s own analogical language, that Hitler has been only accused of genocide.
On the other-hand, Provost Cole brings Rashid Khalidi into the fray, who, as far as I know, only expressed his opinion. Khalidi is a notable scholar on the Middle East, who I personally disagree with, and who should have been invalidated by a speech he gave in June. But he has never incited to murder, and so Cole’s grouping of Khalidi with Paulin is an insult to Khalidi because Khalidi only expresses his opinion.
Tom Paulin did not only express his opinion. It cannot be overstated that he called for murder flat-out and publicly. He also justified another form of murder: the target of innocents through suicide bombing.
Justifying suicide bombing as a tactic for gaining political ground is not only an opinion: as Alan Dershowitz carefully points out, it is such justifications that have made terrorism the first recourse instead of the proven non-violent strategies of Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. Instead of being the unthinkable, terrorism has become the resort of any and every political group that feels as if its target audience is “just not listening.”
The link to the attacks of September 11th is clear and unmistakable. The militants that carried out the attack were not poor, impoverished, uneducated peoples who did not know better or committed the attacks out of desperation; they were highly trained, highly motivated, comfortably compensated, highly disciplined political beings that calculated and executed a monstrous attack out of the knowledge that people like Tom Paulin will apologize for them and justify their actions as an act of desperation, or, in his own words on suicide bombings, as “an expression of deep injustice and tragedy.” It seems that truth lies in the product, Provost Cole, and the product is thousands of bereaved families and a terrorized world.
I would hope that Provost Cole does not think that suicide bombings are a legitimate way to voice an opinion, but the fact of the matter is that he did defend Paulin publicly in a University publication–although his letter has since mysteriously disappeared from the Record’s online database. He defended Paulin in saying that he has a right to his opinion. But Paulin did not just offer his opinion. He offered in his Al-Ahram interview, as well as throughout his poetry, the justification for murder. Paulin puts it very clearly: “they should be shot.” In this particular case he is talking about “Brooklyn-born Jewish settlers.”
What Provost Cole does not get is that these Jewish settlers are not aliens–although, after the demonization undertaken by the media, it is hard to blame him. There are a number of students at Columbia that are from Brooklyn, are Jews, and have lived in the West Bank. Does that mean that “they should be shot”? If one would be shot tomorrow morning, on the steps of Low Library, would Provost Cole still protect Paulin and the other professors in this University that have legitimated murder in their statements?
And I would say exactly the same thing if Paulin would have said that Chinese, Spaniards or Americans “should be shot.” Or Blacks, Hispanics or Homosexuals. The University as an institution should be an open forum–until someone calls for murder. Provost Cole can rest assure that if the “tables were to turn” as he says, I would not want it any other way.
We should remember that Germany, except for approximately 26 years of its modern history, was the safest country for Jews, and one of the most liberal and progressive country in Europe. That is what the phrase “Never Forget” means–that we should never forget that the evil face of humankind can show itself anywhere, even where we feel most at home. It is too bad that Provost Cole is ending his illustrious career at Columbia by defending those who advocate murder. I hope that President Bollinger will have the vision–both forward, but more importantly backward–to deal with both him and Paulin appropriately. It is time for Columbia to be hate free and academically honest, and uphold the student’s right to a hate free environment.
As for the future, it seems that the students need representatives that will be able to hear their complaints about the spread of hatred and incitement in the classroom. Taking from Amherst’s example, we should have “Diversity Senators” that will allow members of minority groups to give light to cases of hatred and bias–cases that will be spoken for by representatives of those minority groups and, if the professor is deemed to have had spread undue bias or incitement, investigated. It is time professors truly “bear in mind the special obligations arising from their position in the academic community,” in the words of the Faculty Handbook, and it is the job of both the students and the administration to hold them to their responsibilities. Education is based on tolerance–but tolerance ends when incitement to murder begins.