Radical Discourse at Columbia

It is hard to exaggerate the extent to which a left-wing ideology has captivated university life. I sometimes get the impression that the ghost of Antonio Gramsci is parading among academic faculties spreading his soteriology to “useful dupes.”

I recently participated in a discussion on Iran at Columbia University sponsored by the college Democrats, Republicans, Hillel and various political action committees on campus. Although it was not a formal debate, one member of the panel, a self described expert on Islam, injected a rather contentious spirit into the discussion by noting:

– Ahmadinejad is a legitimate political leader like others in the world
– There isn’t any difference between the Enlightenment world-view in the West and Islam
– Iran is not a threat to Western interests
– We should do nothing about its nuclear weapons program
– The U.S. is suffering from a form of national hysteria over Iran
– Suicide bombers could be compared to soldiers in World War I who were cannon fodder
– Ahmadinejad never said he wanted to wipe Israel off the map
– What difference does it make if Iran possesses a few nuclear weapons?
– There isn’t any movement within Iran to oust Ahmadinejad as its national leader

It was hard for me to believe that a serious scholar circa 2007 would be making claims of this variety. It was equally difficult for me to think that the majority of those assembled would embrace these fatuities. But I was wrong. As David Horowitz once pointed out, it is hard to caricature university life.


One student did have the temerity to say this noted professor was intellectually dishonest. He maintained there is a substantial difference between a suicide bomber who straps explosives to his waist with the intent of killing innocent women and children and soldiers who rush an entrenched fortification with the intention of overwhelming an enemy. This comment, of course, was treated with disdain as the professor moved to Iran’s legitimate nuclear ambitions.
Yet it is precisely this difference, it is precisely the divergent world views that make nuclear weapons possession in the hands of Ahmadinejad so dangerous.

Remarkably the student claque or one might say, the faithful, were undaunted. Logic was discarded replaced by ideological fervor. This professor was quite obviously an apologist for Islam. In his fevered imagination, it is the West that is the culprit in world affairs. “Why doesn’t the United States engage in bilateral talks with Iranian leaders?” he asked. When I pointed out that European negotiators have offered blandishments in the form of Airbuses and nuclear facilities for energy purposes in return for the cessation of Iran’s nuclear enrichment activity, he scoffed. After all, “that is not a negotiation with the United States,” he said.

One can only wonder what goes on in the confines of Columbia’s Hamilton Hall when other points of view aren’t considered. Do students actually embrace this claptrap? Are they given an opportunity to challenge Islamic apologies? Is this what Middle Eastern Studies programs have become or is Columbia on the left wing cutting edge, the legacy of Edward Said and his orientalist imaginings?

For a considerable period I’ve read about the politicization of university campuses, but I assumed that students could see through the ideological foolishness of professors weaned on sixties logic. Although it is only a sample of one (Columbia), I now have my doubts about student perceptiveness.

Students are easily taken in by the legions of professors with radical views. It is the professoriate that cuts against the grain, that challenges the so-called establishment. How intoxicating to be on that side of the argument even when it is intellectually dishonest.
My hope, if I can call it that, is the one student who challenged the illogical claims of the Islamic scholar. Are there others like him sitting in quiet bemusement? I wonder, I fret and I pray that one day universities will come to their senses. That day is not yet over the horizon.

Herb London

Herb London is president of the London Center for Policy Research.

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