The Shameful Decline of Academic Virtue: or, the continuing affair of Ayaan Hirsi Ali

First, I have the rare pleasure of congratulating an Ivy League university for doing the right thing: later today Yale University’s William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale will welcome Ayaan Hirsi Ali to give a lecture on their campus. For those of you who are not aware, Ms. Ali is a rare individual who embodies the triumph of the individual against overwhelming odds and (sadly) also the perfidy of our current academic climate.

This invitation to Ayaan Hirsi Ali was explicitly a reaction to the actions taken by Brandeis University earlier this year: for those unfamiliar with the earlier fracas, Brandeis University was set to award Ms. Ali an honorary degree, in recognition of her tireless fight for women’s rights, especially the rights of women in Islamic countries. Unfortunately Ms. Ali would discover that the virtue of speaking for powerless women, of being “a compelling public figure and advocate for women’s rights” is no protection for a critic of Islam.

Along with many others, I found the incident a shameful renunciation of the principles Brandeis claims to honor (my letter to the administration can be found at the bottom of this post), a sign their priorities had a great deal less to do with Truth, and more to do with what was politically comfortable. In fact, just as the news of the rescinded honor was making the rounds, Brandeis was flogging on their Facebook page a hagiograhpical movie about that tireless defender of women… Anita Hill.

 

Isn’t it funny how unattractive “speaking truth to power” becomes when the people with power actually cut off critic’s heads?

This is the second reason I am congratulating Yale University and their William F. Buckley, Jr. Program: the same forces of “tolerance” that succeeded in persuading the hapless Brandeis administration to rescind their honor have descended on the Yale administration. Thankfully Yale (or, more appropriately, the Buckley Program) has stood fast in the face of those who would destroy freedom of speech to save free speech. People like, say, the spokesman for the Yale Muslim Students Association (MSA) who proclaim that “the group and their Islamic values uphold freedom of speech”, but, alas, “The difference here is that it’s hate speech, [which] under the law would be classified as libel or slander and is not protected by the First Amendment.” Ah, he is only looking out for Yale and its liability, how generous of the fellow!

Except, of course, his legal understanding is completely wrong. Unfortunately, while he may be completely wrong, the list of organizations that has signed on with the MSA shows he is far from alone.

 

The following is the letter I sent to the Brandeis University administration on the occasion of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s dis-invitation;

As a Brandeis alumnus, and with the holiday season fast approaching, a certain folktale was brought to my mind when thinking about the recent incident with Ayaan Hirsa Ali and how her outspoken criticism of Islam (especially its shameful treatment of women) seems to have cost her an honorary doctorate.

Many are familiar with the stories of the Maharal of Prague, Judah Loew, and his creation of the Golem. How with his hands he carved it from base materials of river clay and breathed life into it by carving upon its forehead a certain word. In some versions the Golem is animated by the name of the Lord, but in other versions, a more familiar word is used. That word is “Emet” and it is familiar because it is inscribed in the center of the Brandies University school crest, for it means Truth.

You see, what is important about this version of the Golem story is how it ends: the Golem, tainted by world concerns becomes unable to fulfill its purpose. So the Maharal placed his hands upon the Golem’s head and erased the Aleph, leaving behind only Met.

Which is Death.

The divine magic gone, the Golem returned to the lifeless clay from which it came.

Has the Aleph been scratched from Brandeis’ crest? Has the school that proclaims “Truth, Even unto its innermost parts” turned its back on the truth, on the principles of open debate and free speech? Is what may and may not be said to be determined by the mob?

Ms. Ali “is a compelling public figure and advocate for women’s rights, and we respect and appreciate her work to protect and defend the rights of women and girls throughout the world” and before last week she was worthy of an honorary degree. But not last week. As of last week, Brandeis “cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values”(1).

One must forgive a certain confusion as to what these core values are, precisely. One wonders also what the “past statements” of Ms. Ali were, they certainly must be very serious to be both so obscure that they were unknown until now, but also so inflammatory that they cannot be borne. More serious certainly then the statements of Tony Kushner (honorary doctorate 2006) who “believe[s] that the historical record shows, incontrovertibly, that the forced removal of Palestinians from their homes as part of the creation of the state of Israel was ethnic cleansing”(2). And that “The biggest supporters of Israel are the most repulsive members of the Jewish community.”

When it was time to honor Mr. Kushner, then Brandeis president Jehuda Reinharz proclaimed the standard was to look beyond politics, and award the degrees only on the basis of specific works;

“Brandeis bestows honorary degrees as a means of acknowledging the outstanding accomplishments or contributions of individual men and women in any of a number of fields of human endeavor. Just as Brandeis does not inquire into the political opinions and beliefs of faculty or staff before appointing them, or students before offering admission, so too the University does not select honorary degree recipients on the basis of their political beliefs or opinions.

Over the years, Brandeis has honored hundreds of men and women of distinction whose personal views, I am sure, span the full spectrum of political discourse, and the University applies no litmus test requiring honorary degree recipients to hold particular views on Israel or topics of current political debate.”

What now? If Truth at Brandeis is subject to the mob’s veto, if one’s politics can stray far from the polite and into the insulting, but only when certain groups are involved, what then is left of Truth at all? Should we get the chisels and carve an asterisk into the motto? “Truth, Even unto its innermost parts*” *So long as no-one from approved groups is offended; so long as only Israel and Jews are demeaned.

Let’s be clear: I don’t know and I don’t care if Ms. Ali is deserving of the “honor” of an honorary degree from Brandeis. What I do know is that the principles that operated before, the principles of open discussion and tolerance that had Desmond Tutu (no friend of Israel there!) address my own commencement, have been cast aside.

Maybe it’s time to just scrape the Aleph from the school’s crest and be honest about things?

1) http://www.brandeis.edu/now/2014/april/commencementupdate.html

2) http://www.scribd.com/doc/54643560/Letter-to-CUNY-Trustees-05-04-11

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The Iron Dome saves lives in Gaza

If you want to end a war you have to defeat the enemy, humiliate the people and change the government so that they are no longer an adversary, and that requires a lot of capital and a great deal of blood and treasure. Or you can live with the alternative.

-Victor Davis Hanson, 2013

With the lull in hostilities in Gaza, it’s worth examining some of the misconceptions and strained thinking that was broadcast through the media; specifically, the truly bizarre idea that the Iron Dome missile defense system is not just a bad piece of technology, but morally bad and, for all its apparent success, harmful to Israel. While John Podhoretz nicely dispatches several elements of the “the Iron Dome is really a bad thing” complaint in Commentary’s Contentions blog, there is an even more important point that has been allowed to go unsaid: the Iron Dome has saved uncountable lives in Gaza. But before we go into that, let’s take a detour just to show that, yes, people really are saying these things.

Marc Lamont Hill, “Distinguished Professor of African American Studies at Morehouse College”, manages to spectacularly misunderstand the situation in a discussion on CNN;

I think, though, the challenge is, because if you look at the Iron Dome in isolation, then yes, Ross, I agree with you 100% because the Iron Dome is exclusively a defensive mechanism, but what the Iron Dome does is it also takes away all of Hamas’s military leverage which is very different than say, 10 years ago or 15 years ago in other wars like Lebanon, et cetera. As a result, it not only serves a defensive purpose but de facto serves an offensive purpose. It allows Israel to essentially  assault and siege Gaza without any retribution or response on the other side. So again, to some extent, they are not just funding defense, they are funding an offensive war and ultimately an occupation. That for me, is the problem.

Yaov Fromer, who “teaches politics and history at Tel Aviv University”, writes in the Washington Post that the Iron Dome “may do more long-term harm then good”;

[W]hat was once a tactical defense mechanism to temporarily protect the civilian population has become a strategy unto itself. In that way, it may actually undermine Israel’s long-term security. By temporarily minimizing the dangers posed by Hamas and Hezbollah, it distracts us from seeking a broader regional political solution that could finally incapacitate these terror networks and make systems such as Iron Dome moot.

… As long as the Israeli public believes it is safe, for now, under the soothing embrace of technology, it will not demand that its political leaders wage diplomacy to end violence that mandated Iron Dome in the first place. Since Iron Dome has transformed a grim reality into a rather bearable ordeal, Israelis have lost the sense of urgency and outrage that might have pushed their government to make painful if necessary concessions in exchange for peace.

To understand exactly how wrong these two “intellectuals” are, let us imagine the counter-factual: that when the current cease-fire is broken (an eventuality only slightly less predictable then the phases of the moon, as Islamic Jihad is eager to boast), they actually manage to sneak a larger missile past the Iron Dome and inflict the civilian casualties Professor Hill imagines will give Hamas their “military leverage”. In other words, Hamas succeeds in causing Israel’s version of Pearl Harbor.

And we all know how well that worked in cooling tensions in the Pacific, right?

 

It takes very little creativity to imagine that a mass casualty attack on Israel, perpetrated by Hamas (which is both a, the closest thing to a democratically elected government in Gaza and b, a death cult that as a matter of public record is devoted to the destruction of Israel, the Jewish people and the West as a whole), will in fact not bring an thaw in relations.  The result will, I think it fair to say, be much closer to the reaction of the United States after Pearl Harbor then, say, Spain’s decision to withdraw troops from Iraq after the 2004 Madrid train terror attacks.

For all the protestations certain parties have lodged against the Iron Dome the truth of the matter is this: wars end when they are won by one side or the other, once hostilities have commenced anything other then victory or defeat is what the Romans called bellum interruptus (an interruption of the war). Sometimes the bellum interruptus can be long, sometimes short, but there are no good choices, no choices without costs.

The US is involved in at least two notable bellum interruptus at the moment, which show precisely how costly peace can be: North Korea and Iraq. In North Korea the US (and South Korea) decided that a cold peace was better then the option of fighting into the heart of North Korea. And it costs: tens of thousands of US troops remain in South Korea, North Korea exports nuclear technology to bad actors across the world and minor outrages are endured by the free nations of the world (such as kidnapping citizens of western countries). The costs, however they are tabulated, are judged to be less then the costs of actually finishing the conflict and ending the war. In Iraq, the US was content to watch the gains of the last decade be frittered away, perhaps tonight we will find that the terror army of ISIS has proved sufficiently outrageous that our president will declare delenda est.

Carthago Delenda Est. That is the phrase attributed to Cato the Elder, who used it regularly as he argued that Carthage, the ancient rival of Rome, could not continue to threaten Rome’s dominance of the Mediterranean. The Punic Wars spanned over a century until the reversals and battles became too much for men like Cato to endure and the threat was ended by the third and final Punic war.

What the Iron Dome does when it reduces or removes the threat of Israeli civilian casualties (at least, to a degree) is give the time and space for less efficient, less brutal warfare. Make no mistake, when Israel calls ahead to warn civilians or distributes leaflets warning of an impending attack, they are sacrificing many prized commodities in war fighting.  Losing the element of surprise certainly limits civilian casualties, but it also allows for the escape of at least some fighters that might otherwise be killed. Further, it establishes in the minds of Israel’s enemies that Israel cares, perhaps cares too much, about preserving life, even the lives of their enemies. This is a dangerous attitude to have, and even more dangerous to be understood to have, for it enables actors so deranged that they consider Hamas the victor in the current struggle.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the assorted other heads of the hydra of Islamic fascism will never be satisfied to have peace with Israel, and like Carthage, as long as they exist they will rise from the ashes of their defeats to fly at Israel’s throat. For the time being the Iron Dome, and systems like it, make the bellum interruptus tolerable, but only just barely. The citizens of southern Israel, of Sderot and other cities, are weary and tired of an endless, empty peace. By way of example, at the onset of the conflict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s satisfaction rating was 57%, when ground forces entered Gaza it was buoyed to an astonishing 82%. Today? 38%. It’s worth remembering that at the conclusion to the Punic wars Carthage was destroyed utterly, its citizenry either slain or enslaved, and while we may imagine the Israeli response will have much more the form of General Curtis “bomb them back to the stone age” LeMay then Publius Scipio Aemilianus, the conclusion remains the same…

If you care for the lives of Gazans, pray for the continued success of the Iron Dome.

 

 

For those interested in the study of Warfare, I cannot recommend the works of Victor Davis Hanson strongly enough. The quote at the beginning of this piece is taken from his talk below;