Can Reasonableness Defeat the Campus Anti-Semites?

March 18 2021

Considering the crisis, or crises, that beset American universities, Jonathan Marks puts forward “a conservative case for liberal education” in his aptly named new book Let’s Be Reasonable. In this context, Marks analyzes the anti-Israel mania that has infected so many professors and students, and the very unreasonable Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement in particular. Andrew Pessin writes in his review:

Being reasonable in Marks’s view also requires clarity and transparency about one’s premises, conclusions, and aims. BDS presents itself as a “nonviolent” movement to “support Palestinian rights” and no doubt convinces many well-meaning individuals to sign on under that banner. But the easily documented reality, as Marks shows, is that the movement as a whole is perfectly fine with violence, and its goal brazenly includes the destruction of the world’s only Jewish state.

How should a defender of liberal education—in particular one who supports Israel—respond to this campaign? Not, Marks insists, by political propagandizing in the other direction. . . . Nor is the proper response to cancel or “de-platform” campus BDS speakers and events. To be reasonable is to seek truth, and that requires hearing all sides, so silencing one’s opponents is not the answer. Nor, similarly, is the right response to engage in “viewpoint discrimination”—for example, by refusing the establishment of a student group such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a tactic much in the news of late due to a court case resulting from Fordham University’s effort to do just that.

Marks’s vision of a newly energized liberal education is appealing, and Let’s Be Reasonable is an important and timely book. . . . But exactly how effective is his “reasonable” approach when campus anti-Israelism, pursued with a sometimes-fanatic zeal, produces discrimination against Israel and (in particular) the many Jewish students who support her?

[O]ne never wants to stoop to the level of one’s enemies, but if one feels (as many do) that the campus assault on Israel is something akin to a war, that it is truly anti-Semitic in nature, and that it has serious long-term consequences for the wellbeing not merely of Israel but even of Jews in America—then one might think that more is necessary than merely “being reasonable.”

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Read more at Commentary

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, BDS, Israel on campus

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter