By Bruce Thornton
Dogmatically slumbering in its academic silo, Harvard seems to have missed the hard lessons that increasingly follow from doubling down on illiberal “woke” ideas like DEI. If the fates of Bud Lite, Disney, and left-leaning legacy newspapers and magazines, which are laying off reporters in droves, weren’t enough of a warning, the damage to Harvard’s reputation, donations, and enrollment that has followed the forced retirement of their serial plagiarist and functionally antisemitic president, should have penetrated even Harvard’s dense minds.
But the lessons of experience that the Romans believed even fools can learn, can’t penetrate the incredible denseness of the academic mind, a feature of intellectuals since antiquity. As Cicero once quipped, “There is nothing so absurd that hasn’t been said by some philosopher.” But today’s cognitive elite “brights” have gone far beyond even the silliest ancient philosophers. From the long, bloody scientism of Marxism, to the postmodern “higher nonsense” and preposterous intellectual gimmicks like “systemic racism” and “transgenderism,” our institutions of higher learning have degenerated into satiric parodies redolent of Juvenal and Jonathan Swift.
So what does Harvard do in response to the sorry spectacle of their students protesting in support of a sadistic gang of thugs who have sworn to wipe out the Jews; trading in antisemitic lies and slurs redolent of Der Stürmer, and bullying and assaulting with impunity Jewish students? Do they enforce their existing codes of conduct that the students are violating?
Of course not. They confect a “Presidential Task Force on Combating Antisemitism.” Yes, they’re going to have a gaggle of profs and administrators and other “stakeholders” sit around and talk about “combating” the very behavior Harvard either ignored, rationalized, or approved. And as the Wall Street Journal points out, “Harvard simultaneously announced a task force to fight Islamophobia, in keeping with the new habit on the left that antisemitism can’t be condemned by itself.”
That must be what they mean by “equity,” which is a cant word for the equality of outcomes––even though historically, hate crimes against Jews comprise more than half of all religion-based hate-crimes, whereas those against Muslims are considerably fewer.
But the real insult added to the injury is appointing as co-chair history professor Derek Penslar, who writes about “settler colonialism,” a smear twinned with “apartheid state,” both of which, along with the Soviets’ ginned up charge of “genocide,” fill the chants and posters of Ivy League protestors and faculty. The professor also signed a petition that peddles the conspiracy theory that, as the Journal reports, “the Netanyahu government’s proposals for judicial reform mask a plan to ‘ethnically cleanse all territories under Israeli rule of their Palestinian population.’”
And if that’s not enough vitriol, the professor throws in “Jewish supremacism,” the latter word a synonym for “racism.” These preposterous smears comprise the Orwellian anti-Israel global propaganda.
The use of such “big lies” is another indictment of our universities, which have abandoned the idea of truth, which requires a respect for the integrity of language, rational argument, and empirical evidence. These standards are particularly important in representative governments whose citizens are free to discuss, debate, and deliberate openly and without fear the state’s policies and principles.
As early as Thucydides, however, the corruption of these standards led to the degradation of language. Speaking of the civil violence and chaos during the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides wrote, “Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them.” More than 2300 years later, George Orwell added, “Political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.”
The politicized words–– “settler colonialism,” “apartheid,” and “genocide”–– are monstrous distortions of history that embody perfectly Orwell’s “defense of the indefensible.” The first reflects the long, politicized simplification of a historical phenomenon into a melodramatic villain. Rather than, like all things human beings do, a tragic mix of evil, unforeseen consequences, and good intentions. The “settler” is thrown in to tar Israel with the brush of South Africa’s erstwhile apartheid government.
Even more important, this demonization of colonialism and imperialism betrays its political purpose by the fact that seldom, if ever, do we hear complaints about one of history’s most successful imperial colonizers, Islam. From the Arab homeland on the Arabian Peninsula, Islam expanded, by conquest and occupation by “settlers,” into the Roman Empire, eventually occupying nearly all of it, as well as reaching India and Southeastern Asia. As Middle East historian Efraim Karsh writes, Muslim expansion “acted in a typically imperialist fashion from the start, subjugating indigenous populations, colonizing their lands, and expropriating their wealth, resources, and labor.”
Sure sounds like “settler colonialism.” And, unlike the European colonies, almost all of which have been returned to the indigenous peoples, the descendants of Muslim colonizers are still occupying territories like North Africa, Egypt, parts of the Balkans, the Middle East, and Asia Minor, all of which were, before the rise of Islam, mostly inhabited and ruled for more than two millennia by the Greco-Roman and Judean-Christian founders of Western Civilizations.
Next, the charge of “apartheid” is a grotesque false analogy. First, unlike in South Africa, the land was the homeland of the Jews for two millennia before the Arab Muslims arrived in large numbers. Also, Palestinian Arabs are not segregated or otherwise restricted unless as a consequence of Israeli self-defense policies made necessary by endemic terrorist violence. Third, one fifth of Israel’s citizens comprise Arabs, who have all the rights of any citizen, and serve as judges and other public officials. Unlike Jewish Israelis, they don’t have to serve in the military, but can enlist. The latest attacks against Israelis also have killed Arab civilians and soldiers.
The freest Arabs in the Middle East are Israeli citizens. But none of these boons were possessed by black South Africans under apartheid. The charge of “apartheid” is another way of making Israelis guilty by a spurious association with South Africa.
Finally, the accusation of “genocide” is a transparent lie, one particularly despicable and morally idiotic for claiming that the actual victims of genocide are committing the same crime, another false analogy. The Nazis didn’t allow Jews to become German citizens or hold public office, nor has Israel codified in its founding documents the genocidal aim to kill every Arab; unlike Hamas, which is founded on the explicit goal to destroy every Jew living in Israel “from the river to the sea,” until the land is Judenfrei. And it’s a peculiar genocide that provides medical care, food, water, and fuel to the alleged targets of its genocidal rage.
Finally, the Nazi genocide did not spring from religion. It was a consequence of the “scientific racism” that misapplied Darwinian doctrines like survival of the fittest and extermination of the less fit, to human beings based on ethnicity and dubious concepts like “race” defined by superficial physical features. Charles Darwin, in The Descent of Man, anticipated this gruesome outcome: “At some future period . . . the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world.”
On the other hand, Jew-hatred can be found in Islamic sacred texts from its beginning. As Andrew Bostom writes in The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, “For the Muslim masses, basic Islamic education in the Qur’an, hadith, and sira . . . may create an immutable superstructure of Jew hatred on to which non-Muslim sources of Jew hatred are easily grafted.”
The collaboration with the Nazis during WWII by many Middle East Muslims illustrates this dynamic. During the war––as the Palestine Jewish Brigade fought on the side of the Allies––the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, a member of the Arab Higher Committee, spent much of the war in Germany, consulting with Adolf Hitler about the fate of the Jews, and encouraging der Fuhrer to pursue elimination as the “final solution.”
And as Gwythian Prins wrote recently for the indispensable Gatestone Institute, “It is also no secret that Arabs are present within the former British Mandate areas because in 1948 their leaders and spokesmen, including the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, rejected the solution of a two-state partition that the newly-minted ‘United Nations’ offered and which Ben Gurion had been willing to accept, imperfect as it was in terms of both patrimonial claims and defensibility.”
Moreover, the Grand Mufti had earlier in 1947 rejected this “two-state solution”––the same one the West is now trying to resurrect despite its long history of Palestinian Arab rejection. “He preferred,” Prins writes, “to call for . . . the destruction of the Jewish element residing in the Arab sphere under the protection of British power’ (not his words but Hitler’s).” This history has been studiously kept hidden by global apologists and enablers of Palestinian Arab terrorist violence, eliminationist aims, and rejection of any resolution of the conflict.
This distortion and politicization of history can be blamed in large part on our corrupt universities that indoctrinate rather than inform students, and promulgate the corruption of language in order to perpetuate “big lies” and illiberal ideologies that endanger our national interests and security.
Perhaps a growing backlash against our degraded universities will compel a return to their core missions to promote truth and coherent thinking. But for now, as Dominic Green puts it in his Journal essay, “It’s Claudine Gays and Derek Penslars all the way down.”