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David Horowitz’s Archives: The Hazards of Speaking on a College Campus

This article was first published in FrontPage Magazine on October 24, 2008.

For a conservative, the hazards of speaking on a college campus are more extensive than you might think. Once the security guards are in place – as they inevitably must be – the risk of getting pied or physically attacked or having one’s speech shut down by raucous protesters is actually a lesser problem than others one regularly encounters at these events.

Far greater is the problem presented by the generally hostile environment a conservative normally encounters on any campus. This includes destruction of flyers advertising one’s event, failure of the campus newspaper to publicize it and failure of professors to recommend or even require student attendance as they regularly do for radical speakers. Equally troublesome for a visiting conservative is the pervasive leftist mindset of a community that is constantly brow-beaten by leftist propaganda and is the subject of relentless intimidation by leftist bigots who will call anyone who disagrees with them a racist or a sexist or an Islamophobe at the drop of a hat. This creates a conventional wisdom which institutionalizes falsehoods such as “Israel is occupying stolen Arab lands or is an apartheid state” or “the Jews control American policy.” The same oppressive atmosphere makes lunatic positions such as the claim that the American government or the Israeli Mossad blew up the world trade center seem reasonable. When I spoke at Central Michigan University last week, for example, my speech was competing with another event, organized by Michigan faculty which featured a once deported Muslim professor – now re-admitted on visa – who argued that 9/11 was an Israeli plot.

At same time, reasonable statements a visiting conservative is likely to make – that the Arabs are guilty of a sixty-year war of aggression whose goal is to destroy the Jewish state – seem one-sided, hard-to-believe and therefore “extreme.” This means that any statement made by such a visitor taken out of context can seem ludicrous and absurd to a campus audience which is likely never to have been confronted by conservative arguments and facts – perhaps never to have heard them presented by an adult member of the academic community.

In this fertile ground, the campus press becomes the most hazardous land mine for a visiting conservative.  As a result of changes made twenty and thirty years ago, campus newspapers are independently owned while still drawing on institutional support from universities who give them exclusive distribution rights, and bearing the names of traditional campus newspapers which associates them with the university community. This arrangement allows university administrators to wash their hands of responsibility for the journalistic contents of the papers while providing them with a captive campus audience.

On my campus visits, I have occasionally had really fine student reporters cover my events, and I have had honest but incompetent student reporters garble my remarks. But I have also had ideologically hostile campus reporters who garbled my remarks with political intent. The resulting caricatures have provided useful fodder for the many leftist websites gunning for me on the web. The fact that this ammunition comes with the apparent imprimatur of venerable institutions increases its power to produce collateral damage. It is this hazard to one’s reputation as a public intellectual that presents the most troublesome risk to a conservative who is imprudent enough to accept an invitation to come to a university to speak.

A case in point is the recent visit I made Brown University during Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week – which was “reported” in the Brown Daily Herald. I have a long history with the Brown Daily Herald. In 2001, its liberal editors published an ad I wrote called “10 Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery Is a Bad Idea and Racist Too.” The editors then stood up courageously when they were attacked by the campus left which stole an entire edition of the paper in retaliation and destroyed the copies.  The leftists then threatened to repeat the vandalism every day until the editors paid them money, gave them a free full-page ad and agreed to have their representatives form a committee that would oversee the editorial content of the paper from then on. When Brown’s president gently reminded these youthful totalitarians that a free press was a pillar of American democracy, 60 Brown professors signed an open letter condemning the president for her remarks and defending the vandals.

This history is a necessary background to the paper’s report on my speech at Brown last week. The assault began with the story’s headline “Horowitz Lambastes Islam in Near Empty MacMillan (Hall).” These seven words consist of one damaging lie and one misleading half-truth.

The half-truth is the statement regarding the poor attendance at my speech. As I have already pointed out, there is not a level playing field for conservatives at Brown or any university. Brown has one notable conservative faculty member in its entire liberal arts program, and thus only one professor who might encourage his students to come to this event or spring to my defense when the event is attacked. But this professor did not attend. Nor did I expect him to attend. It would be, to put it bluntly, dangerous from a career point of view for him to be associated with me in any way, a fact we both understand. Consequently, we have never met, although I have spoken at Brown twice. Since this is a normal situation on univerity campuses, my usual speaking audience is a couple of hundred students. I were a leftist with my level of notability, there would be double that number or more.

My last talk at Brown was an exception to this rule – some 600 students attended. It was my first visit to Brown after the reparations controversy which tore up the campus. I had to wait three years to be invited because the heads of the college Democrats and the International Socialists Organization had threatened violence if I came, which caused the College Republicans to rescind their original invitation. Because of this history, the president of Brown, Ruth Simmons, was in attendance at my speech along with the diversity provost and the dean of students who introduced me (but asked if he could omit “the laudatory” items in my bio). In other words, this — despite the fact that I was an unwanted conservative — approached the status of a true “campus event” – the kind that leftist speakers take for granted.

Although I normally speak to hundreds of students despite these handicaps, there were only about 50 in MacMillan Hall that night. This was the half-truth. The reason for the poor attendance was that the event had been scheduled on the night of the 6th game of the playoffs between the Boston Red Sox (the “home team” for New England) and the Tampa Bay Rays. The schedule for my speech had been in place before Boston unexpectedly beat Anaheim in the semi-finals. The omission of this not insignificant fact from both the article and the headline was hardly accidental – particularly since the reporter had a “Go Red Sox” sticker on his laptop cover.

So much for the half-truth. The lie in the article headline is that I attacked Islam as a religion. I did say that Islam had some problematic elements, in particular the genocidal saying or hadith attributed to its Prophet which says: “The Day of Judgment will only come when Muslims fight Jews and kill them, when the Jews hide behind the rocks and the trees and the rocks and the trees cry out ‘Oh Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him!’” This hadith was a focus of our Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week this fall and therefore an inevitable subject of my talk.

However, throughout my talk and in my discussion of this hadith in particular, I went out of my way to say I was not condemning or attacking or “lambasting” Islam as such. “There are both good Muslims and bad Muslims,” I said repeatedly, “just as there are good Christians and bad Christians and good Jews and bad Jews.” I went further. I pointed out that at a speech I gave at the University of Virginia the night before (attended by about 200 students) there were 30 or so Muslim students in the audience, who so identified themselves when I asked for a show of hands. I asked for the show of hands after a Muslim student questioned whether the Prophet had ever said such a thing. When I asked, the student said she had never heard of this famous hadith. I then asked for the Muslim show of hands and whether any of them had heard of this hadith. None of them had.

This genocidal hadith is not incidental to the Islamo-fascist jihad which was the subject of my talk. It is written into the Hamas charter and is obviously a motivating force behind the genocidal agendas of Hizbollah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranian regime. I used the classroom “teaching moment” provided by the Muslim students present to illustrate the fact that there were Muslims who were innocent of these agendas. I repeated for the Brown students my belief that probably the overwhelming majority of Muslims was innocent of those agendas, and not part of the Islamic jihad.

Yet the Daily Herald article accuses me of attacking Islam and provides “evidence” of same which will be used on numerous Islamist and leftist websites where I am being maligned as one of the nation’s top “Islamophobes.”

The article begins with an introductory joke I told when I said that I hoped the students had checked their pies at the door. This was a reference to a recent incident in which New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman had so assaulted at Brown. The Herald article then pointedly described me as “a Jewish writer and activist who holds adamantly pro-Israel views,” and opened its account of my remarks with the following sentence: “‘You have one of the worst faculties in the United States,’ [Horowitz] said, ‘These people are communists – they are totalitarians.’” This was the last point in the article that any Brown reader would still be interested in anything I said or would regard me as anything but a foaming-at-the-mouth ideologue.

The alleged quotation, of course,was a travesty, a gross distortion of the statement I actually made. I did not and would never say that the entire faculty of any school north of Havana was made up of communists and totalitarians (and I wouldn’t even make such a blanket statement about Castro’s school, which might have many silent dissenters in its ranks).  But mangling my statement was only part of the problem. The reporter also deliberately left out the context of my remark. As is my custom if I have been to a school before, I generally reference a previous visit. In this case, since my relationship to Brown has a greater significance than is the case with most schools, I went over the details of incident with my reparations ad and the trashing of the Herald by student leftists, and the support for this attack on a free press by the 60 Brown faculty members who signed the letter defending the destruction of the newspaper. I then said that these professors had the mentality of communists and totalitarians. Since there were sixty of them supporting the attack on a free press I did say that I thought Brown had the worst faculty – the most overtly political and anti-democratic – in the country.

There is little point in reviewing the other distortions in the Herald story, which included misquoting the genocidal hadith to make it look as though I were exaggerating its implications, and claiming that I said “the Koran left little room for interpretation when compared to the Hebrew and Christian bibles.” In fact, I said that Islam was a fundamentalist religion whose traditions historically did not allow for an interpretive distance from its texts – a point made by many scholars of Islam.

My speech at Brown is over, but I am now left to deal with the caricature in the Brown Daily Herald, which will resurface in innumerable attacks on me by equally unscrupulous leftists on the web. I cannot repair the damage to my relationship with Brown or my reputation with untold Brown alumni and other friends of the Brown community who will read the Herald account. When I ask myself why the Herald which, despite its liberal bent, has been pretty respectful of my views in the past, would send such a dishonest and hostile reporter to cover my event, the answer I come up with is this: He probably was the only one willing to volunteer for the job while the others went to watch the Red Sox.

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