Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Quiet Defeat for College Political Correctness

Maybe this is how political correctness ends; not with a bang, but with a whimper. Across the country, universities that had abandoned in loco parentis in the 1960s because it was too oppressive and intrusive have replaced it with in loco Big Brother programs of political and cultural re-education. Last fall, for instance, the University of Wisconsin unveiled an ambitious "diversity" campaign designed to root out inappropriate speech and behaviors on campus. The "Think Respect" campaign was not as controversial as the University of Delaware's re-education program that required students to confess their racial guilt and demanded that they demonstrate "correct" attitudes toward sexuality and environmentalism.

But UW's program was just as creepy. Posters appeared around the campus that included suggestions how students could "Put Up a 'No Hate' Sign in Your Room," "Become a Big Brother or Sister," and "Confront Inappropriate Jokes." ("How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb?" "That's not funny.")

When not confronting such inappropriate humor, students were also encouraged to inform on one another. At the center of "Think Respect," was a "bias reporting mechanism" that encouraged students to report oppressive and racist worst, attitudes, and behavior. Students could download a form to make their allegations, which would then be investigated by the administration. The university's website encouraged a liberal use of the system:
"A bias incident is a threat or act of bigotry, harassment or intimidation - verbal, written or physical - that is personally directed against or targets a University of Wisconsin-Madison student because of that student's race, age, gender identity or expression, disability, national or ethnic origin, political affiliation, religion, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, veteran status, or other actual or perceived characteristic." (Emphasis added.) "Students can report anything, from a hate crime to graffiti to verbal harassment."

When the reporting system was unveiled, UW Law professor and blogger Ann Althouse commented:
"Students can report anything? And remember [Chancellor John] Wiley's statement: "We will not tolerate bias, racism, disrespect or hate." We will not tolerate disrespect? You know, I want students to feel good about campus life, but isn't part of campus life having rowdy debates and vigorous arguments?.... This program should make students worry that anything other than bland pleasantries is going to get them in trouble with the administration."

Free speech champion Donald Downs, who is also on the UW faculty, noted that the program "encourages campus citizens to report not only acts of harassment or discrimination that constitute official misconduct, but all forms of `bias,' verbal and non-verbal, without that term being defined in a manner that is consistent with First Amendment principles. In other words, the present policy amounts to a speech code, as it encourages people to file reports on other people's attitudes and speech that informants deem insufficiently sensitive."

At the University of Delaware a legal challenge from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a media firestorm, and accompanying widespread ridicule, forced the university to abandon its North Korean-style indoctrination program.

At Wisconsin, the "Think Respect" program died from indifference. It simply withered away. Even at one of the most political righteous campuses in the nation, it turned out that students did not want to rat one another out to the diversity police. As the student newspaper the Badger Herald reported last week:
"The campaign now is relegated to its spot in the vast bank of inactive organizations occupying the Student Organization Office's web space and the bias reporting mechanism fills a similar role on the Dean of Students' website."

The dean who launched "Think Respect" now admits that the campaign "didn't gain momentum for subsequent years" and they "haven't had many reports" of bias or oppressive behavior.

UW Law student Robert Phansalkar wrote the epitaph for the program, whose origin he traced "to our downright insatiable desire to legislate and litigate everything." The diverse-o-crats assume that college students are unable to deal with issues like racism on their own. But the reality, he wrote, is that "we have the ability to do so."
"This is precisely why students did not turn to campaigns or reporting forms to deal with those who offended them during the past year. "It seems obvious; we simply do not rush to a computer to fill out a form online when someone has offended us - we confront the person. We do not go to counseling to discuss an offensive remark - we talk it through... "The assumption that students simply cannot take care of themselves is the root of the very kind of paternalism that the `Think Campaign' perpetuates. The campaign and reporting forms advance the mentality that we cannot deal with these problems on our own. "But, as lack of enthusiasm and disuse of these programs plainly show, we are more than capable of dealing with the racism of today on our own."

Even without Big Brother looking over their shoulders.



A 1930s Jewish joke has two Polish yeshiva students walking down the street, suddenly aware of a pair of anti-Semitic thugs behind them brandishing sticks. The boys flee, the hooligans in pursuit. As the chase continues, one Jew asks the other, "Why are we running? There are only two of them, and we are two." "Yes," says his friend, "But they are together and we are alone." That's the kind of joke the birth of the State of Israel 60 years ago was to have rendered obsolescent. A literal phoenix risen from the ashes, Israel was a source of pride to all Jews, and widely accepted throughout the West as the nail in the coffin of systematic anti-Semitism.

We mistakenly took a brief remission for a cure. A new strain of the old cancer is metastasizing throughout Western countries with large, alienated Muslim populations. The new international, Israel-focused anti-Semitism -- the 2001 Durban Conference was a classic manifestation --joins fascist Muslims and left-wing ideologues in common cause.

The new Jew-hatred isn't characterized by brutal government-sponsored Kristallnachts. It is covert and "respectable." Indeed, wearing the fig leaf of anti-Zionism, Israel hatred in Europe is more than respectable; it is fashionable. But make no mistake: Organized and aggressive anti-Zionism is, effectively, anti-Semitism filtered through an ideological spellcheck. Scapegoating Jews for the world's ills, once a tactic of the right, is today a global left-wing phenomenon.

It should go without saying that criticism of Israel is, in itself, not tantamount to anti-Semitism. Clearheaded critics treat Israel as a country like any other, including their own. They judge Israel's actions by the single standard they apply to everyone else, and speak of Israel in language appropriate to truthful exchange. But you know Israel critics have become Israel haters when: they are obsessed with Israel's moral failures and ignore others'; they respond compassionately to Arab war victims, but not to Israel's terror victims; they deny Jews' ancestral roots and continued habitation of Israel; and they employ code words, such as "neoconservatives" or "Israel Lobby," as a euphemism for Jews.

Most importantly, Israel haters maliciously appropriate the discourse of Jewish victimhood to promote hate in others through outright historical lies. They label Israel an apartheid state, call Israeli soldiers Nazis, portray Ariel Sharon eating babies (the oldest anti-Semitic blood libel), compare Gaza to Buchenwald and in short seek to normalize the idea that support for Israel is support for racism, today's ultimate taboo.

In Canada, one rarely sees open manifestations of anti-Semitism. But the noxious creed is not extinct -- as we learned during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, when various left-wing dupes -- including, shamefully, a handful of labour leaders and politicians --marched in solidarity alongside Hezbollah supporters carrying placards urging "Death to the Jews."

The new anti-Semitism is also very much in evidence on university campuses, where Israel-hatred has become an efficient industry run by professional, Islamist-funded activists posing as students, supported by a significant number of faculty sympathizers. Defending Israel on campus is an act of courage for Jewish students, who run frequent gamuts of abuse directed at Israel through a shrill barrage of agitprop, Israeli apartheid "conferences," boycott attempts, divestment campaigns and threatened or real violence directed at Israel's advocates, as in two notable cases five years ago involving Middle Eastern scholar Daniel Pipes at York University in Toronto, and former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Concordia University in Montreal.

Jewish students can choose to ignore the unremitting attacks on Israel -- most do; unlike Israel-hating activists, they are there for an education -- or combat it as best they can. Which is to say, on the whole, badly or half-heartedly. Intimidated by the slick professionalism of these full-time militants, and ill-equipped to challenge strategic lying, Jewish students on most North American campuses have ceded ideological hegemony to the insurgents.

Determined to reverse this demoralizing scenario, Montreal's Canadian Institute of Jewish Research, an independent pro-Israel think-tank (full disclosure: I sit on the board of advisors), has launched a pilot program to "take back the campus." Next week, I'll introduce you to some Jewish students and their mentors who once felt "alone" and now feel "together."


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