Thursday, October 25, 2007
Last night I attended Daniel Pipes' lecture at Tufts University. The speech was billed as being part of Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, and given the reception Nonie Darwish got at Berkley, and the fact that Daniel Pipes is a favorite whipping-boy of the campus left, in spite of the fact that it was Game 1 of the World Series last night I figured it would have been blogger malpractice not to check it out. (I brought radio headphones.)
The portents fortold of exciting events. These posters, exhorting the villagers to come drive out the heretic, were plastered liberally across the campus:
I got to the venue early, and things were quiet...perhaps too quiet...with only a few suited security folks milling about. There were a couple of students handing out copies of the conservative student magazine, The Primary Source (they were the event's sponsors), as well as a small group of folks handing out the evening's protest flier as people entered:
Take a good look at that paper. It was the must-have accessory of the evening. Note particularly the list of sponsors. Yes, the local Hillel was one of the sponsors of the protest. Just when I thought there wouldn't be anyone showing up, people started to arrive en masse around 10 or 15 minutes before the start. A crowd started to form on the sidewalk, many of them holding the above sign, some of whom had brought their own. Here are some pictures, with thanks to some other folks in attendance for providing some of them:
It was a well-behaved crowd. No chanting, no shoving, no blocking the entrance. Though there were a lot of people there, they behaved more like it was a meeting, rather than a serious protest.
Security was tight. No bags were allowed:
I overheard one student ask the group he was standing with, "So whose lead are we following?" I didn't catch the answer but figured we'd be treated to some organized disruptions.
I'm happy to say I was wrong about the disruptions. The audience, for the most part, was well-behaved. Though the event was well attended, and I'd say it looked about 90% hostile, there were few disruptions. Someone behind me was shouting out some (he thought) clever thing from time to time, and there was a little bit of holding up the posters and shaking them, the Tufts community showed it was far more capable of holding a contentious event than their California cousins. When Pipes came on stage, much of the crowd held up their signs...
...there was a smattering of boos, but the applause was most prominent, even if much of it amounted to a golf clap. Incorrect University was there, and has posted video of the entirety of Pipes's speech with more to come.
Pipes has a careful, quiet, non-bombastic approach. He has an academic demeanor, and when he began by stating his disagreement with the name "Islamo-Fascism" and continued on to discuss his points of view, the signs slowly began to come down. During the Q&A, no one bogarted the microphone, even though a few of the questioners were obviously not there to ask questions so much as to make points. Pipes fielded them all and took time (sometimes too much time) in answering each in the same dispassionate manner. He only brushed off one question that didn't merit a response (something about George Bush, the Iraq invasion and "Christianists") and he got a little annoyed with one questioner who mischaracterized Campus Watch.
I got the feeling -- no surprise here -- that most of the students had no real clue who Daniel Pipes was or what this issue was about. They were indoctrinated with a few selected quotes and instructed in what to think about them, Pipes, and the issue of "Islamo-Fascism." I overheard one student behind me say, "Well, some groups I'm affiliated with signed on to this poster, so I suppose I should hold it up." I doubt he held it up long.
I think that once Pipes started speaking, and the students actually got to hear from him directly, he may have reached a few and opened some minds. I hope so. The students, who, after all, were manipulated into thinking they were there to "fight hate," may now know there's more to the story. The only real villains are the student, and more particularly and seriously the faculty leaders who attempted to close off students' minds, lied to them, manipulated them and propagandized them away from full consideration of what may be one of the most important issues of our time.
What's interesting to an outsider, and I was discussing this with several others after the event, was how closed off and insular the campus culture so obviously is. You can read about it, but actually seeing it in action really sends the message of how tough it is to dissent from the leftist group-think that rules with an iron fist from administration to faculty down to the student organizations. These people really have no idea how "off" and without a clue they look to the outside world...and in the face of the outside world. Some of these "leaders" act as though they live on an ashram doing meditation and sending out peace and love vibes and hoping that will be enough to prepare students and heal the world. It's not. Let me help you out here. You are going to have to face the Daniel Pipes' of the world, and more importantly, his ideas and the things he's trying to reach you on...in substance. Anything less is academic malpractice.
A hearty well-done to the students who organized the main event and to Daniel Pipes for another well-handled appearance.
[I will update this post later if I come across any of my own video that's worth posting, or if I find any photos worth putting up or description of events I may have left out.]
Update: The Tufts Daily has a good article on the event: Pipes speaks to Cohen crowd about radical Islam; students express concern
Update3: More on one of the groups that signed on to the protest: Federal Grant Helped Fund Tufts Protest
Update 4: Shortly after posting I received a note from a spokesman for the Tufts Democrats. I asked permission to post the note, but as it has been several days and I haven't heard anything back I'm going to go ahead and post the note with the person's name removed. My reply is below it:
Reading your post, I'd like to, if I could, share some concerns about the accuracy of certain aspects of it.
First of all, with regard to the image of the flier you have posted online reading "Why Should Tufts Invite this Man to Speak?", I would like to report that the name of our organization appears on that flier in error. If you could explain this somewhere on your blog entry, that would be greatly appreciated. The Tufts Democrats Executive Board was disappointed to learn that our name was included on this flier, specifically because we were asked to sign on to it and explicitly declined. We deeply regret that our ostensive endorsement of this flier may have lent credence to the idea - further promulgated by your entry here - that the Tufts campus predominately attended this lecture with strongly-held preconceived opposition to what Dr. Pipes would say.
As a Tufts student, I can say I strongly doubt this was the case. My peers and myself show a strong penchant for political awareness, activism and independent thought. I would be extremely surprised to learn if very many of them attended this lecture with plans to disregard everything the speaker would say. In fact, such a planned approach would have completely undermined the purpose of attending. (If not to listen, the only other possible purpose for attending this event would have been to disrupt it, and as you reported, disruptions did not occur.) Also, students are in the middle of midterms, and I'd be very surprised if many of them stopped what they were doing to attend something they weren't going to get anything out of.
I can also unconditionally assure you that Dr. Pipes is not, as you say, "a favorite whipping-boy of the campus left". I would submit that additional research into this claim would reveal to you that our campus rarely, if ever has "whipping-boys" of any sort. The use of ad hominem attacks to promote a point of view is largely both irresponsible and unconvincing, and a review of The Tufts Daily's Archives would reveal that political discourse on campus is almost exclusively comprised of debates over issues and ideology - not scarcely-known (at a liberal institution, at least) political thinkers and scholars. Debate about individuals only occurs with regard to public figures, and is justifiably (and appropriately) engaged in by both sides of the political spectrum at Tufts. In particular to Dr. Pipes, as an elected leader of - and active member in - the so-called campus left, I can honestly say I have never heard his name in my life before this week.
Furthermore, even after his name consumed the consciousness of the politicos on our campus due to his impending arrival, there was in no way sufficient criticism of him - there wasn't much criticism of him at all - to justify his being called "a favorite whipping-boy". In fact, the Tufts Democrats, as the largest organization comprising what you call the "campus left", instead opted to replace its meeting this week with an entertaining mock presidential primary debate (very successful by the way). We didn't discuss - nevermind bash - Pipes at all, either at our event, or in any other campus-wide communication. Even if we had held a meeting, his name likely still would not have come up as we were not planning any programming surrounding his speech.
The one flyer we did sign on to (though this sadly also isn't reflected in what is actually printed on the flier) is the one that says "This is a hate-free campus". We endorsed this flyer because we disagree with a major premise of the Primay Source's (and Dr. Pipes') position on the issue of Islamic fundamentalism. In particular, we as Democrats, oppose ascribing those severely misguided actions and philosophies associated with Islamic fundamentalism to people by virtue of their Muslim religion or Middle-Eastern nationality. We further oppose holding the vastly moral Muslim community somehow responsible for the indefensible actions of an entirely separate group of people that engages in wanton acts of violence against innocent people. In a controversy surrounding the Primary Source last year, in one issue it printed a piece which cited several flawed examples to express the conclusion that the Koran intrinsically endorsed the types of unjustified acts of violence perpetrated in Islamic fundamentalism. The piece - among other things - attempted to place the onus on "peaceful Muslim[s]" to "explain or justify this astonishingly intolerant and inhuman behavior". (To make matters worse, this was made to come across in such a way as to convey skepticism that such peaceful Muslims can, in fact, exist.) Statements like these that spread intolerance for certain religions are irresponsible political debate and do nothing to contribute to the political environment at an inclusive university campus. An impetus therefore exists for other politically active students to speak out against them.
It is additionally relevant to note that this sign did not constitute a protest of the event. If the groups signing onto this flier actually opposed Dr. Pipes' lecture, they would have also signed onto the other poster that said as much. They didn't. The "hate-free campus" flyer was distributed outside Cohen Auditorium prior to the event (very few people knew it was to be distributed, and no one came to the event for the purpose of holding up this flyer), and students were explicitly asked to hold up their flyers only at the beginning of the event, so as not to interrupt the lecture. The Tufts Democrats signed on to this knowing this was the plan, and also that it was explicitly to be billed as "a peaceful, silent demonstration". If you factor these flyers out of the equation (considering they didn't actually oppose the lecture and the entirety of their message is something everyone should be able to agree with) I don't think there was a significant enough degree of anti- (or pro-) Pipes demonstration at the event to justify claims about the close-mindedness of the student body. (And even for people who did have signs, if they had done research on Pipes as many of them did, it wouldn't be fair to call them close-minded since they already knew what he was going to say.)
The Tufts Democrats, the other groups signing onto this flier - and the near entirety of campus, it would seem from their lack of disruption - all recognize the right of Dr. Pipes to be heard, and the right of all on-campus organizations to bring speakers to our campus. Furthermore, these students didn't merely peacefully boycott the lecture, as is their right. Instead, they attended it, and not for nefarious purposes. For all your derision of their liberalism, I'd say they deserve a little more credit, not just for behaving like human beings (your surprise at which is frankly somewhat condescending), but for their clear willingness to entertain Pipes' arguments.
Thank you very much for your time in reading this letter.
Here is my reply:
First, may I share the note with my readers? I will append it to the posting. I think you have clarified things in your own words better than anyone else could for you, and you may have provided fodder for discussion if anyone wants to take it on. I will place a disclaimer below the photo of the anti-Pipes poster in any case. [Have done so.]
To clarify: I am not a Tufts community member, so the term "campus left" should be read generically, not as "Tufts campus left." This usage (and it's a familiar one to readers of blogs like mine) also more often refers to the "far"-left, not campus Democrats (though I'm sure it does apply even to them on some campuses). I'm glad to hear that the Tufts campus doesn't have problems with radicalization like so many other campuses do -- at least not in sufficient numbers to seriously disrupt events. On most campuses, the far left exists in far greater numbers than in regular life (outside the "terrarium").
Pipes is, in fact, a favorite "whipping-boy" of many on the (generic) campus (far) left. His talks are routinely interrupted and protested. I'm sure if you google him up or browse around his own web site for reports of his prior appearances you'll see many examples.
We'll agree to disagree that what happened there was or was not a protest, and that the students maintained completely open minds. To apply the "Hate" label to something in society (and particularly on the campus) is extremely powerful. I used the term "inoculate" in my post for a reason, and I believe that the people handing out those fliers and making sure that everyone had one knew exactly what they were doing and why -- they wanted to cast a shadow over what Pipes would be presenting. They wanted to make sure it was tainted and branded as dangerous and "incorrect" right from the start. They had no place in the hall. You believe it was an appropriate, "silent, peaceful demonstration," I believe it was wrong-headed.
Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Life in the Terrarium: Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week at Tufts with Daniel Pipes.
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