I especially enjoyed – if that’s the word – the long article on Ms. Prof. Nadia Abu el-Haj. I haven’t read her book, I must say, so my ability to have an informed opinion on the matter is a bit cramped – though it doesn’t seem that most of the people in the story felt impaired by such considerations. Still, the story as told in the article raises interesting questions.
Generally speaking, I’m in favor of freedom of speech – one reason I tend to dislike the whole concept of political correctness is my heartfelt conviction that freedom of speech includes the freedom to be nasty, offensive, and to lie with a gusto. Has Ms el-Haj done any or all of these? I don’t know, but she may well have. More serious, to my mind, is that her basic assumptions – Zionism as a colonial project – seem silly to me, so that I could imagine that her entire argument is flawed from its start. But that’s clearly not a reason to shut her up. If we locked up all our fools, who would run our governments for us?
On the other hand, there was a position clearly expressed by some of her allies in the controversy, whereby the public – taxpayers and philanthropists – must pay for the upkeep of the university, but dare not have any opinion about what’s taught there. This I find strange. Freedom of speech doesn’t necessarily have to mean freedom to live off the public purse. You want to talk nonsense and make a living from it too? Find a publisher, sell your books, go on the lecture tour, sell tickets, get employed by a think tank that’s expressly there for fools of your ilk and funded by the folks who like you. The distance between getting locked up for your opinion and having to make a living on your own steam so that you can express your opinions, seems to me rather significant.
Finally, a word about content – not the content of this book, which I haven’t read, but the content of some of what goes on at some universities, and much of which being influenced by the malign shadow of Edward Said, some of whose stuff I have read. There is, these days, a pernicious set of ideas being propagated by some people at some universities and in some media outlets, which is deeply offensive and threatening to liberal and rational humanism; and since liberal rational humanism is the least worst system man has so far devised for organizing society, undermining it is a bad idea. The propagators of these ideas need to be branded for what they are. They shouldn’t be locked up, they shouldn’t be shut up, but there is no harm and probably much good in setting them up for public shame and ridicule. Especially as they so love to mete out the same to whomever they don’t like.