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Intolerance of Dissent Poisons National Debate
Published on Saturday, December 29, 2001 in the Boulder Daily Camera
Intolerance of Dissent Poisons National Debate
by Christopher Brauchli
"The only trouble with alumni [when Harvard was an all men's school] is you can never be sure they are educated men." -- A rough recollection of a comment made by Nathan Pusey, president of Harvard College (circa 1956.)

He couldn't have known. And had he known he would no doubt be the first to admonish them. "Them" are those who have begun crawling from the woodwork to attack "us." "Us" are those who continue to comment, sometimes critically, on the state of civil liberties.

It didn't start with his speech, but his opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee gave "Them" encouragement. The exact words that gave "Them" encouragement were when John Ashcroft said in early December, addressing his critics, that "those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty. . . . Your tactics only aid terrorists."

It started with a report published by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. Its chairwoman emeritus is Lynne Cheney, wife of the vice-president. Prior to the issuance of the report, Ms. Cheney had garnered headlines for a speech she made on Oct. 5, 2001. In that speech she said, referring to the actions of some universities of adding courses to their curricula teaching about Islam: "To say that it is more important now [to study Islam] implies that the events of Sept. 11 were our fault, that it was our failure. . . that led to so many deaths and so much destruction. . . ." Instead, said Ms. Cheney, students need to "know the ideas and ideals on which our nation has been built. . . ." Studies of Islam coupled with studies of American history can co-exist without doing violence to either. A contrary belief suggests a speaker who is far more in need of an appreciation of history than those she criticizes.

The American Council report criticizes faculty members and students who have questioned certain aspects of the foreign policy of the United States over the last half century. It quotes more than 100 statements from various campuses as evidence of the kinds of statements that are inimical to United States' interests. Included among them are such as the following: "We offer this teach-in as an alternative to the cries of war and as an end to the cycle of continued global violence." (A professor of art at the University of North Carolina.) "There is a terrible and understandable desire to find and punish whoever was responsible for this. But as we think about it, it's very important for Americans to think about our own history, what we did in World War II to Japanese citizens by interning them." (Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University.) Those are but two of the more than 100 examples given in the report of statements that reflects the trend in our universities of which Ms. Cheney is so afraid. Those are two of the statements about which columnist Thomas Sowell says it is not "rocket science to figure out that these statements are anti-American." The initial report included the names of all the speakers who were quoted. When it was suggested that that was reminiscent of the McCarthy era, the names were deleted.

Those who support the actions that have been taken in Afghanistan, among whom this writer is numbered, can take strenuous exception to some of the things that its opponents have said. Some of the comments quoted in the report would be described by me and others as wrong-headed and stupid. They do not cause me to fear for the future of this country. Ms. Cheney does. So does John Ashcroft. And for those who wonder if their words matter, the poisonous fruits of their intolerant speech were plucked by students during the commencement speech delivered in December in Sacramento at California State University by Janis Besler Heaphy, president and publisher of The Sacramento Bee.

According to a New York Times report, Ms. Heaphy urged that citizens safeguard their rights to free speech, against unlawful detainment and for a fair trial. Her words struck a responsive chord in some of the students. They loudly booed. When she asked what would happen were racial profiling to become routine, the audience cheered. Donald Gerth, president of the university, interrupted her to ask the students to be civil. Ms. Heaphy continued her speech but when she suggested that "the Constitution makes it our right to challenge government policies," a clapping chant and further heckling forced her off the stage." Some of the students explained what happened.

A graduate from last May, who was in attendance, was quoted as saying: "She started out OK, promising to be brief. But then she goes right into Sept. 11, and she goes on, and on, and on." Another student said that "People were sickened by this [behavior]. But to be fair, a lot of people are just tired of hearing about 9/11." It's no surprise that he pointed out that one should be fair to the hecklers. He was, after all, just following John Ashcroft's and Lynne Cheney's leads. They have made it plain that there is no reason to tolerate, much less be fair, to those who ask where the threats to our civil liberties lie.

Copyright 2001 The Daily Camera


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