At the world famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T), a group called The New England Committee to Defend Palestine has been given rooms and auditorium halls to organize its protests and hold conferences for several years. An advertisement on their web site for their most recent protest on April 8th of this year states: "The Iraqi uprising against the Anglo-American Colonialist forces and their mercenary death squads (so called civilian contractors) is a natural reaction to the brutality and unjust nature of the occupation." At an anti-Zionist conference that the NECDP held last year at M.I.T, the revisionist "historian" Lenni Brenner called Judaism "the mother of all segregationist ideologies." Examples like these point to an alarming trend towards preaching hate in our nation's college campuses, and a few professors and administrators at some of the most respected universities in the world, based in Boston, are turning a blind eye. In many cases, this is not out of an endorsement for a particular position. Quite the contrary- it is out of their faith in a theory which has been dominant in American Universities since the 1960's: cultural relativism.
Nine months after 9/11, a Harvard graduate student wrote an article in protest of a controversial Harvard University graduation speech originally entitled "American Jihad" given by Zayed Yasin, former president of Harvard Islamic Society. This graduate student articulated well the source of blind willingness that leads some respected university professors and administrators to open their prestigious doors to extremist groups:
"The most consistent message that I have heard from professors and students is that everything is relative--reality is a personal, cultural construct, and therefore there is no way to distinguish between right and wrong, moral and immoral. I believed that following the attack on America students and professors would recognize that some wrongs are absolutely wrong, that, at least in some cases, there is no moral ambiguity. As is evident by the choice of graduation speech, however, the reality of thousands dying in the hallways of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon has not penetrated the fortified, detached hallways of the ivory towers."
The promising ebb in the tide of cultural relativism directly after 9/11 seems to already be giving way to a sea of moral confusion. The clear difference between moderates and extremists disappears in its wake, as is evident in some of the elite universities in the Boston area. While these diversity peddlers who allow such speakers to be invited claim to be open to every single viewpoint in our academic forums, terrorist supporters and hate mongers often win the stage over those fighting for the integrity of the university.
Last year, Stanley Cohen, a notorious lawyer for terrorist groups around the world, was invited to speak at the annual Harvard Divinity School Conference entitled "Islam in America." He told the attendees, "The U.S. should be very sensitive and familiar with terrorism because we support it all over the world. We are probably the largest terrorist nation or network in the history of the world." At the end of his speech Cohen, referencing himself, said to the crowded auditorium "Fight back. Stanley Cohen said it at the Divinity school at Harvard. What day is it? Jihad! Not the Jihad of George Bush, the Jihad to do good things for your people. The struggle to work as a community. That is what must be done- do not to make the mistake which my people have made for hundreds and hundreds of years in Europe, do not go silently into the night." One wonders what "doing good for one's community" means to a man who has defended groups like the IRA, advocates for the Peruvian terrorist group Shining Path, and claims he is friends with members of Hamas. Most of the audience and panelists reacted with loud applause after his speech.
William Graham, Dean of the Harvard Divinity School, gave the opening remarks at this conference and was the facilitator. Graham said in an address last year that he is "uncomfortable" with the term "fundamentalism" when referring to Islamic fundamentalism. He prefers "Islamism" and claims "They do want to reform the world; they do want to make things better and different." He disagrees with definitions of Islamism that attach extremist elements to it. However, those who know about some of the extremist groups that have had an important influence on Islamism's history might be "uncomfortable" with this Graham's view. This statement might not be surprising given previous controversies surrounding him. In May 2002, Graham signed a Harvard/MIT petition calling for divestment against Israel, even though he later retracted it. He has also shown continued reluctance to reject a grant from the Zayed International Center for Coordination and Follow up based in Abu Dhabi, which is a think tank known for its links with anti-Semites, holocaust deniers and racist conspiracy theorists.
Diana L. Eck, a professor at the Harvard Divinity School and director of Harvard's "Pluralism Project" also spoke at the "Islam in America" conference. She is the author of "A New Religious America," which includes a chapter entitled "American Muslims" that opens with an account of the first Muslim prayer invocation in the U.S. House of Representatives, given by imam Siraj Wahaj. She writes of Wahaj: "The African-American imam of the Masjid Al-Taqwa in Brooklyn, New York, has built his reputation on a hard-hitting and warmhearted ethical message…His genial, winning smile can open the heart of even his most piercing critiques."
However, Siraj Wahaj, un-indicted co-conspirator in the first World Trade Center bombing, is well known for his virulent and hate filled attacks on America. He was not smiling when he said at his mosque in Brooklyn- "You know what this country is? It's a garbage can. It's filthy, filthy, and sick. This country is taking our children. We're trying to raise them up righteous. And you with your sick, low morals grabbing them, trying to teach a man how to be respectful towards that….Why you wanna try now to destroy us? Because we're against that sickness of this society, that's why.." Eck's CD "On Common Ground, World Religions in America," which may be found in University libraries and other institutions across the country, also features Wahaj and has web links to several organizations- some of which are moderate and some which have historically extremist ties, like the American Muslim Council. It might be difficult for Eck to feature a few past AMC members, like former long time executive director and self avowed supporter of Hamas and Hezbolla Abdurahman Alamoudi - he is in jail for receiving money from a Libyan terrorist fund.
A few miles away from Harvard Divinity School at M.I.T., the co-founder of the New England Committee to Defend Palestine, Amer Jubran, has organized many rallies in the streets of Boston calling for support for the "intifada" (when he is not in jail, as he has been quite often this year). NECDP just held its annual conference at M.I.T., this year entitled "Confronting Zionism; Resistance and the Struggle for a Free Palestine." Last year, while the NECDP publicly stated it takes "no position" on the question of suicide bombing, Jubran organized a workshop entitled "Palestinian Resistance: Strategy for Liberation" where he encouraged both armed and other forms of "resistance." Other featured speakers included Lenni Brenner, who spoke about his book "Zionism and Nazism," which argues that Zionists and Nazis collaborated in many ways, including establishing the state of Israel. His book was sold out to audience members at the end of his speech.
While the American constitution allows many forms of hate speech under the first amendment, the university occupies a special place in the U.S. which seeks to educate. Promoting the goal of education presupposes we can offer some guidance to our students, and is thus antithetical to the moral anarchy which cultural relativism leads to. Universities such as Harvard and M.I.T. are some of the most prestigious in the world, and they deserve to be. However, these model universities, among many others, have a growing minority of professors and administrators who are failing in their responsibilities as educators to distinguish between constructive criticism and preaching pure hate because they are blinded by their faith in cultural relativism. As naïve first year students wander into these lectures that their parents pay fortunes for, and our troops abroad sacrifice their lives for freedom against fanaticism, perhaps it is time that we question our own fanatic faith in a theory which believes in an egalitarianism so radical that it gives priority to hate mongers over true educators inside our cherished ivory towers.
Glen Feder works for the Investigative Project as a terrorism analyst. He is an advanced PhD. candidate in Political Science at Boston College and L'Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, France.