The latest embarrassment for Columbia University is a review essay in the January/February issue of the journal Foreign Affairs. In the essay, Columbia's Herbert Lehman professor of government, Mahmood Mamdani, writes of "key parallels between neoconservatives and jihadists" and blames the Reagan administration for "the birth of jihadist Islam." This is what is burbling out of Columbia these days.
What might the "key parallels" be between the neoconservatives and the jihadists? Writes Mr. Mamdani, "In addition to the mix of interest and ideology, the two groups share global ambitions and a deep faith in the efficacy of politically motivated violence, and both count among their ranks cadres whose biographies are often tainted by early stints in the Trotskyist or the Maoist left."
Mr. Mamdani never defines what he means by neoconservatives, but, if he has in mind the pro-freedom foreign policy crowd in Washington, an editor over at the Council on Foreign Relations might have queried him on whom he has in mind. The fact is that few if any of the neoconservative cadres of which we are aware have had stints on "the Maoist left." And as far as "politically motivated violence," by that measure, the Union side in the Civil War and the Allies in World War II also have key parallels with the jihadists.
While stressing what he says are the parallels between the neoconservatives and the jihadists, he doesn't mention any of the obvious differences - like, say, that the jihadists intentionally target civilians as part of an effort to impose Islamic law over the world, while the neoconservatives do not intentionally target civilians and aim to promote freedom.
Mr. Mamdani claims that "the birth of jihadist Islam, which embraces violence as central to political action, cannot be fully explained without reference to the Afghan jihad and the Western influences that shaped it. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration declared the Soviet Union an 'evil empire' and set aside the then common secular model of national liberation in favor of an international Islamic jihad." But surely Mr. Mamdani is aware that the Islamic revolution in Iran and with it the taking of American hostages took place in 1979, during the Carter administration. That makes it difficult to blame Reagan's policies toward the Soviet Union.
For this sort of nonsense to be trickling from a full professor at Columbia would be an embarrassment, if there were any sign that anyone in charge at Columbia were embarrassed by it. As it is, the leadership there conceives of this all as a free speech issue, which misses the heart of the matter. No student is intimidated in the classroom and no one's academic freedom is infringed by Mr. Mamdani's article. But Columbia's reputation and prestige and scholarly credibility are nonetheless tarnished each depressingly frequent time that its professors stoop to this sort of silliness. Is this what Columbia's parents want their youngsters taught?