Marty Peretz, Harvard and Honoring Hatred

Is the hatred of Martin Peretz worthy of honoring?

Perhaps you have heard or read about New Republic editor Martin Peretz’s recent blog post.  Once again lamenting about poor Israel’s defense against ruthless Palestinians, Peretz wrote:

But, frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood.  So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.

So was Peretz really arguing that Muslims, including those patriotic American ones, should be deprived of the rights afforded to them by the First Amendment??  It is particularly tough to think otherwise, but fortunately (phew!), Peretz clarified his post by mentioning that American Muslims are fine, its those non-Americans Muslims that love death and hate freedom, life, etc:

I wrote that, but I do not believe that. I do not think that any group or class of persons in the United States should be denied the protections of the First Amendment, not now, not ever. When I insist upon a sober recognition of the threats to our security, domestic threats included, I do not mean to suggest that the Constitution and its order of rights should in any way be abrogated. I would abhor such a prospect…

The other sentence is: “Frankly, Muslim life is cheap, especially for Muslims.” This is a statement of fact, not value.

For those confused few, Peretz continues to note “There is no hatred in my heart.”  Dodged a bullet there, Peretz.  So Marty thinks that American Muslims have the right to enjoy the same freedoms as every other American (good), but maintains that Muslims, in general, do not value life.  And that was his apology.  Peretz’s deep and meaningful remorse was prompted by an article in the NYTimes by Nick Kristof.  Kristof’s use of Peretz was to demonstrate the growing irrational hate of Muslims – and to note the danger of making weeping accusations about a group of people:

Thus a prominent American commentator, in a magazine long associated with tolerance, ponders whether Muslims should be afforded constitutional freedoms. Is it possible to imagine the same kind of casual slur tossed off about blacks or Jews? How do America’s nearly seven million American Muslims feel when their faith is denounced as barbaric?

Astonishingly, a Newsweek poll finds that 52 percent of Republicans believe that it is “definitely true” or “probably true” that “Barack Obama sympathizes with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world.” So a majority of Republicans think that our president wants to impose Islamic law worldwide.

That kind of extremism undermines our democracy, risks violence and empowers jihadis…

In America, bigoted comments about Islam often seem to come from people who have never visited a mosque and know few if any Muslims. In their ignorance, they mirror the anti-Semitism that I hear in Muslim countries from people who have never met a Jew…

Above all, bravo to those Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders who jointly denouncedwhat they called “the anti-Muslim frenzy.”

“We know what it is like when people have attacked us physically, have attacked us verbally, and others have remained silent,” said Rabbi David Saperstein. “It cannot happen here in America in 2010.”

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick put it this way: “This is not America. America was not built on hate.”

“Shame on you,” the Rev. Richard Cizik, a leading evangelical Christian, said to those castigating Islam. “You bring dishonor to the name of Jesus Christ. You directly disobey his commandment to love your neighbor.”


[tweetmeme] So in response, Peretz says that he loves America and Americans – including pesky Muslims, but, to be sure, hates other Muslims and Islam in general.  Great apology.  Way to set the critics straight.  Peretz’s original post prompted harsh responses from James FallowsMatt Yglesias, and Emily Hauser and even Peretz’s alma mater Brandeis University.  Instead of a true apology and reconsidering his hateful and harmful views, Peretz simply reiterates his loyalty to hatred.  At least the world can see through his BS.  The world, that is, minus the prestigious Harvard University, who is contemplating a ceremony to honor Peretz.

On September 25 the University is has planned a ceremony to dedicate a research grant program to Peretz (Marty used to teach at the Harvard social studies college), forcing many Harvardians (Harvardites?) – including many prominent faculty members – to question whether Harvard would want to associate itself with the hatred that Peretz espouses.

To give Harvard (and the many supporters of America’s founding principles) credit, it has not missed the proximity between the event and Peretz’s public declaration of hatred and bigotry.  Although it has not cancelled the event, it released the following statement:

As an institution of research and teaching, we are dedicated to the proposition that all people, regardless of color or creed, deserve equal opportunities, equal respect, and equal protection under the law. The recent assertions by Dr. Peretz are therefore distressing to many members of our community, and understandably so.

It is central to the mission of a university to protect and affirm free speech, including the rights of Dr. Peretz, as well as those who disagree with him, to express their views.

We are ultimately stronger as a university when we maintain our commitment to the most basic freedoms that enable the robust exchange of ideas. The undergraduate research fund donated by friends, former students, and colleagues of Dr. Peretz was established earlier this year to recognize his teaching and scholarship as well as his stewardship of the social studies program from its inception in the 1960s through the 1990s. The fund will enable undergraduates to undertake significant research experiences as part of the social sciences curriculum and strengthen our commitment to rigorous intellectual inquiry.

The controversy doesn’t end though.  According to Mondoweiss there is significant dissent from within the Harvard community concerning bestowing such an honor on a man who has not attempted to disguise his hate for Muslims.  There is even an open letter (that you can sign here – letter is copied at the bottom of this post) calling on Harvard to cancel the event.

By many accounts, Harvard is the most prestigious university in the world; one that has nearly always been on the of justice and freedom.  There is no doubt that Peretz, a smart man, did wonderful things during his time at Harvard and influenced many of his students to go on to do great things.  However, it would be more than simply a shame for Harvard to allow such a ceremony to continue.  Indeed, the University should cancel the event to symbolize its opposition to such radical beliefs.  If you are a member of the large Harvard University community – and even if you are not, but believe that radicals who are married to hatred should be denied such honor, I urge you to reach out to Harvard and to stand up against Peretz and his unjust classification of Muslims.

A copy of the open letter to Harvard:

As members of the Social Studies community, we strongly oppose the decision to feature Martin Peretz as a speaker at the 50th anniversary of Social Studies, as well as the reported creation of a fund for undergraduate research in his name.

As you know, Peretz has publicly aligned himself with the xenophobic campaign against the proposed Islamic cultural center in Manhattan, lauding it as “the closest thing we’ve had to a genuinely grass roots effort against the casual and elitist First Amendment fundamentalists.” He insists as “a statement of fact, not value” that “Muslim life is cheap, especially for Muslims.”

These remarks cannot be dismissed as an aberration.  Peretz has a long and sordid public record of racist statements directed against various groups.  He has described “Arab society” as “hidebound and backward” and claimed (in an article later removed from The New Republic website) that “We have higher standards of civilization than [Arabs] do.”  He has opined that “Latin societ[ies]” enjoy “characteristic deficiencies” such as “congenital corruption” and “near-tropical work habits.”  Peretz has declared that “So many in the black population are afflicted by cultural deficiencies” and that “in the ghetto a lot of mothers don’t appreciate the importance of schooling.”1  Peretz’ belated attempt to “apologize” for a portion of a recent blog posting about Muslims – prompted only by condemnation in The New York Times – does not erase this legacy of bigotry.

We are aware that on this occasion some may prefer to ignore Peretz’ vitriol and instead focus purely on his role in the Social Studies program.  We also understand the appeal of accepting donations that would support student research.  There are, however, larger concerns at stake that call for a principled stand at this moment.  Social Studies describes itself as a community of independent thinkers “who share not only a fascination with social science research and theory but also concerns about pressing social, political, and economic problems facing contemporary societies.” Today in the United States there is an unmistakable and alarming resurgence of the open expression of racist and xenophobic attitudes, in this case directed against Muslims.  We cannot ignore the historical moment in which we live.  And we can be sure that history will not ignore a decision to publicly honor Martin Peretz.

Photo from Islamophobia Today

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