Marty Peretz, Harvard and Honoring Hatred, Part 2

[tweetmeme] Despite calls for the event to be cancelled, Harvard has decided to continue with the ceremony on Saturday honoring The New Republic editor and former Harvard professor Martin Peretz, dedicating a undergraduate research fund in his name.  The opposition to such an honor was based completely around Peretz’s history of racist comments and views about Blacks, Latinos, Arabs and Muslims.  Of course the most recent endorsement of hate by Peretz was his stated belief that “Muslim life is cheap.”  While there are still some who are fighting this event, it seems that the racist show must and will go on – though, perhaps in a meager effort to quell the anger surrounding the event, Harvard has removed Peretz from the list of speakers.  The following is a letter from Harvard students and alumni:

21.00 EST, Tuesday September 21st, 2010.

We have received word that Harvard’s Standing Committee on Social Studies has finally decided to go ahead with plans to honor Martin Peretz despite his long public record of racist statements by creating a $650,000 research fund in his name.  The decision to honor Peretz despite his legacy of bigotry will be remembered as one of the most shameful in the history of Harvard University.

Against a backdrop of widespread opposition to honoring Peretz amongst faculty, students, alumni, staff, and other members of the Harvard community, the Committee also appears to have ‘demoted’ Peretz from his speaking role at the Saturday’s 50th anniversary celebration of Social Studies, but he continues to be listed by name on the program as a person to be honored.

We do not consider this matter settled.  We call upon President Drew Gilpin Faust, who has yet to find time in her schedule to meet with Muslim students, to reverse this decision and send a strong signal that Harvard is not for sale to bigotry.  That was true in 2004, when Harvard investigated and was on the verge of rejecting the $1.5 million donation of Shaykh Zayed al-Nahyan of the UAE (he technically asked for the funds back), and it should have been true today.

We also call upon the donors behind this fund—who apparently increased their contributions as a means to pressure Harvard into disregarding Peretz’s racism—to publicly repudiate Peretz and his legacy of bigotry.  If public figures such as Al Gore, Amy Gutmann, Abigail Thernstrom, Jamie Gorelick, David Ignatius, Tom Williamson, and Juan Carlos Zarate feel that this bigot is worthy of praise, then the crisis of publicly acceptable racism against Muslims in the United States is even worse than it seems today.

Some of Peretz’s defenders have claimed that he has repented for his statements.  Peretz’s purported apologies for a few recent remarks do not address his 25-year record of racism against African Americans, Latinos, Arabs, and Muslims.  The idea that, having belatedly apologized in the face of massive media pressure, he is suddenly a figure worth honoring (selected over dozens of other Social Studies luminaries) is absurd.

Others have argued that not honoring Peretz would be a violation of academic freedom. This is also nonsense – no one is proposing that Peretz be banned from voicing his noxious views on campus.  While free speech is a right (something Peretz apparently forgot when it comes to Muslims), being honored by a university is not.

Some have tried to focus on Peretz’s role as a teacher – but this cannot be separated from his public racist stances.  As for Peretz himself, if he truly wishes to atone for his actions, he should concede that he does not deserve to be honored and ask that the fund be withdrawn or re-named.

However Peretz and his friends respond, the ultimate responsibility remains with Harvard.  It seems that for now, a little over $650,000 has been enough to buy a cloak of respectability.  With Martin Peretz’s reputation in tatters, that Harvard cloak — and along with it the reputation of both Social Studies and the university — is itself besmirched.  The more than 550 Harvard and Social Studies alumni, students, faculty and supporters who have signed the petition against honoring Peretz in the space of five days will not be celebrating this Saturday at the Social Studies 50th anniversary: but we will continue to grow in numbers and organize.

On behalf of concerned Harvard students,
Abdelnasser Rashid (Social Studies ’11)

On behalf of concerned Harvard alumni,
Sam Sternin (Social Studies ’01)

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