The Blog

At Universities, Little Learned From 9/11

After five years, universities remain committed to multiculturalism above all else.

12:08 PM, Sep 14, 2006 • By HARVEY MANSFIELD
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

FIVE YEARS have now passed since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and what have our universities been doing? I can tell you about Harvard, and the answer is not reassuring.

Harvard has just welcomed the former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami to give a little talk. Harvard thinks this is free speech, but in fact the university has allowed itself to be used as a platform for sweet-talk in the service of a regime that hates, and wants to bamboozle, America. Note, too, that Harvard professor Stephen Walt and a Chicago professor have just written an exposé of the Israeli lobby's influence on American politics. They encourage the belief that Israel is the main problem we face.

Nor has Harvard relaxed its hostility to ROTC on the campus. The pretext is the military's policy discriminating against gays by requiring them to keep silent about being gay. Never mind what would happen to gays or defenders of gays if the Islamic fascists took over.

These are not isolated incidents but signs of the prevailing attitude at Harvard and other elite universities. There is lots of griping against the Bush administration but little activist dissent of the kind seen in protest against the Vietnam War. Cindy Sheehan's movement has not caught on.

All to the good, one might say. A university is not a political actor and should not be drawn away from its own business by too much concern for current events.

Yes, agreed. A university is an institution of learning, and as such takes a broad view of things. But this means it should learn from events if not try to control them. What has Harvard learned from Sept. 11? Very little.

Sept. 11 was a stunning blow to multiculturalism. The attacks showed that we have enemies who hate us because they hate both our principles and our practices. They despise the way we live not because we do not live up to our principles of freedom, democracy, and toleration, but because we do. They do not think we are multicultural; they believe we have one culture, and they mean to do away with it.

The feminists at Harvard seek to remove every vestige of patriarchy in America, but they have said almost nothing about the complete dismissal of women's rights by radical Islam. To do so would be to attack Islamic culture, and according to multiculturalism, every culture is equal and none is evil. They forsake women in societies that repudiate women's rights and direct their complaints to societies that believe in women's rights. Of course it's easier to complain to someone who listens to you and doesn't immediately proceed to slit your throat. No sign of any rethinking of feminism has appeared in the universities where it flourishes.

Civil liberties should be another topic of reconsideration. Civil libertarians on the left and the right assume that government is the object of their vigilance and minorities need special care. In time of peace that may be true, but in a war the government is your main friend, and the majority must be protected. The preaching of radical Islam is in fact ``a clear and present danger," and we need to suppress it. This sort of speech is not just blowing off steam or keeping us honest or puncturing our complacency. Here is a new task to occupy the anxious minds of civil libertarians in universities: how to distinguish truly dangerous speech and how to defeat it?

The jihadists say they will triumph because they believe in death while we believe in life. That is not quite so. We do believe in life--but not at any cost. We too value sacrifice and honor for a decent cause. But we let our soldiers speak for us. The professors, who should be our spokesmen, have learned nothing from our soldiers and have nothing to say on why they volunteer to risk their lives.

The difference between our country and the terrorists dwarfs that between liberals and conservatives within our country. But conservatives are more aware of this fact than are liberals, and our universities are dominated by befuddled liberals. Better that they be befuddled than determined to rebel, as during the late 1960s. Better still that they heed the requirements of their own doctrines in the new circumstances of terrorist war.

Harvey Mansfield is a professor of government at Harvard University and author of the book Manliness. This article originally appeared in the Boston Globe.