Academia: Heckler’s veto to thug’s censorship


A Scottsdale Community College professor opines that Islam is not a religion of peace and to prove him wrong, some Muslim students and their sympathizers threaten him with violence.

The irony of the current kerfuffle has eluded the Arizona college’s bureaucrats who are demanding that Professor Nicholas Damask not only issue a groveling apology, but also become an acolyte of some yet-to-be-named imam who will re-educate him in the proper understanding of the relationship between Islam and terrorism, as if there were only one universal point of view shared by all scholars and Muslims.

As anyone who has dealt with college administrators knows, a primary qualifications to become one seem to be an an embrace of situational ethics and an ability to stand at a faculty meeting and lie with all the disingenuousness of a politician.

This is not a story about what Islam is. Like all religions, Islam is subject to many interpretations and many practices, embodying influences from different cultures and different epochs. Most victims of radical Islam are Muslims. Nor is this a story about what terrorism is, for as the cliché goes, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

Rather, this is a story about the First Amendment and whether it dies at the campus gate. Apparently, the bureaucrats at Scottsdale, Ariz., are in a rush to extinguish liberty with the same enthusiasm with which some students would extinguish the professor.

Terrorism is a knotty, complex and difficult subject. Veiled in opinions and perspectives, there is scarcely an agreed upon definition of what terrorism is. And the concept of state terrorism differs, both in definition and theory, from the terrorism of the individual or non-state actor.

No doubt, some of those who would condemn Professor Damask to physical violence would have no trouble arguing that Zionism is terrorism, and Israel is an apartheid state. Indeed, attempt to terminate Israel Apartheid Week on any campus, and the First Amendment will come into full bloom.

That same First Amendment guarantees Professor Damask his the right to teach a course on Islamic terrorism and to have a perspective on the subject. After all, political science is not physics.

That some are offended is no reason to compel the professor to apologize or to send him to some form of re-education camp. This is America, not the Soviet Union.

Controversial subjects will always offend some people. If you don’t want to be offended, don’t go to college. If you go to college and find controversy too challenging, choose subjects and professors who will not question your thinking but will massage your belief system. They abound.

If you are a leftist, you will have hit the jackpot.

The point of an education is to prepare students to think about and grapple with dissonant ideas. Students who think Professor Damask is mistaken should debate him in the public square.

But resorting to some form of thuggery and finding compliant administrators who will bow to threats does not win the argument. Apparently, the irony of the brouhaha is lost on both the groveling administrators and the proponents of violence.

This raises the question of whether there are any adults on the campus or in the political arena that will come to defend Professor Damask’s academic freedom. Are there no Muslim students or scholars to be recruited to challenge him in the free marketplace of ideas?

I cannot speak to the intellectual rigor of Professor Damask’s current course, but as someone who served on his dissertation committee decades ago, I can attest that he was a serious scholar who was immersed in the study of terrorism when many in academia thought it was a passing fad.

If the bureaucrats at Scottsdale Community College are so knowledgeable about the professor’s subject matter, let them put pen to paper and write a rejoinder, instead of threatening to “re-educate” him in a field of study about which they probably know nothing.

In the meantime, their response — like that of those who advocate violence — further shows why academic controversy has replaced satire. We are on the slippery slope of moving from hecklers shouting down speakers to thugs shutting down course content.

Those who unwittingly confirmed the professor’s perspective by threating violence, in addition to the addle-brained administrators who support them, have ironically provided fodder for those who would tar all Muslims with a single brush.

Rather than attempting to “re-educate” Professor Damask, I would have all of Scottsdale Community College’s administrators enroll in a course on the founding of the republic and the meaning of the First Amendment. Clearly, while they were suffering through the intellectual challenges of a seminar in educational administration, they forgot what education in a democracy is about.

Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a distinguished fellow with the Haym Salomon Center.