This essay, by Ruth Wisse, appeared in the Wall St. Journal
Last Saturday, at a university-sponsored event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Harvard’s Committee on Degrees in Social Studies, a group of former students launched a research fund in honor of Martin Peretz, a former teacher in the program and the longtime editor in chief of the New Republic. After the event adjourned, the afternoon turned ugly as police had to protect Mr. Peretz while he walked across campus surrounded by a mob of screaming students.
Mr. Peretz admits that he wasn’t blameless in the controversy. On Sept. 4, blogging at the New Republic’s web site, he lamented that Muslims don’t respond more vigorously to acts of terrorism against their own people:
“Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf [of the proposed Cordoba House mosque] 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.”
For that final sentence, Mr. Peretz apologized and sought atonement. Nonetheless, his column set off a firestorm. The Harvard Crimson reported over 500 protests against the honorary research fund by alumni, students and staff.
Harvard accepted the money to create the fund. Yet a member of the Social Studies Standing Committee extolled the protest, while also declaring that everyone on the committee “was—without exception—appalled by Peretz’s comments.”
Why not, then, organize an open forum where Mr. Peretz might engage with his critics? That, presumably, was out of the question: better to ensure that students know which side “everyone—without exception” is on.