May 12, 2006

Horowitz, safe zone highlights hypocrisy

Well known conservative pundit David Horowitz came to speak on campus Tuesday and was everything that I hoped he would be.

He was a great public speaker, and very funny. But nothing he said was funnier than the introductory announcement of Student Activities Coordinator Régine Desruisseaux that there was a “safe zone” outside of the room Horowitz was speaking in for people who needed to “cool off.”

I’m not quite sure why a “safe zone” was needed. When Cornell West, or the Chinese ambassador, or other controversial speakers have spoken here, the University offered no safe zone.

“Safe” from what? From the aggressively vicious poison of political thought contrary to that of fleeing liberals? Is a safe zone a place where liberal group-think can flourish, undisturbed by dissent or challenge? Perhaps they served food. Maybe they had buckets of ice to cool down angered Democrats.

In his remarks, Horowitz claimed liberals never want to listen to the other side or contest their beliefs, and the UCDems obligingly underscored his point. Before the speech, they circulated an e-mail that said: “Tell David Horowitz his rabble rousing isn’t welcome here. Tell David Horowitz the U of C can think for itself when it comes to race. But most importantly, tell David Horowitz he’s wrong.” I’m not exactly sure what “rabble rousing” is, but I am sure the Horowitz lecture wasn’t it. And I don’t quite see the point in the UCDems encouraging people to go to the speech just to tell him that he was wrong. Keeping an open mind is supposed to be an important part of academic discourse, unless the stress of doing so forces you to flee to the safe zone.

Of course, all this is nothing new for Horowtiz. A few years back he tried to place an ad in college newspapers spelling out his “Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery Is a Bad Idea—and Racist Too.” Alleged liberals at Brown University and the University of California stole copies of the paper, effectively hindering free speech. Horowitz was decried as racist without anyone analyzing the questions he raised. The president of Bard College, Leon Botstein said it best when he wrote in The New York Times that “we say we believe in dissent, but we actually do not practice it well.”

Horowitz claims young people become enthralled with liberalism because the idea of social justice and saving the world is a very romantic proposition, and young adults in particular like playing the hero. Nothing wrong with that in theory, but when heroism is defined as pointless protest of an opposing point of view (with the safe zone at the ready if things get hairy), it becomes a joke. During the question and answer part of Horowitz’s appearance, a member of the UCDems stood up and said, “Mr. Horowitz, you claim we don’t want to debate you, well we’re here! Stand up if you’re a Democrat!” It was right out of Spartacus. Horowitz seemed amused. Administrators readied the “safe zone” for the first victims.

But the whole scene at the Horowitz lecture really wasn’t that funny. We need debate on this campus on many issues. If we get just one side of the story in our classrooms, or in our student newspapers, then we will never be able to figure out what really works to fix an imperfect society. Is that really so hard for people to figure out?

Sometimes, when I see students indulging their heroic fantasies with clueless rejection of dissenting views and administrators enabling their retreat into their safe zone, I wonder if maybe the university needs to give me my own safe zone.