Jewish World Review Nov. 2, 2001 / 16 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- WE hear much about "the enemy within" -- namely, the suspected cells of Islamist terrorists and terrorist sympathizers still believed to exist within our nation's borders. But there is another enemy within so entrenched it defies conventional police detection. That enemy is political correctness. This is not exactly the same political correctness that "cleanses" Shakespeare from reading lists, distorts history to redress grievances, or even contests the unpleasant wisdom of racial profiling. It is a subtler brand of thought-control, emanating from within a person or institution rather than having to be imposed from without. Instead of manifesting itself in political or academic terms, this kind of correctness is a behavioral or expressive phenomenon. In fact, you might call it "expressive correctness."
Expressive correctness seems to explain why pro-America students at Amherst College standing for a recorded rendition of "G-d Bless America" could barely muster a response to a party of anti-war activists who crashed their rally to burn flags. About the worst thing these same pro-America students could say about the outrage was to deem it "inappropriate." Expressive correctness may explain why, on hearing a stream of anti-American rhetoric at a University of Hawaii anti-war rally, a lone dissenting professor could only call the poisonous diatribes "troubling for me." The fear of giving offense -- PC's primary precept -- finally seems to have overridden the natural instincts of self-preservation, producing a new mode of self-censored restraint even in the face of extremism.
But not so in the case of Zewdalem Kebede, a senior at San Diego State University. Mr. Kebede, a naturalized American born in Ethiopia, was studying in a library on Sept. 22 when a nearby conversation caught his attention. Four Saudi Arabian students were speaking Arabic, which Mr. Kebede speaks fluently, and discussing their pleasure over the massacre of Sept. 11. "They were very pleased," Mr. Kebede later told the campus newspaper. "They were happy. And they were regretting (that the terrorists missed) the 'Big House.'"
When Mr. Kedebe could stand it no longer, he approached them. "Guys, what you are talking is unfair," he later recalled saying in Arabic. "How do you feel when those 5,000 to 6,000 people are buried in two or three buildings? They are the rubble or they became ash. And you are talking about the action of bin Laden and his group. You are proud of them. You should have to feel shame."
A heated exchange followed, after which Mr. Kebede finally returned to his table. End of story? Hardly. The Sept. 11-celebrating Saudis, exchange students whose regrets over the historic massacre came from the continued existence of the "Big House" (the White House? the Capitol?) had the gall to report Mr. Kebede to the campus police. (They also denied making the anti-American statements.) Did the cops scowl and tell the exchange students they were lucky to be able to take advantage of our freedom of speech to express such heinous thoughts? Hardly. The police filed a report. And the wheels of correctness began to turn.
It wasn't long before Mr. Kebede had to go before the university's Orwellian Center for Student Rights for having allegedly been "verbally abusive to other students." Later, Mr. Kebede had to meet with what's known as a "University Judicial Officer." He eventually got off with a written warning that threatened "severe disciplinary sanctions" should he ever again confront "members of the campus community in a manner ... found to be aggressive or abusive." That means next time Mr. Kebede overhears the hate-talk of carnage-crowing, terrorist-symps, the young man should keep his moral revulsion and patriotism to himself.
The warning letter then went on to say, "You are admonished to conduct yourself as a responsible member of the campus community in the future." There's much to say about this final outrage -- as if the heartfelt urge to rebut such poisonous invective is anything but "responsible" -- although it may be Mr. Kebede who puts it best. "I'm a naturalized American," he told the campus newspaper. "I have taken an oath to protect this country, so that is my part to do -- for that I am happy. I am an honest citizen for this country. I showed those guys there are people who love America, who defend America. Is that a crime?"
Mr. Kebede deserves our thanks, not his university's correction. And, frankly, those Saudi students deserve plane tickets home. Maybe they can take the Center for Student Rights with
JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.