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Jewish World Review Jan. 31, 2003 / 28 Shevat, 5763

Michael Long

Mike Long
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Silencing opponents because you can



http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | There is a scary trend on the left just now, and it's scarier than the standard battles over Social Security, gun control, abortion, etc. Members of the left, even those who are welcomed inside respectable mainstream party politics, are actively working to silence those with whom they disagree, and they don't care that this is a fundamental violation of not just the Constitution, but the human right to freedom of speech as well.

We're accustomed to the Democrats' looking the other way when Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and Cynthia McKinney start up their paranoid and fact-free race baiting. But the blind-eye syndrome is spreading a lot more lately: Hillary Clinton recently blasphemed Martin Luther King by saying his "I Have A Dream" speech should be updated to note that, well, no, in fact, we shouldn't be judged just by the content of our character, because race is a part of character. Her bizarre assertion is obviously anathema to the very words King spoke. But no one on the left did anything but nod in agreement.

One troubling phenomenon grows because it gets little media coverage, the shouting down or "disinviting" of speakers altogether from college campuses, and related harassment not just of opponents, but even of those who question leftist orthodoxy from inside the left.

One case in point is described in a lengthy letter from the editor in Psychology Today, brought to wider attention by Rod Dreher of National Review. The author, Dr. Robert Epstein, who is editor-in-chief of the magazine, received a harassing phone call at his home and 120 letters threatening a massive boycott of the publication. Why? The advertising department of the magazine accepted a tiny ad for a book on "reparative therapy," which in some cases seems to diminish homosexual tendencies for those who seek out such a change.

The therapy is widely derided and misrepresented by its opponents. It is, however, a form of treatment with serious adherents in the medical and scholarly communities, and it is recognized by the American Psychological Association.

But many of Dr. Epstein's correspondents didn't bother with those facts. They couldn't even get the editor's alleged offense right. They accused him of everything from publishing an anti-gay book to running an anti-gay article. They compared him to the Taliban and called him a Nazi, and, a "surprising number of letters asserted that gays have a right to be rude or abusive because they themselves have been abused."

This is a despicable approach-and the failure to denounce it is just as bad. But instead of distancing themselves from this dirty episode, look for the cultural left to sit by quietly, and appreciate whatever damage it does to their enemies, executed "by any means necessary."

Elsewhere, JWR's Daniel Pipes, the Middle East expert who soldiers on in the face of near-violent confrontation with the anti-Israel left, was recently the target of the ironically named "Coalition for Academic Freedom." They objected to Dr. Pipes being allowed to speak at York University, where the Jewish Federation of Students had invited him. Canadian Press reported that coincident death threats and email attacks nearly debilitated the work of many of Pipes' colleagues.

York University, no beacon of liberty or free thought, this place, shamed itself by withdrawing Pipes invitation. It relented within a few days, but the damage was done, and the "chilling effect"-the overused phrase that is the only appropriate one here-was done. A student spokesman told Canadian Press that some students feel "offended and attacked" by Dr. Pipes.

More likely, they cannot refute his arguments and hate to see their opponents get a chance to speak.

The word "un-American" gets used a lot these days-and inappropriately so-over disagreements about policy and politics. But one of the few unarguably un-American things is the silencing of opponents. When a group of individuals does it, it's a shame-and, hopefully, an anomaly. But when a university does it, it's a moral crime, and a violation of human rights.

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JWR contributor Michael Long is a a director of the White House Writers Group. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2001, Michael Long