Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Principle in the Middle East and the Peretz controversy

Louis Cooper is the son of Eddie Cooper who was a dear friend of my father, mother and aunt. See Poem 1937 here and here. A fellow graduate from Social Studies, he finds Peretz’s views repellant, and raises useful questions about my post two days ago here. First, I was factually mistaken about Marty's teaching: Marty was, for a long time, a lecturer in social studies, and had, as owner/editor of the New Republic, an unusual and significant role in the program. Second, there is a Martin Peretz Yiddish studies professorship established in 1993. It is a separate corruption at Harvard from the Social Studies fund. Third, I stressed the issue of scholarship because though Marty has a Ph.D., he lacks or fakes the vocation of a scholar. Robert Paul Wolff’s phrase about him “an egregious wannabe” New Leftist is sadly the sense many got about him. It explains, perhaps, his abrupt pivot to extreme pro-Israel, reactionary (backing the Contras), warmongering and racist politics. But of course it is good to welcome diverse practitioners to universities so long as their views do not attack some of the students and faculty because of their being and thus poison the environment for everyone else. As one of those not directly attacked, I find the atmosphere in such "gatherings" particularly nauseating since the lecturer orr "teacher" relies on the assumption that others present are willing collaborators or converts. But one may always say: no.

Put differently in the idiom of John Rawls, university life involves a mutual regard among persons of diverse comprehensive or conscientious views, Whatever fierce debate occurs, it cannot attack the rightfulness of any class, status or gender group to belong. When racism actually disappears, Klan views will have (being then a harmless idiocy in the museums of foolishness) a place on campus. Not in this historical epoch…

Fourth, I did not mention Marty’s recanting of his misunderstanding about the first amendment on Yom Kippur. Perhaps Marty is beginning to reflect on these things and will go further. I used to like Marty (I describe his encouraging gesture toward me around the time of my debate with McGeorge Bundy in the last post) and with Gandhi, King and Mandela, am happy to welcome anyone who sees things anew. But as Louis says, Marty’s belated inkling about the First Amendment does not eliminate the racism. In Robert Paul Wolff's words:

“…the more offensive part of his remarks was what he had to say about Muslims. ‘But frankly,’ he wrote, ‘Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims.’ I thought I might just remind everyone what that oft-used phrase actually means. What it does NOT mean is that Muslim lives are unimportant, or are thought to be unimportant by Muslims or anyone else. That is what Peretz meant, but in this, and in so much else, he simply shows himself to be ignorant.” See here (Robert’s most recent comment on what it means to be a scholar is especially poignant).

To put this point another way, in racist wars as in the aggression in Vietnam, oppressors say: life is cheap for x [the nonwhite people attacked]. One has but to study the mourning of a Vietnamese family when someone dies as the documentary “Hearts and Minds” did; one will then see, frozen forever in time, who General William Westmoreland was.

As with Westemoreland, there are some things one can do that are so awful, little can expiate them. Sadly during a possible great turning point in American foreign policy in the Middle East (though it is hard to see hope now amid the continuing wreckage), Marty did this very thing two weeks ago. That is how a sense among many that Marty is empty blossomed into mass revulsion.

On BBC news in America yesterday morning, a lawyer in London spoke about the beating of a Muslim child as a “terrorist” by bullies in a Manhattan school. At the racist rally at ground zero, a hulking white guy intimidated a black electrician attempting to pass by for looking “Muslimish.” Marty’s racism toward Chicanos and blacks might not have come back to haunt him so sharply had he not launched yet another outrageous diatribe about Muslims two weeks before the Social Studies anniversary celebration. See Ta-Nehisi Coates’ post on a particularly racist fantasy about “Taxi-cabs and the Meaning of Work” Marty put on the cover of the New Republic (h/t John Mearsheimer and Rusty). In addition, one of the bits of neoconservative baggage that Andrew Sullivan has not seen through is the racism of Murray and Herrnstein’s The Bell Curve. I have found Andrew's insights a relief on Obama from the beginning – Andrew is quite sensible about the dangers of war and empire and except for demanding cutbacks in social security, on trying to heal America. But endorsing pseudoscientific racism is not a virtue, let along Peretz (or Andrew if he were still editor) putting it on the front page.

I and others have written on this extensively over the last 30 years. See, for example, Ned Block and Gerald Dworkin “IQ, Heritability and Inequality” in Block and Dworkin, ed., The IQ Controversy; Alan Garfinkel, Forms of Explanation, and Gilbert, The Storming of Heaven section 3 in J. Roland Pennock, ed., Marxism, Nomos, 1984, and Democratic Individuality, ch. 10. For instance, IQ testing seeks to evade any debate about what intelligence is by a circular or "operational" definition : intelligence is what IQ tests test. Operationalism avows that since we cannot see, say, electrons, we must emphasize the instruments that measure them. But this doctrine, articulated by Percy Bridgman in the 1920s, failed within three years in philosophy of physics. Note the difference, prima facie, with real sciences – one can say mathematically and theoretically as well as evidentially, what electrons or quarks are. One also knows whether it is a hot day even if all the thermometers around here are broken and read: –30 degrees celsius. In contrast, the circular definitions on which behavioral psychology relies are empty. What IQ tests actually do is predict achievement in class, race and gender biased schools. Unsurprisingly, they reproduce as ostensibly objective numbers above the heads of individuals the social oppression of workers, especially minority groups.

Consider, for example, a traditional Jewish community. Only boys go to school to become rabbis. The correlation between being male and high IQ is 1, between being female and IQ zero (Isaac Bashevis Singer’s "Yentl" is of course an emblem in the sea of boys over the generations which indicates the stark oppressiveness of this, also traditional Jewish practice).

IQ testing was used to stigmatize some 80% Jewish and southern and eastern European immigrants to the United States during World War I as “feeble minded.” The IQ tests were given in English to people who didn’t now the language. These "results" wee contrasted by Carl Brigham, in A Study of American Intelligence (1921) with "high IQ" Scandanivian immigrants of the 1890s. Considering an alternative, environmental explanation – time to learn English – did not occur to Professor Brigham. Someone perhaps was feebleminded here, but it is not the immigrants. See Leon Kamin, The Science and Politics of IQ and Stephen Chorover, From Genesis to Genocide. Brigham’s testimony before Congress helped shape the 1924 immigration law which refers to preserving “the pure Nordic stock of the United States.” Resonantly, the library at the Educational Testing Service in Princeton is named for Carl Brigham.

Jews particularly Richard Herrnstein, whose article "IQ" in the Atlantic in 1976 and book IQ in the Meritocracy alleged genetic inferiority of blacks in intelligence to whites as well as his 1989 argument in the Atlantic that the national IQ was declining because black and brown people were breeding and “high IQ” women need not be in college but home breeding – eugenics - mimic Hitler. Jews should know better…

All bigotry is not on a par in terms of social and political consequence. Some of the victimized become embittered toward their oppressors. But they do not lynch them. In a society which uses racism to justify wars abroad and especially to harm and divide groups at home, advocacy of racism is like shouting fire in a crowded theater. See here. Thus, Marty’s outbursts have some serious impact in “justifying”/”sanctifying” the beating of a Muslim child in New York. Such bigotry also contributes to sanctioning the unemployment rate among poor black teenagers; 4 in 100 found work according to a New York Times editorial, December 22, 2008. At the same time, Goldman Sachs made fabulous profits from government (taxpayer) funding. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s article below is particularly striking on the odious racism of the New Republic.

Peretz and others would, of course, bring up Hamas as a counterexample. In the last Israeli slaughter in Gaza, some 1200 Palestinians including 300 children were killed. Honorable Israeli soldiers in “Breaking the Silence” reported, for instance, on a sharpshooter being ordered to murder an old woman at a distance of several hundred yards. Hamas fired off rockets which murdered 1 Israeli child. 300 to 1 - good to hear the defenders of the Israeli government think that Hamas is depraved...The Israeli occupation is illegal and immoral. Gaza to this day remains a “large open-air concentration camp” as my friend Tom Farer puts it.

Worse yet, Europe and America allowed Jews to settle, after the Nazi genocide, only in the Middle East. The famous slogan “A people without land for a land without people” was a lie. Palestinians lived there and were “transferred” (see Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine). It was a war against Palestinians, and an act of aggression (see Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars for a clear account of the moral standards). All of this makes fighting back – though not the killing of innocents - self-defense. Meanwhile, Palestinian resisters are finally taking up determinedly the weapon of nonviolence. See here.

No wonder the Israeli government and its supporters in the United States resort more and more to crass racism, being at this point, nakedly – to Americans and particularly most American jews - in the wrong. Are most of us now not sickened by endless US aggressions in the Middle East, the neocon and Democratic thinktank threat of war with Iran and the refusal of the Israeli government to make a minimally decent settlement with the Palestinians? Hence, one hopes that Netanyahu – and his American echoers – would achieve sanity in the current talks pushed by Obama. One might think setting up the Peretz scholarship fund in social studies is just an issue of the decency of Harvard, but I am happy to say that the pushback by students and colleagues in social studies and others at Harvard stands up, far more firmly than Obama, for a decent settlement of this core conflict in the Middle East. In contrast, this week’s apparent increase in the Peretz endowment to $650,000 from $500,000 is an expression of misguided political support for further “transfer." Thus, nonviolent resistance to the celebration of Peretz's racism is one act among many that could push the United States government to do the right thing, as opposed to being instrumental – the big dog – in protecting Israeli wrongs.

Israel’s government has long relied on war and enmity to keep Arab hostility at bay. But it has long needed to make peace with the Palestinians it has victimized, to settle into the Middle East rather than be a belligerent guardian for American imperialism. Instead, Israel further oppesses the Palestinian daily, and in an increasingly openly genocidal vein – the words of Foreign Minister Lieberman, the proposed “Loyalty Oath” to be forced on Arab-Israelis in the Knesset. That government is also acting toward a further “transfer” in the occupied territories, a “greater Israel.” Only pressure from below here and in Israel will allow decency to win out.

Because of this issue's international significance, Steve Walt has offered some further reflections on the double standard at Harvard below. Harvard can stand up against Arab bigotry. It refused a $2.5 million dollar gift from the President of the United Arab Emirates who also sponsored a racist think-tank. There, the words are plain. But the Peretz professorship in Yiddish Studies and scholarship fund in Social Studies will be accepted. Read again Peretz’s words aloud about Muslims, blacks and Chicanoes from the student letter to the director of Social Studies in the last post. Walt offers James Fallows’ useful suggestion that Harvard have a fund for Muslim students to go there. But this would, though an improvement, leave the bigotry surrounding the honoring of Peretz wholly in tact. The Ku Klux Klan fellowship and the SNCC fellowship for African-Americans are not the same. In addition, able Muslims of many races should get funding at Harvard just as any other able candidate. Lastly, Marty might have a change of heart himself, but only that – only a rejection of his racism and acceptance of a decent settlement with the Palestinians – would remove the taint from this “honor.”

In The House Stood Forlorn, my grandfather, the anarchist JJ Cohen, spoke of himself as a scion of “an accursed race.” He and many jews were and are repulsed by racism directed by oppressors toward anyone. As is now noticeable, many Jews, especially in America but also in Israel, are standing up against the brutality of the Israeli government toward Palestinians. As Abraham Heschel said shortly before Martin Luther King was assassinated, the fate of America rests, to some large degree, in realizing King’s vision. This is a sense of uniting with the oppressed. engaging in revolutionary transformation, an exodus from Pharoah’s slavery or quite possibly capitalism as King imagined in 1968 into freedom which is additionally the central heritage of Judaism (cf. Michael Walzer, Exodus).

Under the influence of the Israeli government, however, some Jews abandon this tradition and side with the kings (see here). They look down on lesser people and denounce the inheritors of Amos as “self-hating Jews.” Particularly in America where there have been, initially, few to cry the truth about the occupied territories (that Gaza remains a “large open air concentration camp” in the words of my friend Tom Farer), Peretz and others have had a long day in the sun. They puff themselves up, bully others, pull around them the emperor’s new clothes. No wonder Marty is not quite real. Such clothes do not fit jews. In any case, that day is over.

Here is Louis’s letter:

“Dear Alan,

My brother Harry forwarded me your blog post about Martin Peretz and the Social Studies 50th anniversary celebration. I am no fan of Peretz, whose views on a variety of issues I find quite repellent. I would prefer that he not speak at the event.

That said, there are a few facts (or at least what I understand to be facts) which I think make the situation a bit less dire than your depiction suggests.

First, Peretz is not being honored with a professorship in Yiddish studies, as I understand it, but with an undergraduate research fund to be named after him (the money for which was raised by former students of his). Second, Peretz on his blog The Spine has publicly apologized for and retracted his suggestion that Muslims are not entitled to First Amendment rights (unfortunately, he has not retracted the statement about Muslim life being valued cheaply by Muslims). Third, I believe it is inaccurate to say, as you do, that Peretz has not been a teacher "for many years." My understanding is that he retired from teaching about five years ago (I could be wrong about this). It's true he is not a scholar, but if being a scholar were a prerequisite for speaking at a Harvard-sponsored event the university probably would have to cancel at least a quarter of the speakers who currently appear. After all, filmmakers, visual artists, musicians, and poets are not scholars, but they speak regularly at Harvard. So do journalists, who are also not scholars. So do publishers of magazines, who are also not scholars. Although I have a Ph.D., I do not consider myself primarily a scholar, and plenty of people will be attending the event on Saturday who are not scholars. Indeed one of the panels on Saturday consists entirely of people who are not scholars. That Peretz is not a scholar is thus neither here nor there, it seems to me. He is not being recognized for being a scholar, but rather for his long association with Social Studies; he was a Lecturer in the dept. when I was an undergrad (though I never knew him or took one of his classes) and, as I say, I think he retired only about five years ago. The luncheon at which he is speaking is only one aspect of a day-long program. You're right about the some of the unsavory people at Harvard (e.g., Larry Summers) and that mercenary considerations are always present in these matters, but in that context this whole episode really is not too surprising -- nor, I think, the kind of thing that should cast a shadow on the occasion.

Finally, it is too bad that you didn't get an invitation to the event; this speaks very poorly of Soc. Stud.'s record-keeping. I would gladly have forwarded you the invitation had I known.

Sincerely,
Louis Cooper
(A.B., Social Studies, 1979)"

James Galbraith also wrote to me (his father and my father were close friends). Many of us, it seems, have some common Harvard and even social studies legacy:

“Dear Prof. Gilbert,

Just a note of appreciation for your post on Social Studies. As a '74 graduate, I too was not on the list for the celebration. But under the circumstances I would have stayed away. I have a warmer view of Moynihan than yours, but otherwise we're in firm agreement.

Regards,
James Galbraith"


Ta-Nehisi Coates
Sep 20 2010, 11:50 AM ET |

Andrew [Sullivan] and Jack Shafer's reminiscence over the legacy of Martin Peretz, and quasi-defense of his bigotry, motivated me to do some of my own reflecting. To the present business, there is no actual defense of the statement "Muslim life is cheap, particularly to Muslims." African-Americans are overrepresented among both the perpetrators and victims of homicide. And yet had a writer for The New Republic, in the midst of asserting that blacks should not enjoy constitutional protection, argued that "Black life is cheap, particularly to blacks," and then doubled down on the assertion, I don't think we'd be having this debate--emphasis on "think."

On close reading, neither Andrew nor Jack are offering a defense so much as they are changing the subject. The question at hand is something along the lines of, "Does Martin Peretz exhibit a pattern of bigotry?" Andrew and Jack, instead, are addressing a question along the lines of "Is Martin Peretz a great journalist?" With respect for both Andrew and Jack, this is obfuscation. Ty Cobb was both a great baseball player and a bigot. The notion that we must choose between the two, that one mitigates the other, that good people don't do deplorable things, that deplorable people don't do great things, emanates from our own inability to understand that bigotry is not strictly the preserve of orcs.

That said, I would not have Peretz' legacy forgotten. But I would have it considered in a fullness befitting its breadth and splendor. Andrew asserts the following:

“...Marty owned a magazine that pioneered the military and marriage debate that transformed a civil rights movement; or race, where his insistence on airing the really tough issues helped shift the debate, in my view, for the better. TNR's brave pioneering of welfare reform made a huge difference.”

Peretz' alleged courage on race is a peculiar sort. Andrew may well be thinking of Peretz' assent to his stewardship of the infamous ‘Bell Curve’ cover questioning the innate intellectual aptitude of African-Americans. He could also be thinking of Ruth Shalit's 1995 story which asserted that affirmative action was degrading the quality of The Washington Post. The story was filled with errors which Shalit dismissed as "a handful of unfortunate but minor inaccuracies" and "one major error." Repeated charges of plagiarism ultimately doomed Shalit at the The New Republic.

Or Andrew could be thinking of the magazine's 1996 cover story "Taxis, and the Meaning Of Work." Here is the central thesis of the piece:

“In 1978, at the American Enterprise Institute, Jesse Jackson explained that dirty work was better than no work, since it paid in long-term benefits. But his advice has not been universally accepted, not least in his own community.”

Proceeding from there, the article goes on to contrast the flagging work ethic of African-Americans, with hard-working immigrant taxi-drivers--many of them Muslim. The article ends with a flurry of spectacular reportage, in which the journalist witnesses the robbery of one of his cab-driving subjects by a black man, and then tracks down a folk-hero of the local cab-driving community--Kae Bang "a Korean cabdriver-turned-vigilante who is to the D.C. cab community what Stagger Lee was to the Mississippi Delta." Bang, an expert martial artist, attracted his flock after he beat down "three brick wielding black teenagers" who'd assaulted him.*

The story was a whirlwind of spectacular ‘gets’ which could only have been executed by a crack reporter on his best day, or an outright liar willing to invoke every odious stereotype from Steppin Fetchit to Bruce Lee to Willie Horton. Martin Peretz put ‘Taxis and the Meaning Of Work’ on the cover of The New Republic, a first for the article's author, Stephen Glass. Glass's name comes up whenever the latest instance of gumshoe malfeasance arises. What should not be forgotten is that one of the greatest fraud sprees in modern journalistic history, was aided and abetted by The New Republic's belief in shiftless, dangerous blacks and the immigrant avenger Kae Bang.

Washington Post editor Len Downie, and Washington Post Company CEO Donald Graham stung by Shalit's piece, once suggested ‘Looking for a qualified black since 1914’ as a motto for The New Republic. I don't know the magazine's employment record in regards to people who are not white, but I do know that the magazine field--political and otherwise--is probably the whitest field in all of journalism. And not simply American white--but privileged, coastal, Ivy League white. (I include my present employer in that assessment.)

Peretz is oft-saluted for bringing different perspectives under the same roof. In all my time of reading The New Republic, it's been clear that very few of those perspectives originate in communities of color. My sense of the diversity question has never been one of simple egalitarianism, but of the kind of humility that makes you question your courage on race, when your newsroom looks a graduate seminar at Harvard. Or worse. By my lights, every newsroom needs someone willing to ask, "Who the fuck is Kae Bang?"

And so it is, 15 years later, with a magazine whose effective co-editor defends the statement "Muslim life is cheap," and within weeks skips off to be honored at Harvard. This is all about firepower. The fact is that Peretz has the social and economic guns to be a bigot, to then be defended by even those who acknowledge his bigotry, and finally be honored at the highest levels of American academia.

But that aside, I would be very interested in precisely how much ‘Muslim life’ is presently ensconced in The New Republic's venerable offices. It's very easy to raise tough questions, when you don't have to endure even tougher answers.

* "Taxi Cabs and The Meaning of Work" no longer appears on The New Republic's website. I tracked the piece down myself, and will gladly e-mail it to anyone who doubts its existence, or the parts quoted. Just send me a note.

UPDATE: I'd also be remiss to not link to Fallows' thoroughly convincing posts on all of this. The latest of which includes this incredible piece written by Peretz during the Iraq War:

‘I actually believe that Arabs are feigning outrage when they protest what they call American (or Israeli) ‘atrocities.’ They are not shocked at all by what in truth must seem to them not atrocious at all. It is routine in their cultures. That comparison shouldn't comfort us as Americans. We have higher standards of civilization than they do. But the mutilation of bodies and beheadings of people picked up at random in Iraq does not scandalize the people of Iraq unless victims are believers in their own sect or members of their own clan.’

I'm really amazed by the inability to call this what it is. If Peretz is not a bigot, then the word has no meaning. My sense is that the latter is actually true for people whom we believe to be respectable. James also links to a Peretz apology. I'm not convinced, but I'm not the one who needs to be. Maybe I will be after I think about it more.

Ta-Nehisi Coates

More on the Martin Peretz affair (UPDATED)
Stephen M. Walt Tuesday, September 21, 2010 - 1:18 PM

I hadn't intended to say anything further about the shameful Martin Peretz affair, and lord knows there are plenty of good reasons for me not to poke my finger in the eye of Harvard's current leadership. But seriously: You'd think after nearly 400 years the leaders of the university would have figured out what the principles of academic freedom and free speech really mean -- and also what they don't mean. But judging from the official university response to the furor, the people I work for appear to be somewhat confused about these issues.

To recap: A couple of weeks ago, Peretz made some offensive and racist statements about Muslims on his blog. Specifically, he wrote that "Frankly, Muslim life is cheap, especially for Muslims," and then went on to say that he didn't think American Muslims deserved the protections of the First Amendment, because he suspected they would only abuse them.

These statements were not an isolated incident or just a lamentably poor choice of words. On the contrary, they were the latest in a long series of statements displaying hatred and contempt for Muslims, Arabs, and other minorities. Peretz retracted part of his latest remarks after they were exposed and challenged by Nicholas Kristof (Harvard '82) in his column in the New York Times, but in his "apology," Peretz nonetheless reaffirmed his belief that "Muslim life is cheap." Indeed, he declared that "this is a statement of fact, not value."

A number of people then began to question whether it was appropriate for Harvard to establish an undergraduate research fund in Peretz's name and to give him a prominent role in the festivities commemorating the 50th anniversary of its storied Social Studies program. A University spokesman defended the decision to accept the money for the research fund and to have Peretz speak at a luncheon by saying:

As an institution of research and teaching, we are dedicated to the proposition that all people, regardless of color or creed, deserve equal opportunities, equal respect, and equal protection under the law. The recent assertions by Dr. Peretz are therefore distressing to many members of our community, and understandably so. It is central to the mission of a university to protect and affirm free speech, including the rights of Dr. Peretz, as well as those who disagree with him, to express their views."

In a masterful display of understatement, the Atlantic's James Fallows (Harvard '70) termed this response "not one of the university's better efforts." As he (and others) pointed out, nobody was questioning Peretz's right to write or say whatever he wants. For that matter, nobody has even questioned whether Harvard ought to give him a platform to expound his views on this or any other subject. (For my own part, if the Kennedy School invited him to speak on any subject he chose, I wouldn't object.

As should be obvious, this issue isn't a question of free speech or academic freedom. Rather, the issue is whether it is appropriate or desirable for a great university to honor someone who has repeatedly uttered or written despicable words about a community of people numbering in the hundreds of millions. And isn't it obvious that if Peretz had said something similar about African-Americans, Catholics, Jews, Asians, or gays, the outcry would have been loud, fierce, and relentless and some of his current defenders would have distanced themselves from him with alacrity.
And let's also not lose sight of the double standards at work here. After a long and distinguished career, journalist Helen Thomas makes one regrettable and offensive statement and she loses her job, even though she offered a quick and genuine apology. By contrast, Peretz makes offensive remarks over many years, reaffirms some of them when challenged, and gets a luncheon in his honor and his name on a research fund at Harvard.

And why? Because Peretz has a lot of wealthy and well-connected friends. Bear in mind that in 2003 Harvard suspended and eventually returned a $2.5 million dollar gift from the president of the United Arab Emirates, after it learned that he was connected to a think tank that had sponsored talks featuring anti-Semitic and anti-American themes. As the Harvard Crimson said at the time, "no donation is worth indebting the university to practitioners of hate and bigotry." So the University clearly has some standards, it just doesn't apply them consistently.

For more on this unequivocally depressing business, you can read:
1. An open letter from Harvard students protesting the honor to Peretz, and the petition protesting Harvard's policy that now has over 500 signatures, many from Social Studies alums.
2. James Fallows' summary of recent developments.
3. A powerful statement by Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic, examining Peretz's achievements as an editor and questioning his liberal bona fides.
4. A comment by Alan Gilbert of the University of Denver, a former tutor in the same Social Studies program.
5. And while you're at it, you might read the Boston Globe's editorial whitewashing Peretz, and compare it with their reaction to the Helen Thomas affair.

And no, this isn't just a matter of Ivy League academic politics, unrelated to issues of foreign policy. As everyone knows, U.S. relations with the Arab and Muslim world are especially delicate these days. You can read this or this to understand why, but it certainly doesn't help when one of the nation's premier academic institutions decides to honor someone with such deplorable views, even after they have been widely exposed. This is obviously not the main reason why the America's image in the Arab and Muslim world is so negative, but it surely adds fuel to the fires of bigotry.To take this matter a step further, Islamophobia is on the rise here in the United States. Efforts to combat this pernicious and dangerous trend would be furthered if institutions like Harvard took a principled stand on this issue, and declined to honor anyone who has made bigoted remarks about Muslims (or any other group). This has not happened with Peretz, and history will not treat Harvard well for its behavior in this case.

Update: As I write this, I've received a couple of emails suggesting that Peretz was not going to be speaking at the Social Studies event after all. I don't know if that's true or not, but to me the issue is less about his being one of the speakers, and more about having his name permanently attached to an undergraduate research fund.

Update 2: James Fallows reports on the reported resolution of the dispute (i.e., Peretz won't have a speaking role at the event), and suggests that Harvard could address the controversy by creating a scholarship fund for students of Muslim background.

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