Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Avatar of Liberalism and Academic Freedom

The new proposed University of Austin is being founded to promote liberalism and academic freedom:

There is a gaping chasm between the promise and the reality of higher education. Yale’s motto is Lux et Veritas, light and truth. Harvard proclaims: Veritas. Young men and women of Stanford are told Die Luft der Freiheit weht: The wind of freedom blows.

These are soaring words. But in these top schools, and in so many others, can we actually claim that the pursuit of truth—once the central purpose of a university—remains the highest virtue? Do we honestly believe that the crucial means to that end—freedom of inquiry and civil discourse—prevail when illiberalism has become a pervasive feature of campus life?

The numbers tell the story as well as any anecdote you’ve read in the headlines or heard within your own circles. Nearly a quarter of American academics in the social sciences or humanities endorse ousting a colleague for having a wrong opinion about hot-button issues such as immigration or gender differences. Over a third of conservative academics and PhD students say they had been threatened with disciplinary action for their views. Four out of five American PhD students are willing to discriminate against right-leaning scholars, according to a report by the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology.

They’ve decided to hire Ayaan Hirsi Ali to teach there. Here is Hirsi Ali’s view of academic freedom, as captured in a famous 2007 interview with Reason magazine. I encourage you to read the whole thing. But this bit strikes me as particularly relevant. Continue reading

Firebrands Unite

From this morning’s New York Times: the print headline reads: “Anti-Muslim Firebrands Are Arrested in Britain.” For what? Well.

Paul Golding, the leader of Britain First, was detained in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the group said, where he was accompanying his deputy, Jayda Fransen, to her court hearing on earlier charges related to using “threatening, abusive, insulting words or behavior” during an anti-Islam speech in August that prosecutors said could qualify as incitement to racial hatred. She has denied the charges.

Shortly after her court appearance, British news media said she was arrested again, this time as part of a police investigation into “an incident at a peace wall” in Belfast on Wednesday.

Earlier, the Police Service of Northern Ireland said on Twitter that detectives investigating speeches made at the Northern Ireland Against Terrorism Rally on Aug. 6 “have arrested a 35-year-old man in the Belfast area today.” The post did not identify Mr. Golding or the offense.

Gee, sounds familiar in a weird, mirror-image kind of way. Naturally, it’s completely unclear what the suspects did or said: the police won’t say, the journalists don’t know, and so, the rest of us are in the dark. “An incident at a peace wall.” What kind of incident? “An incident at a peace wall” almost sounds like a second invasion of Poland. Never mind, though: this sort of opacity is Standard Operating Procedure for the 21st Century Thought Police. And there are people who like it this way. Some even regard themselves as bien pensant liberals. Continue reading

Orientalism, Racism, and Islam: Edward Said Between Race and Doctrine

David Riesbeck’s recent post on essentialism reminds me that I have a paper on a loosely related topic that I’ve been meaning (for eight years!) to revise and submit somewhere. As I’m teaching Edward Said’s Orientalism in the fall, I figured I’d make the time to revisit the book and the topic, and finally revise the paper. So here it is, in the interests of feedback from PoT readers, and potentially, for purposes of comparison and contrast with David’s post. Originally presented at the California Roundtable on Philosophy & Race, Hampshire College, October 2, 2009.


Orientalism, Racism, and Islam:
Edward Said Between Race and Doctrine

  1. Introduction

Edward Said’s Orientalism has gotten relatively little attention from philosophers in the Anglo-American analytic tradition. Arguably, though, the book has been at least as influential in contemporary political thought as has the work of say, Rawls, Nozick, or Dworkin, and has probably been more influential across the breadth of the humanities than the combined efforts of the sum total of analytic normative theorists. Widely regarded outside of philosophy as the foundational text of postcolonial studies, and as the touchstone of a progressive conception of comparative politics and area studies, Orientalism is also a pioneering contribution to race theory. Where English-speaking race theorists had, prior to Orientalism, devoted the bulk of their attention to anti-black racism and anti-Semitism, Said was one of the first academic writers to draw sustained attention to Western conceptions of the Arab/Muslim Oriental.  As one early reviewer concisely summarized the book, “Professor Said uses [his] privileged vantage to observe the West observing the Arabs, and he does not like what he finds.”

In what way is Orientalism a contribution to race theory? The question leads to a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, it is hard to deny that there is some such contribution. On the other hand, the contribution in question turns out to be surprisingly difficult to specify with any precision. I want to suggest that the conundrum arises from a systematic equivocation that runs throughout Said’s treatment of Orientalism—namely, his persistent conflation of claims about the essence of Oriental racial identity with claims about the essence of Islamic religious doctrine. Contrary to Said, a critique of the first sort of claim, however cogent and insightful, is not easily (or at all) transferable to claims of the second sort. The failure to distinguish race from doctrine undermines what is valuable about his account and abets serious confusion.

Continue reading

Stephen Hicks on Islamic Terrorism: A Response

Stephen Hicks (Philosophy, Rockford University) has an article up at his website, also published elsewhere, on “How to Tame Religious Terrorists,” meaning, essentially how to tame Islamic terrorists. Below I’ve posted a long comment I wrote in response. I’ve added hyperlinks in the version below, and added a clause to one sentence to clarify its meaning (“as is typically done in the United States”).

It should go without saying that my point is not that all Islamic terrorism can be justified as a legitimate response to real grievances (it can’t), but simply that some Islamic terrorists (and would-be terrorists, or sympathizers with those terrorists) have real grievances. One way (though not the only way) of “taming” terrorism would be to reduce the number of real grievances they have, especially when we ourselves are the direct or indirect source of the grievance–as in the Israeli case, we are. Continue reading

Reason Papers vol. 38:2 now available

I’m happy to report that Reason Papers vol. 38:2 (Winter 2016) has just come out online. The journal is published in a Free Open Access format, so the content in it can be accessed for free without a subscription or registration. If you want to access individual articles, use this link, which takes you to the journal’s Archive page (you may have to scroll down a few clicks). If you’d rather read the whole issue as a single PDF (131 pages), try this link.

The issue begins with a Symposium on Andrew Jason Cohen’s 2014 book, Toleration; the symposiasts are Emily M. Crookston (Philosophy, Coastal Carolina University) and David Kelley (Atlas Society). Danny Frederick has an Article on the nature and definition of “freedom”; Gary Jason (Philosophy, Cal State Fullerton) has the first of a multi-part series on the memorialization of genocide in film. The issue ends with three longish review essays: Richard Salsman (Political Science, Duke) reviews three books on the American founders; Kanan Makiya (Islamic and Middle East Studies, Brandeis) reviews a recent English translation of the late Sadik al Azm’s Self-Criticism After the Defeat, an analysis of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War; and Salim Rashid (Economics, Universiti Utari Malaysia) reviews Timur Kuran’s celebrated book, The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East. Continue reading

Revisiting “The Muslim Registry”

In light of recent events, including Donald Trump’s firing Sally Yates, the Acting Attorney General, I thought I’d re-post this item from November, on the so-called “Muslim registry.” Actions like Yates’s were just what I had in mind when I wrote the post. My hope is that others will emulate her.

A postscript: In the November post, I mentioned that I had intended to try my proposal out on the Bergen County Prosecutor, Gurbir Grewal, on a visit he was making to my university that week. The question I asked him back in November was whether he would be willing to withhold county law enforcement resources from efforts to enforce unconstitutional deportation orders. He side-stepped the question to some degree, pointing out that he was obliged, in the case of undocumented aliens within his custody, to pass relevant information on to the federal immigration authorities, and presumably to cooperate in any legal proceedings they initiated. Continue reading

Allah Save the Queen

So London just got its first Pakistani Muslim mayor.

I’m a Londoner, I’m European, I’m British, I’m English, I’m of Islamic faith, of Asian origin, of Pakistani heritage, a dad, a husband.

Why do I feel such a powerful impulse to throw cold water on this? Is it because, as an apostate Muslim, I find something problematic about a supposed Muslim who lists his religious commitment fifth on a list of politically expedient identities that helped him win an election? Or is it because, as a person of South Asian descent, I just find loud public expressions of South Asian–sorry Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Nepali, Kashmiri, or Bengali identity really embarrassing?  Continue reading

Republican Islamophobia: A Response

This is a much belated response to Peter Saint-Andre and Michael Young on Republican Islamophobia, from my post of January 5. Given its length, I’ve decided to make a new post of my response rather than try to insert it into the combox.

Looking over the whole exchange, I can’t help thinking that the point I made in my original post has gotten lost in a thicket of meta-issues orthogonal to what I said in the original post. I don’t dispute that the issues that Peter and Michael have brought up are worth discussing, but I still think that they bypass what I actually said.

Continue reading