In an essay appearing in the Wall Street Journal, Kay S. Hymowitz and Harry Stein point out a frightening example of moral relativism carried in the Chronicle of Higher Education. A professor at Hamilton College wrote of how his students were reluctant to judge three of the greatest evils this world has ever witnessed: Hitler, apartheid, and slavery. As one student remarked, “Of course I dislike the Nazis, but who is to say they are morally wrong?”
These students weren’t born with such extreme moral relativism. Rather these ideas were handed down from professors and teachers who apparently themselves give little credence to clear moral strictures, especially those based on America’s dominant religions.
So says Alan Wolfe, a sociology professor and head of the Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College in an interview with The Massachusetts News. Speaking about his academic colleagues he remarked, “There’s a sense that religion just isn’t important or taken seriously.”
As a result, neither are the clear moral rules that such a Judeo-Christian model of the world prescribes. Instead, students are taught to “think critically.” Of course, there’s nothing wrong with deeply examining issues, but that’s not what many academics have in mind. Instead, as stated in a humanities text this author was required to read, thinking critically is defined as “a mode of inquiry that challenges cultural biases, inherited assumptions, and uninterrogated ways of viewing the world.”
In other words, to be successful in college, a student must challenge the status quo, which in this case is a moral system with distinct notions of good and evil.
Consequently, such notions are absent from the analysis offered to students by many professors.
In the words of University of California, Irvine sociology Professor Chuck O’Connell during a campus teach-in, “Oppression generates rebellion. If there is a perception among people that they are subjugated and oppressed, you will get rebellion.”
The first part of the remark makes sense. Those who are unjustly treated will likely revolt. However, the latter comment is indicative of this morally relative mind-set. Here O’Connell is saying that members of a given group need merely perceive themselves as victims to justify violent rebellion. This fails to ask the question whether or not such a rebellion is truly warranted by the circumstances of history and reality. The implication is that seeking the truth about which side is right and which side is wrong apparently isn’t as valued as indiscriminately lending an ear to any group that claims victimhood.
O’Connell brought the same blurred thinking to the terrorist attacks in America: “I wonder if today in the international world, there are millions of people saying the means used Sept. 11 were wrong, but still there is a cause; there is [an issue] that needs to be addressed.”
By this logic—all too accepted in universities—violence by a group betokens genuine grievances. And perhaps the leading “aggrieved” group that attracts academic support is Palestinians. Their escalated violence followed the largest peace proposal Israel had ever offered, but that is often ignored in favor of casting Palestinians as blameless.
As a byproduct of an intellectual environment that dismisses the pursuit of truth, students who choose to spread propaganda essentially have a free pass to manipulate the resources available to them. For example, at UC Irvine, student government funds were used to publish an article that contained the following blatant falsehoods:
In 1967, Israel attacked Egypt, Jordan and Syria. . . .The U.N. passed Resolution 242 that stated that Israel should return all land taken…Ariel Sharon desecrates a Holy Muslim site. This is the spark that started the Intifada.
In May, 1967, in an atmosphere of vitriolic Arabic rhetoric calling for the destruction of Israel, Egypt’s Gamel Nasser massed 100,000 troops on Israel’s southern border. He also ejected from the Sinai U.N. peacekeeps, and closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, which was an act of war under international law. Up north, Syrian troops moved into the Golan Heights and Iraq joined a military alliance with Syria, Egypt and Jordan. After the war began with Egypt, Israel’s prime minister notified Jordan’s King Hussein that Israel would not attack Jordan unless Jordan iniated military action. According to Hussein’s autobiography, the king responded by shelling Jerusalem and bombing Netanya
As for U.N. Resolution 242, it does not call for the return of “all land taken.” After prolonged negotiations, the resolution was carefully drafted to require that Israel withdraw from “territories,” not “the territories.” Moreover, any withdrawal would have to entail “secure and recognized boundaries.”
The author was similarly incorrect in his statement that Sharon “desecrate[d]” a Muslim site and that he is to blame for the Palestinian violence. First, he did not “desecrate” any Muslim site. He walked on the Temple Mount, which is the holiest site for Jews and the third most sacred site for Muslims. Second, even Palestinian officials have admitted that the Palestinian violence was planned and orchestrated after the Camp David failure, and that Sharon had nothing to do with it. For example, Palestinian Authority Communications Minister Imad al-Faluji said:
Whoever thinks that the Intifada broke out because of the despised Sharon’s visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque is wrong. . . . The Intifada was planned in advance, ever since President Arafat’s return from the Camp David negotiations, where he turned the table upside down on President Clinton. (Lebanon’s Al-Safir, March 3, 2001, translated by MEMRI)
The publication that printed these falsehoods, Student Voice, is produced semi-annually, and thus even if a correction were to be printed in the following months, the damage would already have been done.
Student government funds were also used to sponsor a campus “peace rally,” in which only those with an anti-America or anti-Israel agenda were allowed to come to the microphone. One such speaker was a graduate student from UC Berkeley, who denounced Israel as a racist nation and condemned the United States for supporting it.
Following a rally sponsored by the Muslim Student Union, the New University (the official UCI newspaper) omitted quotes in which the president of the MSU blamed Israel for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America. While running such accusations unchallenged would have been objectionable, the removal of the statements raises some serious questions.
Was the NewU concerned that the MSU might look foolish? Or perhaps they were concerned that the MSU would get angry as a result of being shown to be foolish? Either way, the truth loses. Indeed, the story ran with the benign headline, “Muslims Address Terrorist Attacks.”
As a college radio talk-show host, I often find myself playing catch-up to the reality-free statements made by professors and students alike. Yet, I am fortunate in that I am able to add my views to the discussion on a weekly basis. The trick, I have learned, is not to play defense, but to go on offense. There is no substitute for a sustained pro-Israel presence.
While changing the mindset of those who wish to wipe away notions of right and wrong is an impractical goal, attempting to persuade those in the middle who have yet to make up their minds certainly is not. Yet, those championing a pro-Israel message must not fall into the trap of competing with the Palestinians for the trophy of victimhood. Rather one must highlight the significant actions (not just words) that Israel has taken to achieve peace. This is the contrast, after all, that provides the moral weight to Israel’s position, and which will convince those who have their values intact to come to the aid of the only democracy in the Middle East.
Evan Simon, a radio talk-show host on KUCI-FM (88.9) in Orange County, California, is a Student at UC Irvine.