On Wednesday, May 22, a bomb exploded at Yale Law School. Fortunately, no one was hurt. As of this writing, no one has taken “credit” for the violence nor have the authorities blamed any group, or linked the incident in any way to terrorism.
Still, it is worth exploiting this information vacuum to wonder whether the academic community’s reactions would vary depending on who perpetuated this crime. It should not require mentioning, but in our Manichean universe it does, that there is no justification for hiding a bomb in a university classroom, whatever the motives. And while all kinds of bad things happen in this world and one could contemplate many worse perversions –violating the sanctity of a university with such violence is outrageous.
Nevertheless, can anyone honestly deny that a bomb placed by a Timothy McVeigh rightwing extremist type would attract more universal opprobrium and fewer justifications than a bomb planted by a Palestinian? Can anyone who has watched the twisted rationalizations, tortured apologetics, the equivocations, the relativization of terror that has festered on too many campuses these last three years doubt that indignation is all too often selective, even about egregious acts of terror? Sadly, such doublethink is not a stretch in an intellectual climate where George Bush, Ariel Sharon, and Tony Blair have been compared to Adolf Hitler, where some ignored Osama Bin Laden’s 1998 Fatwa declaring war on
“Crusaders” and Jews to claim this mass murderer actually cared about the
world’s income inequities, and where some professing to be liberals call suicide bombers “martyrs not murderers” thus championing murder, as Paul Berman notes in his recent book Terror and Liberalism. It is amazing that the same people who demonstrate such intolerance for Christian fanatics appear downright indulgent when viewing Muslim fanatics.
Last summer, on July 31, 2002, Hamas terrorists bombed a cafeteria at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, murdering nine students and administrators. Such an assault, especially considering the university’s role building bridges between Arabs and Jews, should have triggered mass outrage on campuses throughout the world. Some petitions circulated, yet few people seemed all that bothered. Was it simply a reflection of the distractions of the summer, or did the choice of the target, and the attackers’ political motivations, somehow diminish people’s outrage? Again and again it seems that, while Joe and Jane Six-pack may be too quick to demonize Islamic terrorists, intellectuals and professors turn particularly obtuse when it comes to analyzing and condemning the unholy nexus between Islam and terror today.
Five weeks later, on September 9, pro-Palestinian rioters smashed windows, punched professors, and threw pennies at Jewish students, in preventing former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from speaking at Concordia University in Montreal. Many in Montreal waited in vain for a strong statement from local professors or “outsiders” who identified themselves as ardently pro-Palestinian, deeply hostile to Mr. Netanyahu, but intensely committed to his right to free speech and the importance of maintaining civility on campus. Academics should have mobilized to invite Netanyahu back and escort him to the podium, creating a human shield of free-speech advocates between him and the protestors. There were, of course, condemnations here and there, but not the mass outrage that was required, and it certainly did not come through clearly from the left or from the academic community.
To speak of “fellow travelers,” smacks of McCarthyism. Perhaps we need to speak of “enablers,” a term more suited to our own more psychological age. We need to ask why so many of this continent’s “best and brightest” have been reduced to enablers of evil. We need to wonder why so many of this continent’s finest intellectuals have confused explaining motives with justifying crimes. We need to explain how thoughtful people can again and again fail the test of consistency, applying outrage selectively and repeatedly demonstrating blind-spots when it comes to bigotry and attacks against Israel, Jews, and increasingly against America as well.
“There is nothing noble about killing innocent people. As for the notion that the bombers are martyrs, that too is a lie. They are not that,” the Saudi Arabian Arab News finally decided after al Qaeda attacked three Saudi apartment compounds in May. “Suicide bombings targeting civilians” are no foundation for peace or justice. It is time to stand up against such terror, against those who organize them, against those who inspire them, against those who refuse to condemn them.” How pathetic that Saudi public opinion may be forging ahead of the progressive intellectual consensus on this critical issue.
The Yale pipe bombing, then, offers a convenient blank canvass on which to project perceptions, check for prejudices, and fix them. Clearly, the time has come to apply to our political predilections and moral stances the same rigor and consistency we demand our students apply in our respective disciplines. It is time for all academics to stand up and condemn this epidemic of Islamic terror unequivocally.
Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University in Montreal. An American historian, he recently published Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today, as a guide for perplexed students, and others.