March 29, 2006: David Horowitz Debates Peter N. Kirstein on the Iraq War

The debate event is entitled, “The Iraq War: In the Classroom and Beyond.” The event probably should be described as “debates” since two separate topics will dominate the exchange.

The first component of the debate will be an assessment of the Iraq War. I am confident that significant contrasts on the decision for war, the conduct of the war and what steps should be taken looking forward will emerge.

The second component of the event will focus on the various parameters of instruction and discussion of the war with students on a campus. Should professors teach the war in their classes? Should professors express opinions about the war in their classes, in their offices and on their office doors? Should professors generally engage in activist activities that are either pro or antiwar either on campus or through extramural utterances?

These are important issues that I am confident can be discussed with vigour but respect, with passion but with an informed approach, with emotion but with appropriate collegial interaction.

Those of us who are engaged in public advocacy need to build bridges of communication with those who adopt a different perspective. While most of the feedback I have received these past few months about this upcoming event have been supportive and enthusiastic, some have questioned the virtue of “giving Mr Horowitz a stage,” or “giving him legitimacy” in such a venue. First of all, Mr Horowitz has legitimacy and he cannot be ignored as some on the left have urged. No, he must be acknowledged as a major player in American political and university life and I think it benefits society when those who disagree, agree to communicate on areas of disagreement.

I was asked at the University of Texas at a conference of Historians Against the War by an audience person, why am I debating Mr Horowitz? The implication again was that he should be somehow ignored. Yet several scholars at the conference, Howard Zinn and Robert Jensen, had debated Mr Horowitz on radio and the Internet. I think they recognise that academics have an obligation both in the classroom and outside it to interact and engage persons with differing insights and perspectives.

Too many societies are rendered dysfunctional through hate and rage based upon ideological, religious, political and economic divisions. Part of the pacifist witness, which I unwaveringly embrace, is to seek common ground or at least understanding of the position of those who are our antagonists or interlocutors.

I recognise that Mr Horowitz and I profoundly disagree on the war and the nature of higher education but I suspect there could be a couple of areas of some agreement that may emanate from the debate. One for example is the need to protect and succor academic freedom for students. I would resign my appointment before I would ever deny them that freedom. It was denied me when I was suspended for merely expressing my opinions against war and militarism in an e-mail to Cadet Kurpiel. Even when I apologised for portions of the e-mail and the Air Force Academy apologised to me, it was not enough. The university, then under the presidency of Dr Richard Yanikoski, was not satisfied with this and had to have its pound of flesh to satisfy a national outcry for punishment.

Any punishment of speech, whether it be intemperate, controversial or even militantly antiwar, I believe is counterproductive. Societies benefit when speech is not sanctioned, censored, or silenced. Speech may be condemned, critiqued and denounced but never punished unless under the most extraordinary cirucmstances to protect the innocent or to prevent violence.

I think Mr Horowitz’s appearance at St Xavier University will demonstrate a renewed commitment to freedom, academic freedom and the right to posit controversial issues on a campus. I think it enhances the recognition that universities are strengthened and academically enriched when they foster an intellectual atmosphere of diversity. Universities are not merely cash-hungry supplicants and need to recognise that even controversy may be positive and not a negative phenomenon when it emanates from ideas uttered. Administrators need to accept when they sign on to those positions, that they may be faced with unexpected circumstances where they are subject to external pressure to take actions that defy institutional autonomy and A.A.U.P. guidelines. Those are the times when an administration needs to reflect on the long-term implications of sanctioning professors. Yes professors need to ponder the implications of their actions and avoid unnecessary acts that may upset and place in turmoil an institution. I have done that but I have and will for the foreseeable future engage in robust assessment of actions that persecute an ideological point of view and diminish academic freedom. It is academic freedom that sustains and nurtures the greatest educational system in the world.

Postscript:
A St Louis radio personality was recently fired on the air for using a racial slur in describing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. I may have fired him as well if I were in a position to do so, but I think since he apologised instantly once he made the remarks, that this might have indicated a remorse and a capacity to grow. I do believe society benefits when racist remarks are condemned, considered outrageous and morally unacceptable. Yet I believe radio stations and universities are best served when speech codes are abandoned but codes of conduct are adhered to. I do recognise that such behaviour on the part of a radio personality are beyond acceptable discourse. Yet does the society benefit when racists apologise, learn from their mistakes, and are allowed to continue in their positions–changed and transformed? I believe so.

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