David Horowitz-Peter Kirstein Debate Aftermath

This was carried on p. 3 with photos in the Daily Southtown a regional paper but frequently one that scoops the Tribune or Sun-Times.

March 30, 2006

By William Lee
Staff writer
At least it began cordially.

Not long after self-described conservative author David Horowitz took the stage at Saint Xavier University’s McGuire Hall Wednesday night, he bemoaned the loss of civility.

“We live in a society that’s becoming increasingly uncivil,” Horowitz, author of the recently published “The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America” told the crowd of several hundred people. “The university has a role, the important role, of raising the level of civility in our culture.”

But some in the audience thought he showed otherwise.

During the course of his debate with Saint Xavier history professor Peter Kirstein on the war in Iraq, Horowitz’s voice went from low and at times inaudible to shouting his points.

The author and creator of FrontPageMag.com got some audible grunts from the crowd when taking shots at former President Bill Clinton and asserting that 10 percent of the world’s Muslims were practicing radical Islamists — but most of the boos and heckling came during the question-and-answer period.

Horowitz declined to answer a question from the first audience member, who identified himself as part of a left-wing group. Shouts from the audience to “answer the question” persisted.

But Horowitz drew more heckling when a young woman in the audience took exception to his comments about Muslims and his referring to some college professors in his book as “communists” and “terrorists.” The female student also questioned Horowitz’s support for the Iraq war when many soldiers return to the U.S. with “emotional problems.”

“You’re attacking me, and you don’t know what you’re talking about,” Horowitz told her, prompting boos from the crowd.

Horowitz’s comment calling Palestinians “genocidal people” also triggered yells from the crowd.

“I think he’s exposed himself by ranting at the audience,” Columbia College philosophy professor John Stevenson said of Horowitz’s talk.

Before taking questions, Horowitz and Kirstein argued their cases for and against the war and whether war issues should be discussed in high school and college classrooms — Kirstein said yes, while Horowitz argued no.

“There is a special relationship between a teacher and his or her students. A teacher is not hired to share his prejudices,” Horowitz said.

“Professors who wish to discuss the Iraq war in their classrooms must not be silenced,” Kirstein said. “Academic freedom protects it, free speech allows it, the pursuit of truth demands it, and justice and protection of the professory [misquote: I used the word professorate] from censorship mandates it.”

William Lee may be reached at wlee@dailysouthtown.com or (708) 633-6747.

I found the debate to be quite civil and the audience was attentive and supportive of both sides. There is no question serious disagreements were articulated on the war and the right to teach and express opinions on the war.

I will be posting my remarks at the appropriate time but I am grateful to Mr Horowitz that he took the time from his busy schedule to debate me. I felt it advanced academic freedom and the right of professors to engage in controversial speech without suspensions, reprimands and “falling off the deep end” insulting slurs to the press.

As Dr Alan Charles Kors of F.I.R.E. said during my suspension, “universities can live with freedom.” They can live with controversy; they can live with an aroused public; they can survive publicity that may not be about picnics and appointments.

Mr Horowitz is willing to engage professors with whom he so profoundly disagrees. Next week he debates Ward Churchill in Washington.

My advice to those who construe Mr Horowitz as a threat to the academy and academic freedom. Continue to challenge him, question him, resist legislative efforts to impose “intellectual diversity” and invite him to your campuses. Let his views be challenged, discussed and confronted with counterargumentation. Justice Louis Brandeis wrote in a first amendment case that speech should not be suppressed. The best manner to determine if speech is acceptable or not is to air it and dissect it. As the justice said: “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” I think the Air Force Academy agreed with that in 2002 when I was suspended for an email to the cadet. My battle was never with them and last night I was free again to speak, to articulate, to disseminate views that I am literally willing to sacrifice a career for. It was a special moment for me and for many in the audience to see such freedom, such academic freedom, and such wide-ranging views ardently presented with all due diligence and respect.

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