The Irascible ProfessorSM
by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
Commentary of the Day - February 21, 2011: Helen Thomas and Free Speech. Guest commentary by Sanford Pinsker.
It has been clear for some time that journalist Helen Thomas, now in her nineties, has run off the rails. And that's a shame because her long, distinguished career as the doyenne of the White House press corps deserves better than the shame she keeps heaping on her head. Ms. Thomas is, to put it mildly, no friend of Zionists or of the Jews. As a person of Lebanese extraction [Ed. Note, Helen Thomas comes from a Lebanese Christian family], she sees politics in the Middle East differently than I do.
Which brings me to the places where diversity, free speech, and university policies uncomfortably meet. What "diverse opinion" means is simply that others may not share my point of view. What, oh what, to do? What is remarkable -- and, yes, sometimes galling -- is that "free speech" not only covers bad ideas but also dangerous opinions. The only hope for folks like me is that an open, vigorous debate will separate wheat from chaff. That, alas, does not always happen.
So far, so good. I number myself -- proudly, I might add -- as a liberal. But that said, I will not debate Holocaust deniers or members of the Flat Earth Society -- the former because they besmirch the memory of the millions who were murdered during the Holocaust and because their convictions about the conspiracy underlying Holocaust myth is that their "evidence" has been systematically destroyed; Flat Earth people are lighter of heart and simply enjoy being as publicly playful as possible. Part of me thinks, "Good for them" is a world given to the hyper-solemn, but I'd rather not debate a clearly nonsensical proposition that the earth is flat.
I also refuse to debate those who argue that it is only reasonable that Creationism or its close cousin, Intelligent Design, be included in the curriculum of science courses. After all, they argue, evolution is only a "theory" (this from people who haven't the foggiest idea of what scientists mean by the word "theory") and so is Creationism. We do not confuse astronomy with astrology, nor should we conflate evolutionary theory with Intelligent Design. If, however, we're talking about courses in religion or comparative cultures, I happily withdraw my objection.
In the contentious politics of an often contentious Middle East I recognize that reputable scholars often disagree about the Israeli-Palestinian situation but, as scholars, they agree that the conflicts they analyze so painstakingly are grounded in history and shaded in nuance. The Middle East is, in a word, complicated.
None of my last paragraph matters a whit to Ms. Thomas. Recently, Wayne State University yanked the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Award because of remarks Ms. Thomas made at a banquet held in Dearborn, Michigan. "Congress, the White House, Hollywood, and Wall Street," she declared, "are owned by Zionists."
The ironies surrounding Ms. Thomas abound: not only does she repeat the charges first leveled against the Jews during the early years the twentieth century in the fraudulent document known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, but she does so in the very city where the anti-Semitic Henry Ford published his anti-Semitic newspaper, The Dearborn Independent. Indeed, Ford's newspaper serialized an English translation of The Protocols. . . from l920-1922.
Whatever the "spirit of Diversity" might mean, it does not mean what currently trips so easily off Ms. Thomas's tongue. Does she have a right to say ugly, untrue things? Of course she does, but, then again, Wayne State University is under no obligation to hand out a "diversity" award in her honor. And yet, when all the ironies surrounding what Ms. Thomas said are unrolled, perhaps the biggest irony of all is that an educated, presumably sophisticated person should end her days as a laughingstock.
2011, Sanford Pinsker.
Sanford Pinsker is an emeritus professor at Franklin and Marshall College. He now lives in south Florida where he thinks about weighty issues on cloudy days and occasionally reviews manuscripts for publishers.
The Irascible Professor comments: The IP agrees with his friend Sandy. Helen Thomas has disgraced herself with comments that clearly reveal her underlying anti-Semitism.
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