Harvard faces protests over honour for Martin Peretz

Harvard logoHarvard academics and students are demanding that the university rescind a plan to honour the editor-in-chief of a leading Washington political magazine this week after he wrote that Muslims are unfit for the protections of the US constitution and said that “Muslim life is cheap”.

Martin Peretz has partially apologised for the comments but critics say they are only the most recent of a long line of bigotted columns in theNew Republic by the former Harvard professor that have drawn accusations of double standards in how the American media confronts prejudice.

Peretz caused a stir when he wrote in a column earlier this month that Muslims in the US should not be entitled to constitutional guarantees of free speech. “Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims … So, yes, I wonder whether I need honour these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse,” he said.

The comments provoked criticism from bloggers and academics but were initially ignored by mainstream newspapers despite Peretz’s prominence – among other things he is a close friend of the former vice-president Al Gore – and the influence of his magazine.

Some of the strongest criticism has come from Harvard, where some students and academics are demanding that the university cancel a ceremony on Friday to name a $500,000 (£322,000) social studies chair after Peretz.

“Such an invitation lends legitimacy and respectability to views that can only be described as abhorrent and racist in their implication that the rights guaranteed by the US constitution should be withheld from certain citizens based on their religious affiliation,” student organisations said in a letter to the university that has been signed by more than 400 people.

Among the critics is Stephen Walt, a professor of international affairs at Harvard, who described Peretz’s views as hateful. “If you had said this about blacks, Jews or Catholics, it would be a scandal,” he told the Boston Globe.

Guardian, 21 September 2010

See also the Daily Beast, 19 September 2010