The Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) has done it again. This is the group that effectively drove former Harvard president Lawrence Summers out of office over a 2005 remark of his about possible differences between the sexes that didn't sit well with hard-line feminists on the Harvard faculty. The FAS voted its "lack of confidence" in Summers's leadership, and he tendered his resignation in 2006. Last week the FAS maneuvered another forced departure on political grounds. It voted to eliminate two Harvard Summer School courses taught by Subramanian Swamy, a former economics professor at Harvard who now lives in India but who has regularly traveled to Cambridge to teach in the university's summer school.
Under Harvard's governance system a faculty vote on curriculum offerings is final and does not require the approval of Harvard's administration. Eck's amendment, carving out an exception to an otherwise routine approval of the summer school curriculum, and passed by a reportedly overwhelming faculty vote (FAS meetings are closed to the public), neatly bypasses Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust and other top Harvard officials who have stood by Swamy up until now. In September a petition spearheaded by Eck and bearing at least 457 signatures, 68 of them from Harvard undergraduates, called on Harvard to "repudiate Swamy's remarks and terminate his association with the University." The university issued a statement declaring that it is "central to the mission of a university to protect free speech, including that of Dr. Swamy and of those who disagree with him." The statement continued: "We are ultimately stronger as a university when we maintain our commitment to the most basic freedoms that enable the robust exchange of ideas." Harvard's economics professors voiced no objection to Swamy's continued presence on the faculty of the summer school, where the two courses he was to teach covered elementary economics and the economics of the Indian subcontinent. No students had complained about political bias in Swamy's classrooms.
Nonetheless, even the most committed free-speech advocates would likely find Swamy's op-ed, published in India's Daily News and Analysis, disturbing to say the least. It is a call for India to rename itself "Hindustan." In Swamy's blueprint not only would hundreds of mosques be closed, but non-Hindus would be stripped of their voting rights unless they acknowledged "that their ancestors were Hindus," as Swamy wrote. Those who refused, as well as "those foreigners who become Indian citizens," could remain in India, but without the right either to vote or to hold elective office. Swamy's op-ed also argued that India "[e]nact a national law prohibiting conversion from Hinduism to any other religion," and that non-Hindus who "re-convert" to Hinduism be required to belong to a Hindu caste.
Swamy's outrage at Islamic terrorists was understandable. The July 13 bombings had been preceded by another series of Muslim-linked bombings in Mumbai in 2008 that had left 173 people dead. Muslims had conquered and ruled large sections of India beginning in the twelfth century, and from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century the Muslim Mughul empire covered most of the subcontinent. The 300 mosques that Swamy slated for destruction in his op-ed were apparently built on the sites of Hindu temples destroyed by Muslims during their long reign over India. Although the overwhelming majority of today's Indians practice Hinduism, Muslims have made significant demographic inroads during recent decades, at Hinduism's expense. In 1961 about 83 percent of India's population was Hindu, compared with 80 percent right now. Islam's share of India's population has grown from 11 percent to more than 13 percent during the same period, thanks to high birthrates and illegal immigration from neighboring Bangladesh. India shares a border with Pakistan, refuge of the slain Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Although technically a U.S. ally, Pakistan is currently in peace negotiations with the terrorist Taliban. With militancy on the rise among the world's 1.2 billion Muslims, it is not surprising that India's Hindus fear becoming the targets of escalating violence in the future. In his op-ed Swami wrote: "Islamic terrorism is India's number one problem of national security."
Still, the "Hindustan" that Swamy envisioned in his op-ed is essentially a Hindu mirror image of the Muslim Brotherhood's blueprint to replace secular-democratic societies in Muslim countries with an all-Islamic societies to be governed by the Koran and sharia law. Radical Hindu nationalism is now a major force in Indian political life. A Hindu-nationalist political party, Bharatiya Janata, has swiftly grown to become the second-largest in India. (Swamy is president of a different party, Janata, from which Bharatiya Janata split off in 1981). Some Indian states already forbid conversions from Hinduism. Hindu-nationalist mobs have bashed mosques and killed hundreds of Muslims. They have also targeted India's 24 million Christians, since Hindu nationalists regard Christianity as a foreign colonialist import--even though some of India's Christian communities date back to Christianity's earliest centuries. There have been murders of Christian missionaries, burnings of churches and Christian-owned stores, and waves of anti-Christian violence in 2007 and 2008 that included an attack on Mother Teresa's religious order, the Missionaries of Charity. India's 17 million Sikhs have also been sporadic targets of Hindu-nationalist bloodletting.
Despite Swamy's strong support for the Hindu-nationalist agenda, his July 16 op-ed did not endorse attacks against non-Hindus or their places of worship, Diana Eck's reference to inciting "violence" at the Harvard FAS meeting notwithstanding. Nor did Swamy call for future violence against Muslims by India's Hindus. His op-ed was instead a call for radical political changes in India to be brought about by democratic processes, in which mosque removal would be carried out by the government. Those contemplated political changes might be controversial (as they were, even in India) and repugnant to those who believe in religious freedom, but Swamy had as much right to make them as the communists who have joined forces with the Occupy movement in America to advocate the overthrow of the U.S. government. One might hope that India never turns into "Hindustan," while refraining from penalizing a Harvard professor for hoping that it will, in a newspaper opinion piece published thousands of miles away from his Cambridge classroom in the aftermath of a series of fatal bombings.
It was for this reason that Faust and other top Harvard administrators apparently supported Swamy's right to continue teaching at Harvard after the initial effort in July to have him removed. They might have been spurred to steadfastness by a July 27 letter to Faust from Adam Kissel, a 1994 Harvard graduate and vice president of programs at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). Harvard FAS had written, "We assume that the long-term benefits to our community will outweigh the short-term unpleasant effects of sometimes-noxious views. Because we are a community united by a commitment to rational processes, we do not permit censorship of noxious views."
But that was the Harvard administration, and Harvard's FAS seems to have a way, as it did with Lawrence Summers's presidency in 2005, of having the last word. There was, as might be expected, an element of selectivity in the FAS's righteous indignation. Diana Eck's remarks focused entirely on the "demonization" of India's Muslims, while pointedly ignoring the consequences for India's Christians under Swamy's blueprint--even though Swamy's op-ed had included a disparaging reference to India's Christian president, Sonia Gandhi, as "semi-literate." Muslims are a fashionable victim group in today's academia, while Christians are not. Contrast the FAS's harsh treatment of Swamy to the reluctance of faculty and administrators at the University of Colorado-Boulder to take any action against former ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill for blaming the U.S. for the 9/11 Muslim terrorist massacre, and for calling the thousands of 9/11 victims who worked at the World Trade Center towers "little Eichmanns." Churchill was fired from the university in 2006--but for scholarly plagiarism (he subsequently sued the university, and his appeal is pending before the Colorado Supreme Court).
Regarding the Swamy matter, it is tempting to say, "A plague on both your houses," and focus sympathy on a more appealing victim of an ideological witch hunt. But one must remember that Swamy was effectively fired from Harvard because some people didn't like something he said outside his classroom--and that ought to chill the bones of anyone who regards freedom of expression as an important academic value.
One quote of Charlotte Allen's article was misattributed: "Kissel had written, 'We assume that the long-term benefits to our community will outweigh the short-term unpleasant effects of sometimes-noxious views. Because we are a community united by a commitment to rational processes, we do not permit censorship of noxious views.'" Those were the words of the Harvard FAS, not Adam Kissel." The mistake has been corrected. --Ed