Monday, April 23, 2007

Cambridge University Adopts a Prayer Rug

In February this year, the general and guest editors of a Cambridge University newspaper, Clareification, were disciplined by the school’s authorities for having published one of the Danish cartoons in a satire on religion, and were required to publish an apology to Muslim students.

Worse, the student/guest editor was “interviewed” by the local police for having putatively committed a “hate crime” (as defined under Section 5 of the Public Order Act), otherwise deemed, in hyperbolic British nomenclature, as an act of “harassment, alarm or distress.” It was Muslim students who were said to be “harassed, alarmed and distressed” by the cartoon, not the general and guest editors. (FrontPage Magazine, April 18)

The apology was extorted from the student on pain of not only being expelled from Cambridge, but of possible arrest and imprisonment by the authorities for the alleged “crime.” The student has had to go into hiding, à la Salman Rushdie.

If the student must go into hiding, isn’t that an acknowledgement of – and concession to – the role of and sanction of physical force in the “belief system” by not only those who might want to kill or harm the victim, but by the university authorities and the British government? What would be required of the “harassed, alarmed, and distressed” Muslims to leave this individual’s life untouched by their “anger”?

Asim Mumtaz, president of Cambridge’s Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, said that he was “satisfied with the way the college [Clare College at Cambridge] had dealt with the situation.” He said: “Religion teaches us that God is merciful and forgives, and we should forgive others as well, so long as this student realized the impact of their (sic) actions and that this was wrong. This student has a full life ahead of him and if he had been thrown out of the university that would have had a huge impact.”

What are the implied alternatives in Mumtaz’s statement? Assassination, Theo van Gogh style – unless the student “groveled” before his potential murderers with an apology, or a life on the run, or even imprisonment. What kind of “full life” has this student to look forward to now, or any student who dares speak his mind about Islam or any other creed? What “impact” will the cowardly resolution of this crisis have on this student’s willingness in the future to exercise his freedom of speech or stand by his convictions?

Mercy and forgiveness are doled out only to the submissive – that’s the Koranic way to let live or let die.

It is an error to think that the submission of Cambridge University to potential Muslim violence and its sanctification of alleged “hurt feelings” is a measure of Muslim power and influence. Evil by itself is impotent.

Instead, it is a measure of the abandonment of reason and objective values that gives the Muslims the appearance of power and influence to suppress freedom of speech. Any compromise between good and evil – or between reason and mysticism, or between the principle of freedom of speech and censorship – always will result in a victory for evil, mysticism, or censorship.

Ayn Rand made several crucial observations on the subject of compromise.

“Contrary to the fanatical belief of its advocates, compromise [on basic principles] does not satisfy, but dissatisfies everybody; it does not lead to general fulfillment, but to general frustration; those who try to be all things to all men, end up by not being anything to anyone. And more: the partial victory of an unjust claim, encourages the claimant to try further; the partial defeat of a just claim, discourages and paralyzes the victim.” (“The Cashing-In: The Student ‘Rebellion’” – Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 255, 1966)

A principle by its nature is what it is, a recognized truth requiring consistent action. Failure to act on it when it conflicts with its antipode can only result, by default, in the establishment of the antipode as an ingredient of policy. If a principle, especially a rational one, is not defended and upheld in such a conflict, then it may as well not be recognized, and the appeasers and compromisers responsible for defending and upholding it must concede to that principle’s enemies: “We are open to any pressure, to any threats of violence, to any brazen thuggery in the name of….” In this instance, it is in the name of “diversity.”

Ostensibly, Cambridge acted from the “principle” of diversity, of trying to be all things to all men. In reality, it was a pragmatic, veiled capitulation to fear of the mob – more noisy Danish cartoon protests – that required the sacrifice of a lone individual to the mob’s emotions.

“Diversity,” as it is promulgated throughout Western culture, is the mantra of subjectivism, whim worshipping, and non-absolutes. In this instance, the violation of the policy of “diversity” can best be expressed from the Muslim standpoint: “You have mocked my icon, my particular ghost, and made him the subject of levity. My icon is sacred, and you must be punished. Never mind that he was a pedophilic, murderous, tyrannical bastard – the Koran and Hadith confirm these facts about him – Mohammed is my prophet and I will feel unworthy of his favor and of Allah’s blessings unless I take umbrage to slanderous insults to or slurs on their persons.”

“A Clare College spokesman said: ‘Because of the gravity of the situation and the diversity of views expressed about the best way to handle it,’” the College settled for “’a course of restorative justice and reconciliation.’” Which meant the guest editor’s apology and his mandated browbeating by “senior representatives of Cambridge’s religious communities.”

A noted outspoken foe of Islamism remarked: “Note that ‘diversity of views’ does NOT include the right to criticize Islam.”

The Clare College statement said that a “note of apology was distributed to all college members. The college is now arranging a meeting for next term to discuss the problem of maintaining free speech while avoiding offence….”

The “problem” will prove to be insuperable. Freedom of speech and de facto censorship cannot be reconciled.

Rand stated three rules that govern the issue of compromise. Two of them are:

“In any collaboration between two men (or two groups) who hold different basic principles, it is the more evil or irrational one who wins”; and “When opposite basic principles are clearly and openly defined, it works to the advantage of the rational side; when they are not clearly defined, but are hidden or evaded, it works to the advantage of the irrational side.” (“The Anatomy of Compromise,” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 145, 1966)

In the Cambridge instance, it is the Muslims – the irrational group – who have won (again). The Cambridge authorities could be accused of collaborating with the Muslims to abridge freedom of speech. And, because the concept of “diversity” is not clearly defined, but hides and evades – or abandons – the idea of freedom of speech, it worked to the advantage of the Muslim students.

This makes it possible for Muslims to consider “diversity” a one-way street, or a policy from which they demand, and are granted, exemption.

Under a headline not wholly coincidental with the Cambridge cave-in or submission to Islam, “Universities ‘targeted’ by Islamic extremists,” the Daily Telegraph(London) on April 17 reported that Prof. Anthony Glees, of the Center for Intelligence and Security Studies at Brunel University in Britain, warned a conference of university security officers that Islamic “extremists” have targeted British universities as recruiting grounds for terrorists. “We must accept this problem is widespread and underestimated,” said Glees. “Unless decisive action against campus extremism is taken, the security situation in the UK can only deteriorate.”

Cambridge is one of the universities Glees identified as infiltrated by an allegedly disbanded “extremist” group, al-Muhajiroun, in addition to Oxford, the London School of Economics, and the Imperial College. Prof. Glees stated that a rabble-rousing imam who preaches the Islamic conquest of Britain and death to infidels, and who was founder of al-Muhajiroun, contradicts the official government line that the group has been disbanded and claims it has a presence on several university campuses.

But, is it Islamic “extremism” that is widespread and underestimated, or is it the policy of “diversity” that poses the greatest danger, not only in Britain, but in the U.S., as well? Note the “extremism” which Cambridge took action against at the behest of its Muslim students: a student exercising his freedom of speech.

“Diversity” is an indiscriminate policy that treats as untouchable and exempt from criticism or rational scrutiny – and satirical cartoons are a form of criticism – any unsubstantiated belief or assertion. But since the nature of man requires rational, absolute evaluations and values in order for him to function and survive, a policy of “diversity” or of non-judgmental neutrality concerning those beliefs or assertions allows those with the most vocal assertions to fill the vacuum created by the abandonment of value judgments.

The Cambridge University authorities, like their diversity-bound, non-judgmental brethren elsewhere, refuse to condemn Islamic “radicalism” because it is too closely tied to Islam itself. Willingly or not, they must eschew any claim to neutrality and yield to the strongest, most vociferous pressure group.

A policy of “diversity” can only engender injustice, a pall of fear, and self-induced blindness. Ultimately, such a policy will impose the irrational by extortion or the point of a gun.

It would be unfair to single out a British university for adopting a prayer rug. When was the last time one heard of an American university or college newspaper offending Muslims? One could argue that fear-fueled political correctness and the prospect of official retribution for flouting it has moved Americans further along the path of moral decrepitude.


Student of Objectivism said...

Dear friend of Objectivism,

The Undercurrent would appreciate your help promoting its upcoming issue. We respect your time, so thanks in advance just for this email. If you are so inclined, please consider doing one or more of the following. Thanks Kindly!

(1) Blog the announcement from the Undercurrent (attached below).

(2) Read and comment on any of our latest articles. In particular, you may find interesting the interview with Onkar Ghate on free speech.

(3) If you think the Undercurrent is doing good work, consider adding us to your blogroll.

(4) If you feel strongly about the value of the Undercurrent, encourage your readers to get involved with the paper, whether as distributors, officers, or donors.

(5) If you feel strongly about the disvalue of distributing a campus paper (or the Undercurrent in particular), consider blogging your thoughts and starting a discussion. We suspect that there are Objectivists who do not think that the Undercurrent is an effective tool for promoting Objectivism. If so, we’d like to hear why. Does it have something to do with TU’s content in particular? Is it more a general issue of the effectiveness of a campus paper as a medium for spreading Objectivism? Or is it the whole activity of campus activism in general that these Objectivists view as ineffective? Whether or not you personally hold any of these views, by starting a discussion on this issue, you can help bring out such arguments, and help us figure out the best possible way to promote Objectivism on college campuses.

(6) Even if you do not have the time or inclination to blog about the Undercurrent, send us a quick private email of your overall impression of our efforts. Are you generally impressed, indifferent, too busy to notice, or disappointed? We are very open to criticism, and sincerely want to hear your thoughts. [Private emails can be sent to]

Thank you again for your time,

Student of Objectivism
Distribution Officer
The Undercurrent

Mass email below:

Dear friend of Objectivism,

The Undercurrent is now welcoming orders for its upcoming issue. The issue will be mailed out at the end of April, and is intended for distribution from May through September. Orders can be placed at

The issue will feature a penetrating interview on freedom of speech with Onkar Ghate, the Dean of the Objectivist Academic Center. The interview discusses, in depth, the nature and philosophic justification for the right to free speech.

In addition, the issue will include a campus commentary (by Kelly Cadenas) on recent free speech violations, an article arguing that capitalism is not only practical but moral, Peter Schwartz’s excellent ARI op-ed, “In Defense of Income Inequality”, and our regular ad for the Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest. Please visit our website to preview this content.

Remember, distributing the Undercurrent is not a major time commitment. All you need to do is take a few minutes once or twice a week to drop off the paper at a campus newsstand or coffee shop. If cost is an issue, let us know and we will work with you to find a sponsor in your area to pay for your copies.

Because May is exam period at most schools, it is a time when students are spending more time on campus, studying, meeting professors, waiting before and after exams. For this reason, it is a time when they are more likely than ever to pick up and peruse a paper like the Undercurrent. Please help us maximize this opportunity.

Please help us bring Ayn Rand’s ideas to your campus,

-The Undercurrent

Burgess Laughlin said...

Student of Objectivism says: " ... help us figure out the best possible way to promote Objectivism on college campuses."

At this point, because of limited time, all I can offer are quick suggestions. I am basing them on my experience as a university student 40 years ago and then more recently, as a retiree who returned to university in his fifties for five years of post-bac work.

1. The term "undercurrent" has always been repellent to me. It connotes darkness, a hidden force, and a destructive power (one that takes unwary swimmers out to sea to drown).

2. The purpose of attending a university is to learn, even if only enough to get certification that opens a gate to more opportunities. The purpose of being a student precludes "activism," if that means trying to persuade others to change their views. The role of a student is to learn and explore, not teach (yet).

3. I see no need for a campus newspaper. I see a strong need for a social network. The network should have a focal organization on campus. The organization would have continuity and some resources such as, perhaps, a small library of recorded lectures for auditing by study groups.

The purpose of the organization, which can have a minimal structure, would be to help serious students of Objectivism make contact with each other. A second function would be to facilitate study of Objectivism -- not debating it internally or externally, but studying it. "What is it?" should be the overriding focus of study. Evaluating the answers should be up to each individual.


Edward Cline said...

I am on your email and regular mailing lists, and take pleasure in reading your articles. The Undercurrent is an excellent campus paper. Aside from guest articles by Dr. Ghate et al., your paper has a stable of first-rate student contributors, as well. Your paper obviously is distributed in many campuses, and I think that is a good strategy for helping to spread Objectivism. Case in point, and not wholly irrelevant: My British correspondents report that Tara Smith’s new book (published by Cambridge University Press) has attracted many students in that venue, and who are enrolling in courses related to ethics and values. Granted, her book and your paper are not the same things; still, it proves that ideas and intellectual matters do matter to students all over, if they have not completely surrendered their minds or their values.

The Undercurrent very likely also assures many Objectivist students on all those campuses that they are “not alone”; in that respect, aside from its intellectual content, it serves as a kind of social bond that overrides any kind of “regional” phenomenon, and stresses the universiality of Objectivism. On that matter, I agree with Burgess Laughlin.

I also agree with him that the name “Undercurrent” is a bit negative, but my reasons differ from his; it connotes something that will never rise to the top, but always remain subterranean, sub-surface, or secondary – which is contrary to what Objectivists should hope and work for in our culture. So, I think the paper could do with a more positive name, something like “Voices of Reason” or the like. You might run a contest with subscribers to find a new name.

Other than that suggestion, I think your paper is marvelous.