Dr. John's Lewis' lecture last night at George Mason University on Islamic totalitarianism was one of the most surreal public experiences I have witnessed in all my years as an activist and advocate. It evidenced in no uncertain terms that rationality and common decency are under assault at even our most distinguished forums. Academic freedom means tolerating opposing views and countering them with reason and facts in an atmosphere of respect and civility. It is not an orgy of rude and abusive mindlessness—a description that defined the conduct of many in the audience that evening.
The philosophic theme of Lewis' talk was that individual freedom is a value and that the free have the right to protect themselves from the initiation of physical force. Lewis defended religious freedom on explicit grounds, including the freedom of those in attendance who stood up, turned their backs to him and attempted to shout him down to peacefully practice their respective creeds without fear of threats or physical coercion. Lewis contrasted the exercise of freedom in America with life in the totalitarian Islamic regimes, where there is no distinction between the power of the state and the practice of religion.
Quoting various Islamic theocrats in power today, Lewis showed how these theocrats define themselves as advocates for the initiation of force, including one chilling quote from the leader of the Indonesian Islamic fascists that called for Islamic control of the government and the ruthless imposition of Islamic law upon non-believers. Drawing upon the same right of self-defense that allows a woman to defend herself from her would-be rapist, Lewis argued that a free America has an unassailable right to defend itself by destroying the connection between Islam and the state. Lewis pointed to the example of post WWII Japan to show how fighting for such an enemy's willful surrender led to an era of peace, happiness and freedom, for both us, and the peaceful people who had previously suffered under totalitarianism's boot. War may be hell, but a quick and decisive war is far, far better than living in a state of permanent terror.
For this, Lewis was decried as a racial bigot and murderer, and was taunted with endless interruption, bile and obscenities. That Lewis was even able to keep his focus and not throw his hands up in despair was testament to his moral courage and his unwillingness to concede the floor to any heckler's veto.
The lowest point of the evening came during the Q&A, when a GMU campus administrator took the podium in an effort to settle the audience down. He chose his words poorly though, for he ultimately thanked the audience for their behavior, which was little more than failing to engage in an all-out riot. It is one thing to be thankful that there was no riot; it is another thing altogether to thank people for obeying the law and for (barely) respecting the rights of others in attendance. Furthermore, by thanking rude and abusive students for their thuggish behavior, this administrator all but guaranteed that the next controversial speaker will face a similar rude treatment from those who may happen to disagree with him.
The questions asked during the Q&A could hardly be described as that; rather then even attempt to challenge Lewis by a thoughtful or revealing question, many "questioners" simply grandstanded and repeated non-sequiturs that reflected their own refusal to consider any aspect of his thesis. And in a disgusting and contemptible display of arrogance and hypocrisy, an attorney from the Council on American-Islamic Relations frothed to Lewis that he was "too angry" and needed to "lighten up" a bit; it was this same gentlemen who had worked to press the university into denying Lewis a venue when his talk was originally scheduled for February.
Yet the most telling event of the evening was when Lewis, after being pummeled with interruptions and derogatory remarks implying that he was a lackey for the political status quo, simply noted that he did not support the current political administration in Washington on the grounds laid out in his speech. He was not without interruption long enough to be able to fully explain why he disagreed with Washington's current war fighting-strategy, but knowing Dr. Lewis, his position can be distilled as follows: the President's religious sympathies have blinded him to fully realizing the pernicious threat caused by the union of religion and state, thereby weakening his resolve to defeat the cornerstone of religious intolerance today, which is the Islamic Republic of Iran. Rather than propel him to lead America to victory against religious tyranny, Lewis argues that the President's philosophy undercuts his very ability to identify the enemy and fight him accordingly.
Such a statement criticizing the President's philosophy and policies may have challenged the ideas and comfort zone of many of the College Republicans in attendance, yet these College Republicans neither screamed nor howled, nor did they interrupt Dr. Lewis and yell that he didn't understand the President and his creed like others in the audience had done. Instead, the College Republicans were nothing but polite, respectful and thoughtful, even as their own thinking was being challenged by their guest and under less than ideal circumstances.
The politeness and thoughtfulness of the GMU College Republicans evidenced the key difference between the civilized and the savage in attendance that night. The civilized can tolerate differences of opinion and they seek to understand why these differences exist in the first place. In contrast, savages are simply unable to tolerate any thinking other than their own emotion-laden opinions. If the police had not been there to preserve order with their overwhelming presence, I am convinced that Dr. Lewis would have easily been strung up from the nearest tree. That from students at my alma mater.
It was not lost upon me, the event's organizers, or Dr. Lewis himself that our men and women on the battlefield have it far, far worse than anything we may have experienced last night. Our defiance and refusal to yield to any form of intimidation or heckler's veto is an act of solidarity with these men and women; it is our determined effort to say that we will fight for them just as they fight with courage for us.
And bravo to Dr. Lewis and the GMU College Republicans for standing fast in the face of intolerance. More than anyone last night, they earned the title of GMU Patriot.