Phi Beta Cons

Nonie Darwish and Identity Politics

Last week, NRO, Instapundit, Powerline, and Michelle Malkin, were abuzz about Brown University’s (and the Brown University chapter of Hillel’s) decision to rescind a speaking invitation given to Nonie Darwish, a dissident Muslim and author of Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror. (Kathryn interviewed Darwish about the book and the controversy, here.) After a brief burst of blog and media attention, Brown later reversed course and re-invited Darwish.
While it is nice that Brown had a temporary outbreak of good sense (now, if they would only re-invite Christian student groups they
expelled earlier this year), this all prompts the question: Why? Why would Brown disinvite a speaker who so obviously offers a fresh and different Muslim viewpoint on events at home and in the Middle East?  I know, I know . . . The Muslim Student Association was “alarmed.”  But speakers “alarm” campus groups all the time.  Why disinvite this speaker rather than, say, a speaker who “alarms” Christians?
The answer, I think, goes to the heart of the silliness that is campus identity politics.  Campus identity politics depends on the notion that there exists a certain and particular “voice” for historically disadvantaged peoples.  There is, for example, a “black perspective” on American history or a “Muslim perspective” on the war.  Those members of marginalized communities who are arbitrarily (and fortunately for them) designated as “authentic” obtain veto power over any other view from “their” group.  
This misguided notion of group perspectives applies in ways far more pernicious and personally relevant than one speaker invitation at one university.  For example, during my brief tenure on any Ivy League law-school admissions committee, I saw those African-American candidates who “embraced their identity” (usually by spouting standard leftist rhetoric in their essays and pledging themselves to civil rights work) preferred over those applicants who openly coveted jobs on Wall Street.  Isn’t the real cost of historical oppression the loss of millions of individual voices in the great debates of our time?  Don’t we continue to deny those individuals their voice when we pretend that their religion or their race has only one authentic expression?
Identity politics (and the censorship it spawns) are so patently silly that it is genuinely shocking that it so persistently clings to our institutions of higher learning.  Well, it is only shocking until one realizes that identity politics meshes nicely with characteristics that are truly universally human — greed, pride, and a lust for power.


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