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Bringing Hate to Harvard

Foreign Affairs

For those of you accustomed to seeing the term “ethnic cleansing” in articles about far-away places, this might come as an unpleasant surprise to you. Last Thursday, a staunch proponent of ethnic cleansing spoke to a packed auditorium in Boylston Hall, as a guest of one of Harvard’s oldest student groups. Amidst cheers and laughter from her adoring fans from the Harvard Republican Club (HRC), syndicated columnist Ann Coulter spewed her hateful rhetoric, and left a permanent scar on a campus known for tolerance.

Two months ago, Coulter was little more than a publicity-hungry ultra-conservative pundit, known for her angry diatribes against pro-choicers, Bill Clinton and other “liberals.” But her reputation reached new depths of notoriety in the wake of the Sept.11 tragedy. Coulter has openly advocated the wholesale destruction of the entire Muslim and Arab world. “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity,” she declared in her Sept. 13 column in National Review Online (NRO). Coulter’s piece created such an uproar that NRO refused to publish her follow-up column, in which she suggested that airport security should single out any “suspicious-looking swarthy males.” When she publicly complained that NRO was trying to censor her, she was fired from the magazine.

But Coulter’s dismissal did not curb her hate mongering; instead it seemed to radicalize her already pernicious ideology. In an Oct. 5 column entitled, “Don’t Just Profile. Deport,” Coulter brazenly advocates cleansing American soil of Muslims, arguing that, since the government could not feasibly “perform a thorough investigation of a million Muslim immigrants, it would be easier to deport immigrants than to detain them.” Coulter’s appeal for ethnic cleansing has elicited widespread condemnation from fellow commentators. New York Times columnist Frank Rich said she was fueling “hysteria on the right;” Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam labeled her a “right-wing telebimbo;” and Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Tom Brazaitis accused her of “bloodthirsty rhetoric.” Although Coulter’s incendiary comments were enough to get her fired from an ultra-conservative magazine and bring near unanimous censure from colleagues, they were not enough to deter the Harvard Republican Club from inviting her to our campus. That is the scary part.

I recognize that I am prone to disagree with HRC members on any number of issues. But this should not be one of them—mass deportation or any other form of ethnic cleansing should not be a partisan issue. Such things are not about liberal versus conservative; they are about human decency versus hate. Whether you position yourself on the left, center or right, civility requires that you respect others who look different from you or practice a different faith. This means that you cannot advocate the deportation of a group of people based on their religious faith. I never expected that a Harvard student group would have difficulty understanding this concept. How could the HRC welcome a hate monger with such open arms? Maybe HRC President Rob Porter ’00-’02 did not know about Coulter’s views when he gave her a glowing introduction, describing her as a source of inspiration in the conservative movement. But even if HRC members were naive about Coulter’s recent outbursts, would they not have learned about her racist ideology during her speech? And if they could not figure it out from her speech, they certainly should have learned it during the question and answer period, as some audience members asked about her post-Sept. 11 comments. When one audience member invited Coulter to apologize for her racist remarks, she scoffed and decried liberals for “always biting at the rubber worm” (whatever that means). She then went on to deny that mass deportation was a racist idea, and argued that her comments were only slightly more extreme than Senator Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) proposed bill to suspend student visas. Her response elicited cheers and laughter from the HRC membership.

Coulter’s behavior did not surprise me. Having read her columns, I expected her to be rude, racist and unapologetic. But the response from the HRC membership both surprised and disappointed me. It hurts knowing that people with whom I had gone to school for the last four years supported a woman who wanted to rob innocent people of their rights and have them forcefully expelled from this country. Nevertheless, the most despicable part of this story is not Coulter’s hate mongering, nor the HRC’s callousness in inviting her. Much of the blame lies with the rest of us—those who knew that a hate monger was coming to speak at campus, yet who did nothing to protest her presence. True, there were a substantial number of Coulter opponents in the auditorium. But we should have packed the auditorium. We should have been stationed outside of Boylston, handing out copies of Coulter’s articles to audience members as they entered the auditorium. The University administration, the Harvard Foundation, and every non-racist student organization at Harvard should have publicly denounced the event. Coulter should have left this campus knowing that Harvard does not tolerate racism.

Instead, we did nothing. Where were the hordes of self-proclaimed progressive Harvard students on the night that a proselytizer of hate came to visit? Coulter is guilty of spreading hate. HRC is guilty of bringing hate to Harvard. And we are all guilty for letting it happen.

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Nader R. Hasan ’02 is a government concentrator in Lowell House. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.

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