Withdrawing Paulin's Invitation Unnecessary

Letter to the Editors

To the editors:

By all accounts this Paulin fellow the English Department invited to lecture here is a despicable example of the anti-Semitic and/or anti-Israel posturing unfortunately quite widespread among European intellectuals (News, “Poet Flap Drew Summers’ Input,” Nov. 14). We think he probably should not have been invited. But Harvard has had its share of cranks, monsters, scoundrels and charlatans lecture here and has survived.

What is truly dangerous is the precedent of withdrawing an invitation because a speaker would cause, in the words of English department chair Lawrence Buell, “consternation and divisiveness.” We are justly proud that our legal system insisted that the American Nazi Party be allowed to march through the heavily Jewish town of Skokie, Illinois. If Paulin had spoken, we are sure we would have found ways to tell him and each other what we think of him. Now he will be able to lurk smugly in his Oxford lair and sneer at America’s vaunted traditions of free speech. There are some mistakes which are only made worse by trying to undo them.

Alan M. Dershowitz

Charles Fried

Laurence H. Tribe

Nov. 14, 2002

The writers are Frankfurter Professor of Law, Beneficial Professor of Law and Tyler Professor of Constitutional Law, respectively.