We are taught to believe that ideology is the enemy of free thought. But that's not right. Ideology is a mere checklist of principles and priorities. The real enemy of clear thinking is the script. We think the world is supposed to go by a familiar plot. And when the facts conflict with the script, we edit the facts.
So, for instance, David Horowitz is a stock villain on U.S. campuses because he deviates from the standard formula of coddling the usual victims and lionizing the usual heroes. Once a committed left-wing radical, Horowitz now resides on the right. Two of his favorite targets are academia and radical Islam. He leads an extensive network of websites, books, lecture series, pamphlets and conferences aimed at exposing the folly and dangers of both. Horowitz's detractors, and even some of his friends, sometimes roll their eyes at his confrontational tactics and rhetoric.
But that doesn't mean he's wrong. Horowitz recently spoke at the University of California, San Diego. You can find an excerpt from his appearance on YouTube. In it, a young Muslim student from UCSD, Jumanah Imad Albahri, asks Horowitz to back up his attacks on the Muslim Students Association. Horowitz turned the tables on her. In less than two minutes, she revealed herself as a supporter of the terrorist group Hamas. Horowitz then noted that Hezbollah, another terrorist organization, wants all Jews to return to Israel so they can be more conveniently liquidated in one place. Horowitz asks Albahri whether she's for or against that proposition. She is "for it."
I asked UCSD, via e-mail, whether the woman in question was censured in any way for endorsing bigotry and genocide, or if the video was somehow misleading. In response, I received boilerplate about how, in the tradition of Aristotle, UCSD treasures "discourse and debate" and how "the very foundations of every great university are set upon the rock-solid principles of freedom of thought and freedom of speech."
I wrote back, in part: "Thank you for your response. I must say I find it fairly non-responsive. Out of curiosity, if a UCSD student publicly called for the extermination of gays and blacks, would this be your only response as well?"
I then received an even less responsive primer on how student groups are funded on campus.
Now, I could write at length about UCSD's hypocrisy. After all, the school recently launched a "Battle Hate" campaign in response to some idiotic stunt called the "Compton Cookout" at which a fraternity held a racially offensive event off campus during Black History Month. Administrators went into overdrive, the Black Student Union issued 32 demands, the vice chancellor righteously explained to students that although the event may have been beyond the school's "legal jurisdiction," it was not beyond UCSD's "moral jurisdiction."
"We have the moral high ground!" the vice chancellor shouted before trying to start a chant of "Not in our community!"
Well, Albahri's statements were not only within the UCSD community, they were well inside the school's legal and moral jurisdiction. And yet in response, we don't get the familiar Kabuki of official outrage. Instead we get: This endorsement of genocide is brought to you by Aristotle.
The important point here isn't the school's double standard. It's that on campuses, and in the wider intellectual culture, people can't let go of their dog-eared script. It's not that conventional racism is no longer a problem, nor is it that the civil rights era no longer resonates. But freaking out over the vestiges of familiar racism is firmly within the comfort zone of contemporary liberalism. Indeed, it's an industry. Yet when it comes to students like Albahri -- and there are many like her -- administrators become brainless and lost. Lacking an adequate script, they resort to bromides about Aristotle.
Off campus, liberals crave a comfortable plot in which bigoted "homegrown" white men are the villains while Muslims are scapegoats. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was willing to bet that the Times Square bomber might turn out to be an opponent of health-care reform.
What's the right script? Honestly, I don't know. But those perched atop the moral high ground will have to climb down to find the facts before they can write it.