No matter what you think of Philip Kurian’s Oct. 18 column “The Jews,” he did not deserve this. Kurian has been inundated by hate mail. At least one established on-campus Jewish group has, horrifyingly, called for the revocation of his scholarship. His safety has been threatened.
The comments directed to Kurian through The Chronicle’s website are particularly inflammatory. Some call him racist, some compare him to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, some throw anti-black racism in his face, some promise to physically assault him, several say they will work to deprive him of his Truman Scholarship and one says his future is ruined but that he could always work in the service industry. Kurian’s personal mail has been even worse.
Many on campus and throughout the world have become so wrapped up in expressing their righteous outrage that they have forgotten that the object of their derision, mockery and racism is a human being—a precious life that is being crushed by hate.
The defamation and ostracizing of Phil Kurian has been deeply disappointing to witness. Far more dangerous than the content of his column is the sinister idea that someone who expresses an argument on this campus can be marginalized or even erased when his or her opinions are deemed offensive.
The angry masses abrogated free speech on campus last week. On the Monday morning Kurian’s column came out, I heard several people say they liked the column. By late Monday or early Tuesday, Kurian’s supporters were overwhelmed by groupthink and a massive outpouring of anger toward him, his column and The Chronicle. It was no longer safe to support the column publicly.
The Freeman Center for Jewish Life went a long way toward creating a climate where ideas could not be freely exchanged. In initially calling for the resignation of the entire Chronicle editorial board, the FCJL went over the top. Proposing economic revenge against a student who writes an unpopular column is preposterous and goes against the sacred tenet of academic freedom, not to mention freedom of speech. Attempting to force 50-plus innocent Chronicle editors to abandon their posts is misguided and spiteful.
The massive crackdown from the FCJL is particularly saddening given that its leaders objected to being called “a very well-funded and well-organized establishment, indeed” in Kurian’s column. Acting out his characterization lends credence to his views in ways that the FCJL surely did not intend.
It goes without saying that there is no place for anti-Semitism at Duke or any university. But assuming for a moment that Kurian’s column was anti-Semitic, the response from the broader community should not be, “What can we do to him?” but rather, “How do we engage his ideas to discredit them and express our alternative views?” Setting out to personally harm a Duke student for his ideas is shameful—far worse than the column was.
Rather than continue to kick a man while he is down, I would urge anyone who wishes to weigh in on the controversy to reread the column with an open mind. You will no doubt find some of Kurian’s ideas questionable and perhaps offensive, but remember that you can challenge an idea without restricting the right of someone to proffer it. And if you agree with him, do not be afraid to speak up for your views, no matter how great the pressure to join the anti-Kurian mob.
Above all, in times like these, clear-eyed analysis and dispassionate logic are desirable. Members of our community lost sight of their humanity in excoriating Phil Kurian last week, and we are poorer for it.
Andrew Collins is a Trinity senior and former University editor of The Chronicle.
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