“A Letter to the President of Brandeis,” The Weekly Standard Blog (April 10, 2014), http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/letter-president-brandeis_786727.html

• April 9, 2014 20:01pm • Uncategorized

Frederick Lawrence
Brandeis University
Waltham, Massachusetts

Dear President Lawrence:

The decision of Brandeis University not to award an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, after first announcing that it would do so, is disgraceful.

The cowardice it reflects contrasts sharply with the courage Ms. Ali has shown in condemning aspects of Islam that she rightly considers cruel, bigoted, and misogynistic, and for which she has suffered grievously.

It is yet another example of how arrogant, closed-minded faculty, and students who believe they can prohibit anything on campus that makes them uncomfortable, can intimidate administrators such as yourself to the point where one of the principles essential to higher education — a tolerance of opinions with which one disagrees — is dispensed with in the name of preserving “a welcoming environment.” But the very essence of education is being challenged intellectually, and if students cannot endure the discomfort that that often induces, they have no business attending a college or university.

You say that you are withdrawing the award because Ms. HIrsi’s views violate what you call “the core values” of the university. But Brandeis saw nothing wrong in awarding an honorary degree to Tony Kushner, who has called the creation of the state of Israel a mistake and falsely accused it of ethnic cleansing; and to Desmond Tutu, an anti-semitic bigot who has compared Israel to Nazi Germany. From this one could reasonably conclude — since Tutu’s anti-semitism did not cause Brandeis to refrain from awarding him a degree — that anti-semitism is either one of the core values of your university or is not inconsistent with these values.

It is clear that at Brandeis University Israel can be smeared and those who do so are rewarded, but someone who properly criticizes Islam is unfairly attacked and dishonored.

In short, you have made the sorry record the university has compiled in awarding honorary degrees even worse.

And what makes your shameful capitulation especially regrettable to me is that I am an alumnus of Brandeis University, class of 1970. Your university is my university. And right now I am ashamed to call it my alma mater.


Jay Bergman
Professor of History
Central Connecticut State University
New Britain CT 06050

P.S. For your edification I include below the excellent article by Lori Lowenthal Marcus, an alumna of Brandeis, in today’s Jewish Press, and an article by Toby Young in today’s Telegraph, published in England and subtitled, appropriately: ” Cowardly Brandeis University Capitulates to Islamist Pressure.”

Lori Lowenthal Marcus
“Brandeis Caves to Pressure. Withdraws Honor to Ayaan Hirsi Ali The Jewish Press (April 9, 2014)

In a complete collapse of rectitude, Brandeis University’s president Fred Lawrence issued a statement on Tuesday evening, April 8, announcing the withdrawal of women’s and human rights champion Ayaan Hirsi Ali as a recipient of an honorary degree from the school at this year’s commencement.

For two days Muslim students and supporters raged against the decision to honor Ali because, they claimed, she is Islampohobic.

Ali was born in Mogadishu, Somalia. In 1992 she escaped an impending arranged marriage to a relative, running to the Netherlands, where she learned the language and established a life. She rose to become a member of the Dutch parliament, where she worked to further the integration of non-Western immigrants into Dutch society.

In 2004, Ali made a film with her friend, Theo Van Gogh. That film, “Submission,” is about the oppression of women in conservative Islamic cultures.

After “Submission” was aired on Dutch television, an Islamic extremist murdered Van Gogh who was enraged by the portrayal of Islam. A letter pinned to his body contained a death threat to Ali. She eventually fled Holland and Ayaan Hirsi Ali now lives in the United States.

Ali evolved from being a devout Muslim to one who questioned her faith, to ultimately and resolutely rejecting it.

“I left the world of faith, of genital cutting and forced marriage for the world of reason and emancipation. After making this voyage I know that one of these two worlds is simply better than the other. Not for its gaudy gadgetry, but for its fundamental values.” That is a quote from Ali’s book, “Infidel.”

Ali has been extremely and indeed harshly critical of the Islamic world in which she suffered, both as a child in Africa, and also as a hunted creature, in Holland, from the angry immigrants who brought with them to Europe a profound inability to accept criticism of Islam.

And now, here in America, Ali is still being hounded by those who refuse to live by the standards of the West, of tolerance, of robust confrontations, but ones not knife-edged with intimidation.

The Facebook Page denouncing Ali and the decision to honor her at Brandeis’s 2014 Commencement decried her for her “hate speech.” The Muslim Students Association claimed that honoring her “is a direct violation of Brandeis University’s own moral code as well as the rights of all Brandeis students.”

Most chillingly, while the students acknowledged Ali had experienced “terrible things in her life,” their bottom line was “we will not tolerate an attack at our faith.”

And so they issued a fatwa: the invitation to Ali had to be rescinded. The school newspaper, The Justice (yes, the irony!) ran both a “news article” and an editorial denouncing the decision to give Ali an honorary degree.

Brandeis University president Fred Lawrence echoed the students (and a large number of faculty members, including the Women’s Studies professors) in his statement:

Following a discussion today between President Frederick Lawrence and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ms. Hirsi Ali’s name has been withdrawn as an honorary degree recipient at this year’s commencement. She is a compelling public figure and advocate for women’s rights, and we respect and appreciate her work to protect and defend the rights of women and girls throughout the world. That said, we cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values. For all concerned, we regret that we were not aware of these statements earlier.

Commencement is about celebrating and honoring our extraordinary students and their accomplishments, and we are committed to providing an atmosphere that allows our community’s focus to be squarely on our students. In the spirit of free expression that has defined Brandeis University throughout its history, Ms. Hirsi Ali is welcome to join us on campus in the future to engage in a dialogue about these important issues.

In other words, Ali’s decades of devotion to helping women enslaved by misogynistic practitioners of the Muslim faith – who dominate the governments of Muslim countries – was neutered by the pronunciamento by students that they “would not tolerate an attack on [their] faith.” And in still other words, on American campuses criticism of religion – which has been a fixture of campus life – is no longer permitted. What words, what thoughts will be deemed unacceptable next?
And this is a new trend. All manner of people have received honorary degrees from Brandeis, many of whom have been critical of other religions, particularly of Judaism and of the Jewish State.

Need one really trot out the many people who have received honorary degrees from Brandeis, a school founded by the Jewish community as a way to get around the strict quotas on the number of Jews who could attend high quality schools.

People such as Tony Kushner, who flatly stated that the creation of Israel as a Jewish State “was a mistake,” who regularly accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing and of savagery and who blames the existence of the state of Israel for the “terrible peril in the world.” Kushner received an honorary degree in 2006.

Then there is Desmond Tutu – a man widely revered for the work he did on behalf of South Africans, but who also is a rank anti-Semite. Tutu has compared Israel to Hitler, attacked the “Jewish lobby” as too “powerful” and “scary,” he has sanitized the gas chambers of the Holocaust which he said made for a “neater death” than one under Apartheid, and he complained of the “Jewish monopoly of the Holocaust.” He also insists that Jewish Holocaust victims should forgive the Nazis. Bishop Tutu received his honorary degree from Brandeis University in 2000.

The school administration buckled under to the Brandeis contingent of an increasingly entitled and belligerent faction on U.S. campuses who believe diversity, tolerance and justice only apply to positions and people whose views are consistent with their own. This goes not only for the students, as Bernadette Brooten, a Brandeis professof in the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Department explained on the Facebook page denouncing Ali, “a group of 86 faculty members has signed a letter to President Lawrence, asking him to rescind the invitation.”


I was shocked to learn that Brandeis University, a liberal arts college in Massachusetts, has withdrawn its offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the outspoken critic of female genital mutilation and a campaigner on behalf of Muslim women.

“We cannot overlook that certain of her past statements are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values,” the university said in a statement released yesterday, just eight days after announcing that Hirsi Ali would be awarded an honorary degree.

The change of heart was prompted by a well-organised campaign by various pro-Muslim groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations which sent a letter to Dr Frederick Lawrence, the President of Brandeis, referring to Hirsi Ali as a “notorious Islamophobe”.

“She is one of the worst of the worst of the Islam haters in America, not only in America but worldwide,” Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the group, said in an interview with the New York Times.

In addition, a Muslim student at Brandeis started a petition at change.org accusing Hirsi Ali of “hate speech”. By way of evidence, the petition cited an interview she gave to the Evening Standard in 2007 in which she described Islam as “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death”. In the same interview, she also said that “violence is inherent in Islam” and that “Islam is the new fascism”.

This is an act of extraordinary cowardice on Brandeis’s part. To accuse Hirsi Ali of “hate speech”, which is defined as “any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which… may incite violence or prejudicial action against… a protected individual or group”, is almost comically ironic. She was raised as a Muslim in Somalia, underwent circumcision at the age of five and was later forced into an arranged marriage with her cousin. She only escaped this fate by running away to Holland where she subsequently became a member of the Dutch Parliament.

As an MP, she highlighted the hypocrisy of the European Left for aggressively defending the rights of Muslims while, at the same time, turning a blind eye to the disregard for women’s rights within Muslim communities. She started to receive death threats for her outspoken views from 2002, culminating in a note pinned to the corpse of murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh saying she would be next. “Ayaan Hirsi Ali, you will break yourself to pieces on Islam,” the letter said. “You, oh America, will go down. You, oh Europe, will go down … You, oh Netherlands, will go down … You, oh Hirsi Ali, will go down.”

Defenders of Brandeis’s decision will say that Hirsi Ali is guilty of tarring all Muslims with the same brush and that there’s nothing inherently violent about Islam. Needless to say, she has often answered that charge. “People who ask me that question assume that geography is more important for Muslims than what is contained in the holy Quran,” she says.

Of course the circumstances in which people live in Turkey are different from those in Morocco or Somalia. But when it comes to the relationship between men and women, in all these countries there is a red line of the woman being subordinate to the male. And most Muslim men justify this subordinacy with the Quran. There are so many meanings Europeans miss. We Muslims are brought up with the idea that there is just one relationship possible with God – submission. That’s Islam: submission to the will of Allah.

Whether you agree with Hirsi Ali’s Manichean view of Islam, she’s entitled to express it without being bombarded with death threats or accused of “Islamophobia” which, in this context, amounts to “hate speech” since it’s precisely that charge that has led to threats on her life. You would think that an American university would be a staunch defender of Hirsi Ali’s right to free speech and wouldn’t capitulate to a mob of politically correct Muslims at the first sign of trouble. If the same institution had offered an honorary degree to Richard Dawkins, it’s simply inconceivable that it would change its mind after being attacked by Christians.

Everyone involved in this cowardly decision should be ashamed of themselves. As a liberal arts college, it should be a beacon of light. Instead, it has sent a clear message to everyone in the academic community that vigorous criticism of Islam won’t be tolerated.

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Comment in “The Chronicle of Higher Education”

• December 5, 2013 17:17pm • Uncategorized

The resolution approved by the American Studies Association supporting a boycott of Israeli educational institutions is yet another example of the hypocrisy, dishonesty, malevolence, and outright bigotry rampant among the left in American academia today.

 The resolution’s supporters claim — oh so piously! – to be concerned for the academic freedom of Palestinian Arabs. Yet they are mute — totally mute! — about the millions of Syrian children denied their right to an education by a brutal civil war, fought next-door to Israel, in which over 125, 000 persons, many thousands of them students, have been killed.

Nor do they appear to give a damn about the Coptic Christians in Egypt who have been denied places in Egyptian colleges and universities. Or about the homosexuals and Bahais in Iran who not only can’t receive an education but are stoned to death.  On all of this the resolution is silent.

Instead, they attack only Israel, which treats its Arab minority infinitely better than Arab countries treat their ethnic and religious minorities.

The resolution is a moral outrage and clear evidence that the American Studies Association inhabits a moral and intellectual sewer.

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Suffolk U. Professor* Claims U.S. Plans to Sterilize “Women of the Entire World”

• December 3, 2013 12:12pm • Uncategorized

Reprinted from American Thinker, December 3, 2013.

[N.B.: This version differs slightly from the American Thinker text. Update below.]

Munir Akash,* a Syrian-born visiting professor in the department of world languages and cultural studies at Suffolk University in Boston, claimed in a recent Arabic-language interview with Lebanon’s ANB TV that the U.S. government has a secret plan to sterilize women in thirteen Third World countries and even in “the entire world.” This marks yet another bizarre assertion made by Akash, who is successfully bringing the Middle East’s stultifying culture of conspiracy theories to America.

Akash began his October 17, 2013 anti-American invective, made available by MEMRI, by blaming former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for hatching the sterilization scheme:

In 1974, Henry Kissinger proposed a plan to President Ford. . . . “We can’t annihilate Communism, but we can annihilate the Communists. How? The more people there are in the world, the more Communists there are. So let us tackle the roots of the problem — if we kill the poor, there will be no Communists.”

Akash went on to explain that the plan includes sterilizing women of 13 countries, including Egypt and Turkey. He also claimed that the plot included sterilization of men, too. Such claims trump even those of the man he says devised them: John P. Holdren. The controversial Harvard scientist, who currently holds several posts in the Obama White House, including Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, has a decades-long record as an alarmist on issues ranging from overpopulation to global warming. But the sterilization scheme Akash falsely attributes to him isn’t bad science, but science fiction:

This man has a plan to sterilize not just the women of 13 countries, but the women of the entire world…. he wants to plant a chip under the skin of men and women to control their fertility.

Akash didn’t explain what America would gain by wiping mankind (including Americans) off the map, but he’s written a book that explains this. A glowing review by the Holocaust-denying Abdullah Mohammad Sindi, a retired Saudi-born professor of international relations in California, summarizes the book’s thesis.

In America and Genocide: Right of Sacrificing the Other (Beirut, 2002), Akash tells how the Pilgrims (whom he anachronistically calls “WASPs”) turned on and “savagely stung Native Americans.”

Underlying Akash’s anti-Americanism is a more sinister ideology: anti-Semitism. In his telling, the supposed genocide of Native Americans by colonists bent on seizing their land is analogous to the ancient Hebrews’ “gruesome colonization of Canaan” and the “current savage colonization of Arab Palestine since 1948 by Western Zionist Jews.”

Akash’s oeuvre includes another book with a similar theme, The Talmud of Uncle Sam (Beirut, 2004). One further quotation reveals his obsession with the Jewish people:

the idea of America . . . was inspired from the Jewish stories and the Israeli tales found in the Torah and Talmud and Kabala. . . . the idea of assembling the Jews in Palestine and establishing an Israeli State and replacing one culture and one people by another culture and people was but one of the constituents of the idea of America.

The Jews of both ancient and modern Israel are presented as genocidal; the Pilgrims and the nation they helped found are the Jews’ genocidal heirs. This racist historiography emanates naturally from the same author who thinks the U.S. government plans to kill off the entire human species.

Akash is a crank conspiracy monger and charlatan who should have no place in American higher education. But, by hiring him, Suffolk University has given its imprimatur to Akash’s work and entrusted its students to his mercies, something that brings shame on their institution.

Winfield Myers is director of academic affairs and director, Campus Watch, at the Middle East Forum.

If you wish to protest this appointment to Suffolk University, contact information for its president, James McCarthy, is not publicly available but you may contact the public relations department:

Greg Gatlin
Vice President
Marketing and Communications

The general contact to reach the university:

Suffolk University
8 Ashburton Place
Boston, MA 02108-2770
Tel: 617-573-8000

*The original version of this article identified Munir Akash as a visiting professor at Suffolk University because, at the time of publication, his web page at Suffolk was active; a cache of it is available here. Greg Gatlin, vice president of marketing and communications at Suffolk, has stated that Akash taught at Suffolk from 2007 until December, 2011, that the university left his web page up in error, and that it was removed after this article appeared. Gatlin adds that Akash does not have permission to claim any affiliation with Suffolk. During his October 23, 2013 interview on Lebanon’s ANB TV, conducted in Arabic, the script below his image stated that he was “Historian D. Munir Akash – Professor of Humanities and head of the Arabic Studies at Suffolk University/Boston.” The host presented him as such and stated that, “his research focused on the history of the first settlers who invaded the new world and annihilated 400 nations, using all methods of violence and killing.” Translation courtesy of MEMRI.

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Rouhani: The Bogus Moderate

• November 5, 2013 17:44pm • Uncategorized

The claim that Hassan Rouhani, the new president of Iran, is a “moderate,” with whom Western leaders can do business on the basis of mutual self-interest, brings to mind an earlier fantasy common among elites in the West after the death of the Soviet dictator, Leonid Brezhnev, in 1982: that his successor as General Secretary, Iurii Andropov, was a closet liberal eager to reduce the tensions of the Cold War, then nearly four decades old, and thereby make nuclear war less likely.  The evidence of Andropov’s moderation was his supposed fondness for scotch whiskey, the novels of Jacqueline Susann, and such icons of American popular music as Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra, and Chubby Checker.  By some accounts a witty conversationalist conversant in German, English, and Hungarian, the new Soviet leader was even reputed to dance the tango gracefully.

Trumpeting this information – which in reality was Soviet disinformation — with the breathless intensity of those who think wishing hard enough for something makes it real, Time, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times and other pillars of establishment opinion in the West didn’t bother to consider whether Andropov’s personal preferences bespoke a loss of faith in Marxism-Leninism or a diminution of the ardor with which the Soviet leadership sought to spread communism.  In fact, Andropov, when he succeeded Brezhnev, was the same man who, as Soviet ambassador in Budapest in 1956, oversaw the destruction of the Hungarian Revolution; it was Andropov who, after the revolution was suppressed, falsely promised its leader, Imre Nagy, who had taken refuge in the Yugoslav embassy, that he would be treated leniently if he turned himself in.  Foolishly Nagy did so, was flown to Moscow, imprisoned and hanged two years later.

As General Secretary, Andropov almost certainly issued the order for Soviet fighter planes to shoot down Korean Airlines flight 007, in which all 269 passengers lost their lives, over international waters and in violation of international law.  And Andropov’s treatment of Soviet dissidents was no less cruel and repressive than it was from 1967 to 1982, when he headed the KGB and in that capacity ordered dissidents imprisoned, incarcerated in labor camps, exiled abroad or internally to cities far from Moscow or, worst of all, declared insane and committed to psychiatric hospitals, where they were given mind-altering drugs that reduced some to a vegetative state.

Rouhani’s record is even worse: he planned the bombing of a Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires in 1994, which took 85 lives, and of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in1996, in which nineteen American soldiers were killed.  He refuses to acknowledge that the Holocaust happened, and claims that in any case it is something only historians should be concerned with.  He has also called Israel “a wound” on the Middle East that must be removed.  His boast about deceiving the West into believing that Iran, from 2003 to 2005, had stopped enriching uranium is well known, and there is no evidence of his having the slightest objection to his own government’s savage persecution of Bahais and others in Iran professing a religion other than Shiite Islam.

One can only hope that President Obama and his counterparts in Europe, now engaged in yet another round of futile negotiations with Iran, will recognize that men like Andropov and Rouhami who acquire positions of power share the beliefs, objectives, and policies of the repressive regimes they lead, and are not about to repudiate them because of any personal habits they have or because they talk in tones suggesting they are amenable to reason.  The potential consequence of not doing so – the detonation of nuclear weapons as an act of war for the first time since 1945 – would be catastrophic.

(The article above was published in the Jerusalem Post on November 5, 2013)

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Agit-Prop Masquerading as History; email to Mitch Daniels

• August 2, 2013 8:42am • Uncategorized

Dear Governor Daniels,

I support enthusiastically and unreservedly your condemnation of Howard Zinn’s disgraceful piece of agit-prop that too many academics consider a legitimate history of the United States.

As you have stated clearly and eloquently, academic freedom is not license for professors to indoctrinate their students instead of teaching them, and it certainly isn’t violated by an entirely understandable concern that K-12 students not be fed a farrago of lies and distortions intended to generate the ridiculous conclusion that America’s history is an unbroken tale of imperialism, racism, sexism, and homophobia..

The worthies at the American Historical Association and the Purdue professors who obviously don’t know the difference between education and indoctrination should be embarrassed by the nonsense they have written about your emails.

Don’t let the bad guys get you down. There are many like me in academia — more than you might imagine — who are rooting you on.

With best wishes,

Jay Bergman
Professor of History
Central Connecticut State University
New Britain CT &
Member, Board of Directors,
National Association of Scholars

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Letter to Justice Kennedy

• July 5, 2013 9:17am • Uncategorized

June 27, 2013

Anthony Kennedy

Associate Justice

The Supreme Court of the United States

1 First Street, NE

Washington, DC 20543

Dear Justice Kennedy:

Smearing opponents of gay marriage as bigots, as you did in your opinion in the DOMA case, is despicable.

If you have any integrity, you will apologize to the millions of good and decent Americans whose opinion on gay marriage, while different from yours, is no less sincere, no less heartfelt, and no less borne out of a sense of public morality and a concern for the common good.

I and other Americans disgusted by your intolerance await your apology.



Jay Bergman

Professor of History

Central Connecticut State University

New Britain CT 06050

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Email to Lee Bollinger, President of Columbia University

• June 26, 2013 8:49am • Uncategorized

Dear President Bollinger:

I have read your op-ed in today’s NY Times defending the use of race in college admissions.

To give preference to some on the basis of race is necessarily to discriminate against others on the basis of race.

Your advocacy of racial preferences means that you are an advocate of racial discrimination — which is despicable.

Racial preferences hurt people. Sometimes they hurt people badly.

But you obviously don’t give a damn.

I suggest that in the name of consistency and common decency, you resign your position as president of Columbia so that you can be replaced by a member of an “underrepresented” minority.


Jay Bergman
Professor of History
Central Connecticut State University
New Britain CT

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The IRS Was Targeting Conservative Groups a Decade Ago

• May 14, 2013 11:17am • Uncategorized

With news that the Obama administration has used the IRS to target conservative groups applying for nonprofit status, I thought a look back at the experience of Democracy Project’s founders would be instructive. In 2003, the Dallas office of the IRS required us to answer 26 questions that were clearly designed to trip us up, at most, and harass us, at the very least. I wrote over 4,000 words in reply and critiqued the IRS in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, reproduced below, that ran on October 31, 2003.

Plato and the Taxman
By Winfield Myers
The Wall Street Journal
October 31, 2003

I once taught the Great Books in the honors college of a large Midwestern university. My colleagues and I lamented that careerist students demeaned the wisdom of the ancients by elevating the practical arts over humanistic studies. We drilled freshmen on the classics and stressed the efficacy of the knowledge students gained from foundational works. Knowing the origins of Western myths, history, philosophy and drama inoculated them against half-baked ideas or the schemes of demagogues, I assured them. I’ll never know how many believed me, but if I returned to the classroom, I could offer a contemporary case study on the practicality of Plato that would astound Allan Bloom and leave Leo Strauss speechless. For it seems that at the Internal Revenue Service, Plato rules.

This will perhaps surprise fans of the Service, who could be forgiven for assuming that IRS personnel come only in shades of CPA gray. But a recent encounter with the Dallas office of their non-profit approval division suggests that the IRS sees accounting not as a practical art but as a search for philosophical knowledge, or episteme. What’s more, they hold mere opinion, or doxa, in low esteem.

No doubt the source for this business model is Plato’s Republic, in which Socrates teaches that knowledge is superior to opinion in the same way that the universal idea of an entity is superior to any manifestation of it. Inasmuch as one comes to know the idea of justice or the good, one grasps the universal order and can live a happier, more complete life.

My own quest for happiness currently involves launching, with a few like-minded colleagues, a new nonprofit to educate Americans about democratic institutions and traditions and the foundational ideas of liberty, and to critique the intellectual sources of cultural relativism and multiculturalism.

The response to our February 2003 application to become an educational charity with 501(c)(3) nonprofit status not only demonstrated the agents’ philosophical bent; it left us wondering how best to answer the 26 questions demanded of us.

Aside from some queries about our finances, most centered on our opinions — or is it knowledge? — of the quality of American higher education, the wisdom of curricular trends in universities or the best environment for disseminating information.

Take question No. 2: “You also state that ‘advocates of multicuralism [sic] wreak havoc on the curricula of universities and within ethnic communities.’ Is this your opinion?” No. 11: “You state that higher education doesn’t teach American history to every college student. Is this your opinion? How many college students are taught American history?” No. 12: “Do you have proof that the teaching of literature, political science, European history, and other disciplines (?) [sic] have [sic] declined? Or is this your opinion?” Or my favorite, question eight: “What is ‘an environment free of academic cant or prejudice?’ How will your conferences be free of academic cant and prejudice? Why do you want your conferences to be free of academic cant and prejudice? Explain in detail and give examples.”

The Dallas agents didn’t make this stuff up. Attorneys with experience in the nonprofit sector weren’t as surprised by such questions as were those of us whose livelihood depends upon getting our organization up and running. While one noted that the response to our application had more “bite” than most, they’ve seen plenty of similar cases over the years.

IRS code for establishing 501(c)(3) nonprofits (Chapter 3, page 21) expressly forbids granting nonprofit status to organizations promulgating unfounded opinion rather than factual knowledge: “The mere presentation of unsupported opinion is not educational.” Furthermore, nonprofit classification may be denied to an organization if “the facts that purport to support the viewpoint [advocated by the organization] are distorted.”

At first glance such requirements appear logical, since taxpayers have no obligation to fund political or propaganda groups masquerading as educational corporations. As the revenue-gathering arm of the federal government, the IRS has a responsibility to ensure that unscrupulous individuals aren’t allowed to beat the system by constructing Potemkin villages designed to funnel assets to entities or individuals that don’t qualify for nonprofit status.

Closer examination, however, reveals the intellectually problematic nature of these rules, which can be interpreted so broadly as to proscribe the establishment of virtually any nonprofit educational entity. Scholars, statesmen and citizens have debated the nature of knowledge, the efficacy of education and the design of the ideal polity for centuries. Their conclusions across time and cultures may be rigorously derived and widely supported, yet mutually exclusive.

Is Aristotle or Thomas Jefferson correct on the nature of democracy? Who is the better literary critic, Harold Bloom or Michel Foucault? Which authority on college curricula is right, Charles Eliot or Mortimer Adler? To attempt to prove one’s answer, whatever it is, is to enter the realm of debate upon which academic life rests. It is not, however, to prove conclusively that the position of one’s opponent is based on mere opinion rather than knowledge.

More questions follow naturally: How much proof is needed to convince an IRS agent of the validity of one’s positions? If it must be demonstrated that one’s positions on key issues are correct in order to win nonprofit status, are educational or charitable organizations holding competing positions illegitimate and illegal? (That is, must we choose between the Heritage Foundation and People for the American Way?) Do Americans want IRS agents to wield broad interpretive powers over complex scholarship, or would they prefer that such conflicts be decided in the marketplace of ideas?

I’m happy to report that once our case was referred to the Washington office of the IRS, it was resolved in our favor professionally and quickly. For Dallas we compiled answers totaling some 4,000 words, including a decidedly non-Platonic four-page bibliography listing authorities from Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Nathan Glazer to Lynn Cheney and Jacques Barzun. We established that we deserve the chance to seek supporters who share our belief that democracy needs strengthening. And we demonstrated that knowledgeable people can hold differing opinions and that persons sharing opinions may know different things. At least that’s my opinion.

Mr. Myers writes from Wilmington, Del.


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A Tale of Two Synagogues

• May 4, 2013 14:27pm • Uncategorized

FrontPage Magazine published my article on the lead up to the great speeches of Pamela Geller and Greg Buckley, Sr. at Chabad of Great Neck and Congregation Beth-El of Edison, NJ on April 14, which was a victorious day for truth and freedom.

 “A Tale of Two Synagogues” 

This is the story of the glorious miracles that happen when freedom-loving people stand up, refuse to be intimidated and fight back. It all began back in February 2013, when the Men’s Club of Great Neck Synagogue on Long Island, NY, planned a quiet informational breakfast on Sunday morning April 14, with Pamela Geller speaking on the “Imposition of Shari’a in America” and Greg Buckley, Sr. giving a first-hand accounting by a father of his son’s tragic insider “Green on Blue” murder at the hands of jihadists in Afghanistan. But astonishingly, a raging firestorm of intimidation, threats and harassment erupted against Geller’s invitation to speak that eventually forced the synagogue to cancel the event. This is an account of the events which ultimately ended in a victory for freedom of speech and conscience, which sent the profound messages of Pamela Geller and Greg Buckley Sr. reverberating across the nation.  Read more…

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The Desert Within Each of Us

• April 1, 2013 7:07am • Uncategorized

Immediately upon reading new Pope Francis’ Easter speech in St. Peter’s Square, I tweeted, “Read the beautiful #Easter message from #PopeFrancis for inspiration on what this day is really about.” Within Pope Francis’ speech, he stated:

How many deserts, even today, do human beings need to cross! Above all, the desert within, when we have no love for God or neighbor, when we fail to realize that we are guardians of all that the Creator has given us and continues to give us. God’s mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones (cf. Ez 37:1-14).

One aspect of Pope Francis’ speech reminded me of my own readings in the Desert Fathers (Father Joseph Lucas’ Prayer of the Publican and Father John Chryssavgis’ In the Heart of the Desert), when the Pope said [h]ow many deserts, even today, do human beings need to cross.” The Desert Fathers — the earliest of Christianity’s monks — understood this and set out to the Scetes Desert in Egypt to model themselves on Jesus’ forty days in the desert living an austere existence, fasting, and praying to the Lord. Through this experience in the desert, came Christian monasticism and the Apophthegmata Patrum (Sayings of the Desert Fathers), which are some of the most delightful of all writings in Christendom. One wonderful example comes to mind:

The same Abba Theophilus, the archbishop, came to Scetis one day. The brethren who were assembled said to Abba Pambo, ‘Say something to the Archbishop, so that he may be edified.’ The old man said to them, ‘If he is not edified by my silence, he will not be edified by my speech.’

Human beings are strengthened by the deserts we travail. As the Apostle James said in his beautiful Epistle, “Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him (James 1:12) (RSV).”

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