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Islamic totalitarianism and academic freedom at George Mason University
No one has a right to bar anyone who seeks to peacefully discuss his or her ideas from speaking at George Mason.
[April 21, 2007]

By Nicholas Provenzo
The Center for the Advancement of Capitalism

NB: Below is the text of a letter that I submitted to the George Mason University's campus newspaper regarding Tuesday's talk by Dr. John Lewis on the defeat of Islamic totalitarianism.

To the Editor:

On the eve of the US invasion of Iraq, I participated in a debate at George Mason University with Professor of Conflict Resolution and Public Affairs Richard Rubenstein over the propriety of the invasion. This debate, hosted by the campus Objectivist Club, was remarkable in that rather than yell past each other as is often the fashion in debate, Professor Rubenstein and I sought to explain our respective reasoning in calm, deliberate and principled terms.

Afterward, GMU President Alan Merten, who was in attendance during the debate, remarked that "this is the reason we have universities." I wholeheartedly agree with him and I have always been proud that an event that I participated in warranted such a complement, for it encapsulates a goal of my public advocacy. At root, I seek to identify and defend my values rationally. If one seeks to be persuasive (especially on a controversial moral question), I don't see how one can afford any less.

Fast forward to the present, and you can imagine my surprise when a speaking event that I was helping to organize at GMU was canceled this February in large part due to pressure from Mason's Islamic community. Dr. John Lewis, a classics scholar and military historian from Ashland University, was to address the campus on his strategy for subduing militant jihad and Islamic totalitarianism. In working to prevent Lewis from speaking, these Islamists attacked the very foundation of the university as a realm where controversial ideas can be discussed and debated.

First, it would help to understand just what Dr. Lewis advocates and why some wish that his voice be silenced. Paralleling today's battles with Japan's war against the United States in WWII, Lewis argues that today's conflict is between those who seek to preserve secular government and religious freedom and those who seek to impose the creed of Islam by force. As was the case with the Japanese and the emperor-worshiping suicide-cult of Shintoism, Lewis argues that the advocates for freedom must compel their enemy's total surrender, i.e. they must secure from the enemy the large-scale admission that his cause is utterly futile if freedom and peace are to be restored.

Furthermore, Lewis rejects the argument that Islamic totalitarianism is mere "terrorism" that lacks a distinct center. Instead, Lewis maintains that the Islamic Republic of Iran is the fountainhead of jihad against the West. As such, Iran must be defeated, and Lewis believes that such a defeat will only come as a result of a ruthless war against the Iranian government and the people whose tacit support makes that government possible.

At root, Lewis' argument is built upon a moral principle: the good have full right to their lives and full right to take the action necessary to defend their lives against evil and irrationality.

It is interesting (and ironic) that GMU's Islamic population believes that Dr. Lewis should thus be denied the opportunity to present his case on campus. After all, don't these same Muslims argue that those who seek to impose Islam by force are perverting their "religion of peace?" Shouldn't these Muslims then be just as appalled at the murder and brutality of the Iranian regime as is Lewis? Shouldn't these Muslims be just as concerned about the threat of a nuclear-tipped Iran—on the grounds that they have a firsthand understanding of the evils of the Iranian regime?

Or is it that some in GMU's Muslim community are more sympathetic toward Iran than they are toward America? Perhaps that is why they choose to ignore Lewis' actual thesis against totalitarianism and attempt to twist his argument into an assault against all Muslims, peaceable or not. And perhaps that is why these Muslims are implying that GMU students are simply too ignorant to make up their own minds about what Lewis has to say and that they should serve as censors for what is and is not discussed on this campus. Had members of Mason's Islamic community sought to engage Lewis in honest debate, I would have gladly supported it, yet they have not offered this. Instead, they have attacked the very premise of the university itself.

I am heartened to see that one group on campus has had the moral courage to do what is right and ensure that Dr. Lewis is able to present his arguments to students. Lewis' thesis is non-partisan, yet sensing the larger issue at stake, the College Republicans have risen up in defense of academic freedom and offered a venue for Lewis to speak. I admire them for it, because they have evidenced a better grasp of this issue than many of GMU's professors and administrators. No one has a right to bar anyone who seeks to peacefully discuss his or her ideas from speaking at this campus, and any attempt to do so is an attempt to hijack the mission of university in the name of a cause other than truth-seeking.

I hold that George Mason University has an important role to play in the upcoming debates that will challenge our nation. I hope that every one of its students and faculty, regardless of their philosophic leanings, will affirm their commitment to the academic freedom that is needed for Mason to successfully fulfill that role. Quite frankly, anything less is surrender to irrationality.


Nicholas Provenzo is chairman of the Center for the Advancement of Capitalism (www.capitalismcenter.org), a public policy institute that applies Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism to cultural and legal questions.


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