On Duke, Islam, and Progressives

©1996 Jim Wallace/Duke University PhotographyFile#0736-96 #101.6

In third grade, I won a basketball game at a local carnival, and as a prize was handed a Duke Blue Devils-themed miniature basketball.  With piqued interest, my first distinct memory as a Duke Basketball fan was the following season’s national championship game in 1999: Coach Mike Krzyzewski and Duke — which had not lost since the championship game of the early-season Great Alaska Shootout tournament — were upset by Coach Jim Calhoun and his Final Four Most Outstanding Player, Richard Hamilton.  By middle school, I was a diehard Duke Blue Devils fan, and by high school I was coaching youth recreation league basketball and trying to instruct my players how to quickly wrap around perimeter screens and drain three-pointers like my then-“man crush,” J.J. Redick.  (I’ve actually since soured on Mr. Redick.)  I eventually matriculated at Duke, where I had the best four years of my life.  My junior year, I was courtside in Indianapolis to see Butler University star player Gordon Hayward barely miss his last-second half-court heave, and thus celebrate in-person Duke’s fourth national championship.

All of this is to say that I love Duke with a passion.  Since graduating, however, my beloved alma mater has frankly gone off the rails quite a bit.  When I read that the local chapter of the (egregiously misnamed) national group, “Students for Justice in Palestine,” was excoriating our ally Israel in defamatory terms and subjecting innocent students to intrusive “checkpoint” stops, I wrote in protestingly to the Duke student newspaper.  Soon thereafter, I learned that the university began a policy of cross-subsidizing voluntary sex-change operations for its students.  Next, the Duke administration came to a full-throttled embrace of its latest non-basketball freshman sensation, a young porn star (I highly recommend this American Spectator piece for an in-depth explanation as to why the administration erred in not taking a more neutral/toned down stance there).  Next came an embarrassing foray into the world of overt Orwellian political correctness, in which a group of self-anointed student speech policemen took it upon themselves to proclaim certain allegedly offensive phrases off-limits (one particularly silly example from the campaign reads, “I don’t say ‘Man Up’ because the strongest people I know have cried in front of me, regardless of their age, gender, or sex”).  This past summer, Duke continued its moral decline by shelling out $3 million for a a controversial Iranian-American professor whose inflammatorily anti-Israel (if not anti-Semitic) pedagogical tactics include the use of “Holocaust Inversion” demagoguery.

This past week saw Duke make another unabashedly “progressive” and “Drudge Report” headline-worthy decision: the beautiful Duke Chapel, a towering West Durham Neo-Gothic icon and flagship edifice of our historically Methodist campus, was to be transformed into a minaret each Friday by means of its amplifying the adhan, or Muslim call to prayer.  Like many alums, I was infuriated by the decision, which seemed an affront to the University’s Christian roots, an unnecessary elevation of a minority faith (estimates are that roughly 700 of Duke’s 15,000 total students are Muslim) over others, reeked of terrible timing following the recent massacres by Islamic terrorists in Paris, and had the pungent odor of rampant relativism by means of aggrandizing the University’s iconic building to falsely equate the roles of Christianity and Islam in the campus culture.  All this, of course, at a historically Methodist university whose school shield conspicuously features a cross front-and-center.  Many, ignoring the University’s Methodist roots, attempted to defend Duke’s actions by means of proclaiming that the Chapel bells already amplify overtly religious jingles; this, of course, conveniently ignores church bells’ distinctly secular role in our society wholly separate from their religious use, and furthermore ignores the actual words of the adhan, which includes the well-known phrase, “Allahu Akbar,” as well as the rather sectarian phrase, “I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.”  As a Jew, I never felt even the slightest bit uncomfortable on the historically Christian campus when the Chapel bells rang — those bells, whether they were playing Christian hymns or a popular television show’s theme song, were a soothing and melodic addition to the Hogwarts-ian beauty that is Duke’s West Campus.  I certainly would not have felt the same way about the amplification of the adhan across all of West Campus.  Some of my fellow — rather cowardly — University of Chicago Law School students apparently think this all amounts to “Islamophobia,” which as a concept is a unicorn but as a slur is perniciously invoked by those on the P.C.-obsessed Left to stifle legitimate criticism and contrarian speech.  (Note: when even a French Socialist has more moral clarity on this than some students at a top-five American law school, we might be in trouble.)  Make no mistake about it — when possible presidential candidate Ben Carson repeatedly warns of the stiflingly illiberal effects of heavy-handed political correctness, he is not embellishing but is indeed spot-on.

Fortunately, Duke — responding, no doubt, to the outspoken Franklin Graham, among others — canceled its decision less than 48 hours after the initiative was announced.  (It should also be noted that Duke cited credible security threats as part of the rationale for its decision to cancel, which if true is deeply disappointing and unfortunate.)  Order has at least temporarily thus been restored (on the basketball court too, as of today, for that matter), and yet some degree of damage has indelibly been rendered.  I had already not planned to donate to Duke this year, due to the events described in the second paragraph, and now I will assuredly not be donating a single penny.

The Duke Chapel kerfuffle has partially served to highlight how unapologetically defensive of Islam the progressive Left can be; just as many progressives excoriate Chick-fil-A and “Duck Dynasty” for their traditionally Christian, pro-conjugal marriage sentiments, many on the Left elevate Islam despite the way many (and I do mean “many“) around the world have warped that religion to further the global jihad.  The lamentable state of conservatism in the Ivory Tower and among the college campus culture more broadly, furthermore, has been much-discussed in recent years.  My friend Daniel Mael, a Brandeis University senior and stalwart pro-Israel conservative, finds himself in hot water merely for reporting on the truth.  Yale College seems to be not-so-subtly undermining its pro-life group’s funding.  Swarthmore College students lambast Princeton Professor Robert P. George — perhaps the country’s singular leading conservative Christian public intellectual — for his purportedly inimical views on marriage, decrying “the whole idea…that at a liberal arts college, [they] need to be hearing a diversity of opinion.”  Many college speakers, including such notables as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, have bowed down to the mob mentality of student protesters afraid to have their progressive inclinations meaningfully challenged.  Out at Berkeley, students largely ignore the waving of an ISIS flag while the waving of Israel’s flag elicits strong vitriol.  And so on, and so on.

Conservatives faced with this totalitarian progressivism (a term my friend Evan Bernick rightfully notes is redundant, though I think it still nicely drives home the point) — and nowhere is this more ubiquitous or presently germane than on college campuses — need to hold the line and fight back against the concomitant threats of (1) an increasingly unabashed progressive culture and (2) a stifling of open speech for the sake of toeing the political correctness line and/or precluding ostensibly offensive “micro-aggressions.”  We have a solemn obligation to preserve the quintessentially liberal ideal of meaningful, open discourse, and to ensure the conservative point of view is at all times heard loud and clear.  My present institution of the University of Chicago, as The Wall Street Journal‘s Bret Stephens (a fellow Chicago alum) recently noted, has doubled down on its institutional defense of free speech.  Good for the University of Chicago, and shame on my Leftist law school classmates who hide beyond anonymous blog posts to censure unpopular speech as “Islamophobic.”

That Duke ultimately made the right decision regarding its iconic Chapel does not in any way diminish the importance of our task.  We have both a culture and an ideal of free speech to protect.  Godspeed to my fellow fighters who refuse to sacrifice their intellectual integrity at the altar of political correctness.

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