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Baehr wrongly maligned

By Fred Baumann

Enough is enough and too much is plenty. Recently, Richard Baehr ’69, a graduate and former trustee of Kenyon and a defender of Israel, was smeared in the Collegian (“Islamophobia Persists,” Feb. 26) as guilty of “Islamophobia.” It was said that he had painted the “global community” of Islam with a “dehumanizing brush.” The charge was based on a double falsehood. One was implicit, namely that the writer had heard the lecture, when, as I understand it, he had attended another event at the same time. The other was explicit, for Baehr did not say what the writer said Baehr had said. This misrepresentation was also the sole citation from the talk and the sole evidence for the charge. Beyond these falsehoods, Baehr was smeared by association with others, for things he hadn’t written or edited. Further, the author tries to whip up “outrage” in the community.  

An isolated incident? Alas, not. For years there has been a repeated pattern at Kenyon of smear tactics used against conservatives, or supporters of Israel. When American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray came to give a very fine and well-received talk on class differences in America, he was preemptively smeared as a racist who should not have been invited. Before that, the great historian Bernard Lewis was smeared as an Islamophobe.

Neoconservatives have been accused with that broad “dehumanizing brush,” to borrow a phrase, of being Islamophobes. The philosopher Leo Strauss and those of us influenced by him here at Kenyon have been smeared as well. The suggestion was made that perhaps our first-year course, The Quest for Justice, shouldn’t be as popular as it is. (Other examples could be provided.) The point of all this rather shameful name-calling is pretty obvious. On the one hand, it serves to intimidate anyone who disagrees with the progressive orthodoxy. On the other, and more importantly, it seeks to intimidate anyone (and here mostly students) who might want to keep an open mind. They are told from the outset that these are bad people or not worth listening to, and the implication is that if you are persuaded by them you too will be in bad repute as a “conservative,” or “racist” or “Islamophobe.”

Very recently, after a controversial anti-Israel lecturer was received without incident, one of the lecturer’s enthusiastic supporters praised Kenyon for its good behavior by calling it “a true learning community.” I would like to suggest that we still have a ways to go. In a “true learning community,” unsaid words are not put into the mouths of opponents, and they are not smeared or freely called names, however ideologically fashionable. It’s time for this to stop. And it is time for the “silent majority” of this community, which has, for the past decade or so, appeared either to enjoy the show or to turn away from it in civilized disdain, to speak up and join in saying that this must stop. Understand: I am not calling for outrage. I am calling for mutual respect.

Fred Baumann is a professor of political science. Contact him at baumann@kenyon.edu.

Fred Baumann

Fred Baumann has been teaching political science at Kenyon since 1980.

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