By Goode, Stephen
Insight on the News , Vol. 18, No. 20
It was January 2001 when conservative intellectual and gadfly David Horowitz began sending off a controversial ad to campus newspapers at major colleges and universities across America and all hell broke loose. Forty-three of the 71 newspapers to which he eventually sent his advertisement opposing slavery reparations of any kind for U.S. blacks rejected the ad outright--among them American University in Washington and the universities of Notre Dame and Virginia. These newspapers called the ad offensive and too controversial, as indeed it proved to be. Only a few chose to run it, among them the University of California-Berkeley and Brown University.
"I knew some leftists would be bent out of shape" about the ad, Horowitz tells INSIGHT. What he didn't anticipate was that "they would go overboard, attacking editorial offices and stealing newspapers that printed it."
The frenzied responses as student radicals shouted down as "racist" anyone involved with printing the ad laid bare yet again what Horowitz calls "the intellectual vulgarities of American universities," meaning the tendency of faculties, administrations and many students to censor those ideas they don't like to hear. In a new book, Uncivil Wars, Horowitz cogently details those vulgarities and describes his efforts to break through the wall of censorship and bring the issue of reparations for slavery into open debate on America's campuses.
But the Pandora's box he opened hasn't been all bad. In at least two memorable instances--at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UWM) and at Duke University--it has inspired courageous stands on the part of the editors and staff or student newspapers. And perhaps at UWM, that exemplary courage may have sparked a new atmosphere of tolerance for ideas once regarded as unacceptable and beyond the pale.
Indeed, the ad Horowitz was eager to pay good money to have printed was politically incorrect throughout. Entitled "Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery Is a Bad Idea--and Racist Too," it set forth his arguments against paying reparations to the descendants of slaves. That demand recently had gained growing support on American campuses and had won a 46-1 vote on the Chicago City Council, followed by an apology for slavery from Mayor Richard M. Daley, Chicago's Democratic boss.
Horowitz thought this was a bad idea because "The reparations claim is a separatist idea that sets African-Americans against the nation that gave them freedom." He argued that "Reparations to African-Americans have already been paid" in the form of welfare and affirmative action. Pointing out that blacks in America enjoy the highest standard of living of blacks "anywhere in the world," Horowitz asked, turning the issue of reparations on its head, "What about the debt blacks owe America?"
When the controversial ad appeared on Feb. 28, 2001, in the Daily Californian at the University of California-Berkeley, reaction was immediate. Within hours, 40 very angry black students marched on the newspaper's offices demanding an apology for running the ad from editor Daniel Hernandez and telling him that as a member of a minority group (Mexican-Americans), he should know about oppression and be sympathetic to the oppression of other minorities. Hernandez, refusing to defend an editor's right to publish controversial ideas, apologized lavishly. "I promise readers, it will never happen again," he wrote later in the newspaper.
When the Brown Daily Herald at Brown University ran the ad nearly two weeks later, activist tactics differed slightly. In addition to protests and accusations of racism, the Coalition of Concerned Brown Students--a group created suddenly and solely to deal with the issues surrounding Horowitz's ad --reportedly stole the entire press run of the newspaper (nearly 4,000 copies). Those responsible for the theft were not held accountable. …