Confusion at Colorado College

By Hugh Hewitt

On Sept. 12, the second day of the second year of America’s war on terror, Colorado College will host a symposium titled: “September 11: One Year Later.” The symposium may not yield much insight into the war, but it tells us all a great deal about the moral confusion that dominates this campus and, I suspect, hundreds of others.

As the first speaker on the first day of the conference – the “keynote speaker” according to the college – Colorado College has selected Hanan Ashrawi, a longtime spokeswoman for the Palestinian cause.

The backlash was immediate, but largely confined to Colorado. When the Rocky Mountain News branded Ashrawi as a propagandist, the college’s president, Richard Celeste, fired back with an op-ed that is a triumph of banality and vacuous clich?: “The most critical warning sounded by the evil and damnable events of Sept. 11 tells us that, unless we members of the human family learn new ways to understand and fashion a common ground with one another, we shall be condemned to lives that become brutish, unreasoned and short.”

“The most critical warning” of Sept. 11 says nothing of the sort, of course, and anyone who thinks so is – simply put – a fool.

Dick Celeste is the former undistinguished governor of Ohio and the former undistinguished ambassador to India. In short, he has enjoyed a long and successful career in the modern Democratic Party, and that career has left him utterly incapable of understanding why the invitation to Ashrawi is so deeply offensive on so many levels, and why his defense of the invitation is so awful as to leave one laughing.

Throughout last week, I asked various guests on my radio program to react to the college’s choice, and Celeste’s defense of it. These commentators are all regular guests on the program, and each is a fair-minded but serious observer of politics and culture in the U.S.: The New Republic’s Peter Beinart, the Atlantic Monthly’s Michael Kelly, the Wall Street Journal’s Claudia Rosett, Fox News Channel’s Beltway Boys – Fred Barnes and Morton Kondracke – and author Virginia Postrel.

Not one of these public intellectuals could marshal any defense of the college’s act and some were scathing in their dismissivness of the college’s action’s and its president’s pretensions. Postrel’s explanation was the most charitable, if cynical, of the lot: The college’s booker wanted someone who had been on television a lot and whose agency declared him or her to be available.

Celeste’s defense of the choice, however, upped the ante for the college. Had the college merely blundered, this would not be more than a passing embarrassment. But Celeste embraced the choice, and demanded credit for also inviting Gideon Doron from the Israeli Political Science Association to give an address the day following the Ashrawi speech. “No doubt they will stimulate vigorous debate and discussion,” he proclaimed.

Celeste never attempts to explain beyond the paragraph quoted above the connection between Ashrawi and Doron and Sept. 11. One can only guess at the logic. Either Ashrawi is representing a people that has embraced terror as a weapon, and Doron a people that has suffered extraordinarily from terror, or both are representatives of terror victims – but either way, the proposition is so deeply offensive to the victims of 9-11, it cannot be articulated and instead must be glossed over.

Or does Colorado College seriously want to advance the proposition that the Arab-Israeli conflict holds the key to last year’s massacre? To hold this view is to expose the college as an intellectual sink.

“The most critical warning” of Sept. 11, to borrow from Dick Celeste, is that tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of radical Islamists want to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans. Another warning is that this group is skilled at planning and ruthless in executing acts of terror. A third warning is that this group will use weapons of mass destruction and suicide bombers. A fourth warning is that the war is begun.

There are other warnings as well. One is that Dick Celeste and his colleagues at Colorado College don’t have a clue as to the real significance of 9-11. Another one is that, sadly and shockingly, Celeste is representative of his Party and its leaders – Daschle, Gephart and McAuliffe. And, although it is no surprise, a final warning is the faculty of Colorado College – and probably most other similarly situated schools – find in 9-11 to be one more chance to blame Israel for the ills of the world.

At some point, the refusal to face 9-11 for what it was and what it did, who did it and why, ought to be disqualifying on an individual’s participation in public life. At some point courtesy toward the Celestes of the country must end because it becomes too dangerous to indulge the fools and the delusional any more.

Dick Celeste and Colorado College have passed that point.

But what about the other participants in this symposium, including the very serious and gifted correspondents Thom Shanker from the New York Times and Robert Kaplan from the Atlantic Monthly? Do they have an obligation to withdraw after Celeste’s framing of the issues of 9-11? Or is the fact that your host has become the point man for moral equivalence beside the point?

At some point in the aftermath of the election of 2000, Bill Kristol declared that he would no longer appear on television with Jonathon Alter because Alter had abandoned any pretense of truthful analysis. Declarations like Kristol’s are all too rare, and recalling it serves a purpose now. The timing of Colorado College’s symposium, the invitation to Ashrawi, and Celeste’s argument puts every participant in this gab fest in a bind. By appearing, they are consenting to Celeste’s premise about 9-11. Think early and mid ’30s. Premises have consequences.

No one should call upon the College to cancel Ashrawi’s invitation, for that would confuse the issue. My problem is not with her, but with a befuddled academic and Democratic Party elite that fails to grasp the first thing about the country’s peril. Indeed, in other settings on other subjects – a symposium on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, for example – she would be a fine selection as a participant.

But, really, there has to be an end to going along to get along and get a check. It will be a memorable and estimable day when a high-profile pundit declares that, for goodness sake, there isn’t enough money in the world to get them to go along with this or that stupid premise.

If and when you see such moral courage on display, please send me an e-mail. Perhaps a Diogenes Award can be arranged.