The shameful radicalisation of Columbia comes from Critical Race Theory

This poisonous ideology is spreading across the West


People rally on the campus of Columbia University which is occupied by pro-Palestinian protesters in New York (Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)

April 25, 2024 12:33

If the lesson of Passover is the value of freedom, the disruption at America’s top universities these past few weeks have been a sobering reminder of how many seem to have forgotten it, even – or especially – in the most progressive corners of society.

Disgracefully, even physical freedom has been limited for Jews on some American campuses, with an Israeli professor at Columbia, Shai Davidai, having his access denied while a phalanx of zombie students outside marched in unison to “push the Zionists out of the camp”. But intellectual freedom has been over a far longer period, only now reaching its latest shameful nadir at Columbia.

This creeping repression arose with the spread of Critical Race Theory (CRT) at American universities, which blended with radical socialism before spreading across the West. It was the brainchild of legal academic Derrick Bell, who worked for the Justice Department in the Sixties as it sought to desegregate America’s school system once equal rights had been attained.

He quickly became disillusioned. Many affluent white parents sent their children to prestigious private schools, condemning black children to poor facilities and teaching and replicating segregation informally. This led him to suspect that whites had granted equal rights to blacks in order to consolidate their supremacy by more subtle and insidious means. 

African Americans were becoming more economically productive and enlisting more readily in the military. America’s image as a racist country was rehabilitated. All this, he argued, enabled the white establishment to continue exploiting black Americans while posing as champions of equality.

His solution was to discard the goal of “colour blindness”, arguing instead that black people should be openly advantaged by the system. According to this vision, race continued to be the defining feature of society in a perpetual struggle for ascendancy. This was accompanied by a profound intolerance that sought to repress the other side, not reason with it.

It didn’t take long for Jews to become caught in the crossfire. During the civil rights movement, the Jewish community had stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Martin Luther King, even being attacked by the Ku Klux Klan. This was equally true of the Zionists.

Golda Meir, Israel’s first female leader, pointed out in her memoir that “we Jews share with the African peoples a memory of centuries-long suffering”. She recalled that many years before, Herzl himself had vowed: “Once I have witnessed the redemption of the Jews, my people, I wish also to assist in the redemption of the Africans.”

The solidarity was reciprocal. In 1966, Martin Luther King demanded justice for persecuted Jews behind the Iron Curtain. “We cannot sit complacently by the wayside while our Jewish brothers in the Soviet Union face the possible extinction of their cultural and spiritual life,” he said.

With the advent of CRT, however, which was at heart a revolutionary ideology, the old antisemitic tropes flourished among supposedly “anti-racist” campaigners. Being predominantly middle class and – if you squint your eyes a little and ignore certain parts of the community – white, Jews were placed in the category of “oppressor”. This dogma became a repository for the old conspiracy theories about Jews controlling the media, markets and politics.

This new racism, which disguised itself as anti-racism, cross-fertilised with an old-fashioned radical socialism. If the greatest threat to the world was capitalist imperialism, then all those who resisted it were embraced as allies, however brutal and bigoted they might be.

The British activist John Rees – a leading figure in both the Stop the War Coalition and the Socialist Workers Party – spelled it out in his 1994 book. “Socialists should unconditionally stand with the oppressed against the oppressor, even if [the oppressed] are undemocratic and persecute minorities, as Saddam Hussein persecutes Kurds and Castro persecutes gays,” he wrote.

This way of thinking allied the most savage Islamist terrorists with progressive race activists in a struggle against the supposed white colonialist establishment. It enabled Jeremy Corbyn to refer to Hamas as his “friends” in 2009 while remaining blind to the basic depravity of that position.

Once again, Jews were figured as the ultimate enemy. Not only were they part of the edifice of white supremacy in America, but they were also seen as the last redoubt of colonialism in the Middle East, despite their indigenous claim on the land.

This toxic ideological blend explains the disturbing scenes on campuses. It explains why, as the New Statesman writer Sohrab Ahmari recently put it, at the Columbia pro-Hamas encampment, “Keffiyehs abounded, sometimes jarringly matched with midriff tops.”

In the 1920s, German universities were by far the best in the world; in the early 20th century, one in four Nobel prizes for the sciences were won by German academics. Yet they were also a petri dish for Nazism, which was embraced by students and given intellectual ballast by academics. Similarly, in Mao’s China, students were in the vanguard of the cultural revolution, while in 1979, it was students who took more than 50 American diplomats hostage inside the embassy in Tehran.

Throughout history, bad ideas have gained a foothold at universities before marching on wider society. High on the list of victims are freedom and the Jews. Both must be urgently defended.

April 25, 2024 12:33

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