By Jason Kyriakides
Last week, I attended David Horowitz’s talk at our University of Texas here in Austin. About 40 fellow progressives came armed with arguments and signs (not the “violence” Horowitz claims we bring to the table) from a range of organizations – Iranians for Peace and Justice (IPJ), Campus Progress, International Socialist Organization, Anti-Racist Action, Campus Antiwar Movement to End the Occupation, Palestine Solidarity Committee, friends of the brave Professor Dana Cloud (whom Horowitz attacks in his book The ProFessors), and others. The word “circus” was brought up several times by Horowitz to describe the protest of his presence, but last night he acted the role of the ringleader of circuses.
The talk was at best seriously lacking in evidence, and at worst was racist, sexist slander. Speaking to his supporters (who appeared to form about 2/3 of the packed crowd of 200-250 people), who were mostly white and male, Horowitz had no qualms about declaring that Larry Summers had been right to claim that women were intrinsically inferior to men in sciences – using the much-disproved The Bell Curve by Herrnstein and Murray as his evidence. Or declaring that Harvard Professor and social activist Cornel West was using his race (he is African-American) to make money and avoid academic duties. Or saying that there was “no wealth gap” between men and women in America.
With the audience forced to wade through a swamp of ugly words like these, the atmosphere was certain to be angry. Even the professor introducing Horowitz was greeted with loud chants and boos, to say nothing of what Horowitz himself received. Horowitz actually left the room twice during his talk to talk with the university’s event organizing staff, who were respectful and gave us protesting three warnings – which we unfortunately expended, fortunately to no result. Insults flew back and forth from the supporting side of the room to the protesting side, as if we were in an old-Texas western gunfight of ideas.
But through the chaos, there were some important clear points that rose from the muck. Probably the most notable part of the presentation was when Professor Cloud herself stood during the Q&A session and explained to the audience that she kept her activist life separate from her classroom life, and emphasized the need to “teach students how to think” rather than what to think. When she asked Horowitz to explain how he could have so little faith as to think that students would stand by and let themselves be indoctrinated, Horowitz dodged the question and launched into a tirade (now available on YouTube!) in which he called the protestors “a zoo” (including a direct attack on Hooman himself) and left, with only three questions in the “Q&A session” having been answered.
The conclusions we get from Horowitz’s talk go further than his moral character or the weakness of his arguments. The man obviously resonates with someone, judging from the vocal welcome and defense he received from his supporters. What’s more, though, is that his racist, sexist talk get absorbed – a friend of mine was confronted by a supporter of Horowitz after the talk (to whom she had just apologized for insulting during the talk) and was told that she would “not be able to protest like that in Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, where she would not be respected.” As the daughter of two Muslim Arab parents, she was of course offended – what was being said by Horowitz about disrespect to her here? As long as people like Horowitz continue to spread a message of intolerance and propose a return to a societal ideal of white male rule, we must oppose them loudly, armed with the facts that they refuse to see.