Category Archives: Rebuttal

A Reality Check on the “Distortion of Islam”: A Rebuttal to The Student Life

The Student Life recently published an article, “On the Distortion of Islam and the Muslim World,” in which the author discourages the use of the name ISIS/ISIL since this “gang of fools is neither Islamic nor a state.” Not only does the author claim that Islam is not to blame for the atrocities committed in its name, but he goes on to state that ISIS/ISIL is not an Islamic group at all, an assertion which flies in the face of reality.

ISIS started as a splinter group of al-Qaeda, one of the most infamous Islamic extremist groups in the world. The stated goal of ISIS/ISIL is to establish a worldwide Islamic caliphate. The areas it controls are ruled under strict Sharia law, and it threatens the non-Muslims in those areas with death if they do not convert to Islam. Its flag features the seal of Muhammad, underneath the words “There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of God” written in Arabic. Strictly speaking, ISIS/ISIL is an Islamic group since it bases everything it does off of its interpretation of Islam and the Qur’an.

Yet, the author claims that because “hundreds of Imams, leaders in the Muslim faith, have disavowed them and pleaded that they not be linked with their religion,” ISIS/ISIL is not an Islamic group. The author fails to acknowledge, however, that there are hundreds of Imams who either support or are active members of ISIS/ISIL. But even if we ignore this fact, the author’s argument here still makes no sense. He states that we should “give the word of these Imams the respect we would give Pope Francis,” but allowing these Imams to claim ISIS/ISIL isn’t Muslim is akin to letting Pope Francis claim that Catholics didn’t instigate the Spanish Inquisition. We shouldn’t allow these Imams to disassociate Islam from its more radical factions any more than we should allow the Pope to separate Catholicism from the atrocities committed in its name in the past.

The author believes that referring to ISIS/ISIL as an Islamic group gives people a bad impression of the religion as a whole. This is a valid concern, but the way to prevent it is not to be disingenuous about the religious affiliation of the group, but rather to acknowledge it while being proactive in educating people so they know that the views of ISIS/ISIL are not representative of all of Islam.

Furthermore, the author goes on to claim that, despite the common view that Islam creates hostile environments for women, LGBTQ people, and non-Muslims, it is a more of problem of culture, rather than religion. However, the idea that you can separate Islam from the culture of many countries in the Middle East is simply absurd.

There are still 10 countries in which homosexual acts are punishable by death: Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates. And there are vast cultural differences between. For example, look at the differences between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and between Nigeria and Qatar. The major common thread between these nations is that they all have Muslim majorities. These are not all Arab cultures, as the author tries to claim. Admittedly, if you look at the list of countries in which homosexuality is a non-capital offense, there are a number of non-Muslim countries included, but Muslim countries are still overrepresented, as countries with a Muslim majority make up about one-fourth of the world as a whole, yet over forty percent of the countries in which homosexuality is illegal. Moreover, the fact that other cultures are intolerant of homosexuality does not preclude the idea that Islam itself contributes to homophobia. To claim that these backwards views are completely independent of Islam in countries in which Islam is the predominant cultural influence is naive at best and dishonest at worst.

The record of treatment of women in communities with Muslim majorities has not been much better, from the severe curtailing of women’s rights in Iran after the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini to the honor killings of the Egyptian women suspected of inappropriate relations with men. Although the men responsible were later arrested, the killing is not the only one of its kind and is indicative of a culture with a backwards and repressive view of women.

Finally, the author states that “culture, not religion, dictates these norms and gender roles, which will change, if they are meant to, at their own pace and in their own time.” This is, perhaps, the most disheartening sentence in the entire article. The phrase “if they are meant to” seems to suggest that these backwards practices don’t necessarily need to change, and that they shouldn’t be open to criticism from those outside of the cultures practicing them. The author seems unconcerned by the fact that these injustices are affecting real people and destroying real lives. I’m sure that the woman being stoned to death for riding in a car with a man who wasn’t her husband is comforted by the author’s reassurance that her country will join the 21st century in its own time. I’m sure the gay couple who is in jail for daring to kiss in public would much rather have cultural change come about organically in twenty years rather than see Islam questioned. We rightfully criticize Christianity’s contribution to homophobia in the United States, so why shouldn’t we criticize Islam for doing the same in the Middle East?

All of this is not to say that Islam can singlehandedly lead someone down the path of intolerance. The fact that most of these countries have poor, relatively uneducated populations, combined with a religion whose holy book does—to a certain extent—advocate intolerance, creates a perfect storm. Although it is not the sole contributor, Islam has played a part in creating the oppressive cultures which exist in much of the Middle East and North Africa. Islam is neither the first nor the only belief system to engender intolerance, but it is the one that is in the world’s spotlight at the moment, and it is not wrong to discuss or question it.

When the majority of Egyptians, Indonesians, Moroccans, Pakistanis, and Palestinians say that they support strict Sharia law, we need to acknowledge that Islamic fundamentalism is not only more common than we might care to admit, but it is also a significant factor in enforcing extreme social conservatism in a significant portion of the world. To suggest that we shouldn’t criticize and encourage the abandonment of these backwards and oppressive cultural practices, and instead should patiently wait for the people committing honor killings and putting gay people in jail to stop doing so in their own time, is insulting to every single person in a Muslim country who suffers as a direct result of the backwards social standards fostered by Islam.

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Image Source: Wikipedia

A Free Market Defense of Plan B Vending Machines

By Chris Gaarder and Hannah Oh

Here at the Claremont Independent, we aim to kindle meaningful discussion by introducing less commonly held views on a variety of campus issues. In his latest opinion piece, Harry Arnold ‘17 expresses his views on the promotion of Pomona’s Plan B vending machine and its negative moral and social implications. However, we argue that, from an economic standpoint, there is a strong free market case to be made in defense of vending machines that sell Plan B, among other medical supplies, on America’s college campuses.

Plan B is a prime example of the near-infinite problems bedeviling our nation’s health care market, particularly when it comes to drug policy. Medical vending machines exemplify the positive changes occurring in America’s healthcare landscape in spite of federal policy.

On the whole, drugs are far too expensive and inaccessible for the average consumer. Part of this is due to the elaborate regulations and bureaucratic red tape promulgated by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The high cost of getting a new drug approved by the FDA is outrageous. Forbes has determined that it costs, on average, $350 million to get a new drug through the FDA to the market. Who pays for that? It isn’t the drug companies. Instead, the cost is shifted onto consumers directly, or indirectly through higher insurance premiums and taxes to cover those on government-provided health insurance programs.

When Plan B first came out as an over-the-counter drug, it cost up to $90 and averaged around $50. How were those prices set? It’s hard to tell due to our country’s historical lack of price transparency and competition for medical goods and services. When you go to your pharmacist or your doctor, you pay whatever price they set. And the system is built against allowing consumers to shop around. With all the distortions and opacity in the healthcare market, these prices are often arbitrary and highly inflated. Some people don’t mind paying a higher price, but most price-conscious consumers would prefer to pay less.

Today we are in the midst of one of the first major shifts of market forces into healthcare. If allowed to continue, it could prove to be the best thing that ever happened to healthcare, and Corporate America is leading the way.

In recent years, big-box retail corporations have realized that there is serious money to be made in providing health care services and products, ranging from simple flu shots to a wide range of prescription drugs. Target, for example, utilizes its immense purchasing power, operating efficiency, and tight profit margin to deliver the same drugs as pharmacies and hospitals at a much lower price.

Transparent store prices breed competition on factors including price, quality, and convenience. Unlike with pharmacies and hospitals, consumers who buy drugs at chain stores, such as Target, Rite-Aid, or WalMart, are able to easily compare among the various providers to find the best price. On college campuses, vending machines provide yet another source of competition for over-the-counter drugs.

IMG_0526Vending machines for Plan B are an innovative way to provide around-the-clock access and competitive pricing. With vending machines, no direct intermediary is necessary for purchase. You simply insert money and receive your desired product, at any time of day (especially important given the time-sensitive nature of Plan B). Vending machines also provide college students a level of convenience similar to what big box retailers provide real-world consumers. Convenience is valuable itself, a non-monetary form of competition.

By providing emergency contraception via vending machines, colleges are more efficiently meeting student demand. The Pomona College administration did not invent the Plan B vending machine: the Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC) played an integral role in introducing the concept and formalizing the final proposal. The desire for a vending machine that distributes Plan B arose from students concerned that the drug is not available at night or over the weekend. Student Health Services, the only Plan B provider on campus, is closed during those times. To address this shortcoming, Pomona students initiated a viable solution that won widespread support.

Students at Claremont McKenna College are only now engaging in a meaningful discussion about Pomona’s policy change, and that’s because of Harry’s article. His article promotes one of the many perspectives that exist among right-leaning students. His is more conservative, ours more libertarian.

The Claremont Independent staff remains divided on this issue, but we hope that, in any case, we are able to spark a thoughtful dialogue on campus, perhaps beyond Plan B, vending machines, and Skittles, that sheds further light on the morality of commoditizing emergency contraception, the social consequences of our college hookup culture, and the economic fundamentals behind improving student access.

The Scripps Silence: A Rebuttal to the Scripps Voice

The Scripps Voice, the official student newspaper of Scripps College, came out in support of the college’s decision to suppress the voices of those on campus with whom it disagrees.

George Will

In its Oct. 16 issue, the newspaper featured a breathtakingly laudatory editorial in response to the Scripps administration’s decision to disinvite conservative columnist George Will from speaking on campus over a June 6 column that he wrote about sexual assault.

“The Scripps Voice stands behind – and applauds – the College’s decision,” the editorial reads.

The newspaper makes several arguments regarding why the college was justified in rescinding Will’s invitation to speak.

First, the editorial claims that “sexual assault is a bipartisan issue” about which there is no room for reasonable disagreement. On its face, there is some truth to this argument. Sexual assault is absolutely not a political question in the same way that, for instance, abortion is. Conservatives and liberals generally disagree about whether abortion is an inherently evil act, whereas both sides believe that sexual assault is always wrong.

But Will clearly was not arguing about the moral merits and detriments of the actual act of sexual assault in his column. Rather, he wrote about which acts deserve to be given the very serious label of “sexual assault,” which cultural institutions (or lack thereof) sexual assault is most prevalent under, and what our judicial response to sexual assault should be. These are questions surely up for political debate and discussion – ones about which conservative and liberal principles and philosophy are generally in disagreement.

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 4.42.43 PMThus, Will was disinvited from speaking on campus because of his conservative views toward the issue sexual assault – in a guest lecture series designed to promote conservative views on campus – because the Scripps College administration personally disagreed with those political views.

It should also be instructional that only liberals and progressives are using the “sexual assault is a bipartisan issue” line. Where are the conservatives making the supposedly bipartisan argument that there is no room to disagree about political questions tangentially related to sexual assault?

Second, the editorial argues that allowing Will to speak after writing such a column would be harmful to the Scripps community, as it would trigger the past traumas of sexual assault survivors.

Yet, the Voice fails to mention that the only reason they are writing about Will’s column is because the Scripps administration chose to disinvite him from speaking on campus. Many people on this campus – perhaps among them survivors of sexual assault – only read Will’s initial column because of the political brouhaha that ensued after the disinvitation was revealed.

scripps sealWill’s column would not have been required reading had he simply been allowed to come and speak on campus, nor would attendance at the talk have been mandatory, and it is very likely that the only mention of sexual assault would have been during the Q&A session. It can be argued that the Scripps administration did more to trigger past traumas by rescinding Will’s invitation than they would have by letting him speak. (Of course, in its defense, the administration was probably counting on nobody finding out about the disinvitation.)

Third, and most fallaciously, the editorial argues that, because Will’s First Amendment rights were not violated by the disinvitation, he was not really “censored.”

Aside from the fact that no one is claiming that Will’s First Amendment rights were violated, this is a very dubious argument – and a bit of a troubling one coming from a newspaper with the word “voice” in its name. Perhaps it is best rebutted by a simple thought experiment.

Hypothetically speaking, were the Scripps administration to, say, take a stack of the most recent edition of the Scripps Voice and throw it into the trash, perhaps because it disagreed with one of the articles, would the Scripps Voice claim that they had been censored?

One need not think long on this question, because that is exactly what the newspaper claimed to have happened last year, when it intentionally left its Feb. 17 issue’s front cover blank in order to protest “student censorship” on campus.

It is ridiculous to think that political censorship can only exist within the sphere of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. Just because it is not an American governmental entity doing the censoring does not mean that one has not been censored.

Finally, while the arguments raised by the Scripps Voice are far from persuasive, they are also straw men.

The real question up for debate here is not whether George Will expressed a conservative point of view, if what he wrote was insensitive, or if Scripps technically “censored” him by rescinding his invitation from campus, but whether the university can fulfill its primary purpose of creating critical thinkers and responsible citizens by presenting only one side of any given argument.

Is the modern-day university doing its students a disservice by shielding them from opinions about which they may disagree and that they may find hurtful? Can the academy properly function while only presenting certain acceptable points of view for debate and discussion?

You won’t find out by reading the Scripps Voice.

The Farce of Two CMCs: A Rebuttal to The Student Life

In today’s knowledge-based economy, higher education has become increasingly important in influencing social and economic prosperity. Unfortunately, education is an opportunity that is still not afforded to many. In an effort to alleviate this problem, colleges have tried to implement policies such as affirmative action to increase racial diversity. To increase socio-economic diversity, they have used tools such as Pell Grants and need blind admissions. In the TSL’s “A Tale of Two CMCs,” Carlos Ballesteros argues that CMC has actively sought to exclude low-income minority students from the student body. Ballesteros points out that, as international student admission numbers have risen, the admission of low-income minority students has fallen. This is relevant since CMC does not offer any financial aid to international students outside of merit scholarships, implying that international students have financial means that many others do not. He also states that, as this change has occurred, the college has simultaneously ended relations with Quest Bridge and Posse (two highly selective scholarship programs for low-income minorities). This, Ballesteros argues, supports his belief that CMC is cynically replacing low-income students with wealthy international students. There are, however, two problems in his analysis.

At the beginning of the article, Ballesteros tries to establish an implausible causal link in the general correlation between the rise of international students and decrease in low-income students; however, as we are told so many times in our statistics classes, correlation does not signify causation. A more plausible hypothesis could be that the overall number of low-income students applying to CMC has decreased in the aftermath of the Great Recession. According to the College Board’s college guidance outlines, many first generation students are not very knowledgeable about the college application process and/or are pressured to enter the workforce earlier. Keeping this in mind, due to the Great Recession and the slow recovery afterward, many low-income students probably entered the workforce instead of going to college, or opted for a more practical, skill-based education at a larger state school. Furthermore, research has shown that low-income students are less likely to apply to college in general (Fitzgerald and Delaney 2002; McDonough 1997; McDonough 1998), and are also less likely to enroll at more elite colleges (Bowen and Bok 1998; Hurtado et al. 1997)

Ballesteros also fails to give a full picture of economic diversity by limiting the scope of argument to the number of Pell grant recipients,. This is because Pell grants are fundamentally limited in their ability to measure economic diversity. Pell Grants are granted based on financial need versus cost of the school, and up to $50,000 in income. The maximum amount of funds that a student can receive through Pell grants amounts to exactly $5730. This equates to approximately 13% of CMC’s $45,000 tuition. Considering that this is such a small portion of CMC’s tuition, it is conceivable that falling Pell grant rates might actually mean that many low-income students are simply pursuing better scholarship options. Ballesteros’ argument also presupposes that the decreasing numbers of Pell grant recipients enrolled at CMC automatically implies a decrease in “economic diversity.” However, as David Leonhardt of Upshot says, “A college that enrolls many students from families making $75,000 a year may be somewhat more economically diverse than a college with an identical share of Pell recipients but fewer middle-income students.” Therefore, a better, more accurate measure of economic diversity would be calculating the number of students in each income bracket.

Additionally, Ballesteros critiques CMC’s decision to end partnerships with Questbridge and Posse as another example of CMC replacing low-income students with international ones. For those who do not know, Questbridge and Posse are full scholarship programs for low-income, high-achieving students and only partner with 35 and 51 colleges, respectively (which is a very small percentage of the 3500+ degree granting institutions in the US). Questbridge and Posse, while great programs, are also highly competitive. According to statistics from the Questbridge website, in 2013 there were 12,818 applicants to the Questbridge program. Of those applying, only 440 became finalists who were offered admission and college match scholarships. If considered a finalist, Questbridge will match the student to a partner school that they believe is a good fit for them. Many low-income students believe that Questbridge and other related programs are the only way to pay for college, but, in fact, if these students applied to many of the partner schools independently, they would have a better chance of attending that school. This is because many colleges, like CMC, offer 100% of demonstrated need. By ending their partnership with Questbridge and Posse, CMC (whose admissions are need-blind) allows low-income students to apply directly to the school they wish to attend and have a better chance to receive the money they need to attend college.

Finally, the author proposes that one solution to alleviating the decreasing number of low-income students enrolled in CMC is an income-based affirmative action policy as a solution that, like race-based affirmative action, only treats the symptoms of a broken education system. Educational equality goes beyond equating the number of students admitted in one demographic to students admitted of another demographic. The author’s entire argument falsely rests upon the assumption that the only diversity international kids bring is in the different currencies they carry. I would like to point out that, regardless of socio-economic background, international students come from an entirely different country. They bring different perspectives and experiences, which no American, regardless of socio-economic background or race could replicate. Surely, need-blind admissions policy, which CMC has, coupled with educational system reform, is a more equitable solution.

Bigotry at the Ath: A Response to the CMC Forum

In the opening line of her recent Forum piece “Why is CMC Promoting Racism and Sexism?” CMC Freshman Liat Kaplan wrote, “I’m not going to summarize political scientist Charles Murray’s recent Ath talk here because if I do, the stress will probably give me a heart attack.” Bracketing a discussion of Kaplan’s coronary arteries, it’s clear that Kaplan should have consulted her notes on the talk – if she took any. Kaplan’s portrayal of Charles Murray’s Athenaeum talk is as false as her ill-thought-out cries of bigotry.

Kaplan asserts that during his speech Murray claimed “that poor people, especially people of color, are genetically predisposed to be less intelligent,” – a thesis which appears in Murray’s 1994 text The Bell Curve. This assertion is factually inaccurate, and wildly so. The subject of Murray’s Ath talk was his more-recent book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, a study on class inequality. Murray clarified in the first five minutes of his speech that he excluded race from consideration in Coming Apart, in order to pinpoint the effect of college admissions on class inequality. The words “The Bell Curve” never left Murray’s mouth.

As a preface to his talk, Murray carefully noted that he was only presenting sociological evidence, not a normative stance on the issue of class inequality. It is difficult to reconcile this very overt sidestep of ethical issues with Kaplan’s claim that in Murray’s address “whole swaths of humanity [were] categorically deemed inferior.” The only very vaguely sexist thing Murray said, over the entire course of the talk, was that wives tend to civilize husbands and make them more productive; however, he noted that this was putting “not too fine a point on it,” and added the caveat that this thesis was only one explanation for the empirical truth that married men tend to be more economically productive than their unmarried counterparts.

What claims did Murray make at the Ath? During his talk, Murray focused exclusively on his thesis in Coming Apart, which is that the new upper class and lower class which have formed in America diverge more sharply than ever before in terms of core values like family and community life. The causal story which Murray emphasized in his Ath talk was that the college admissions process tends to concentrate high-IQ persons together at elite colleges and universities, where they often marry each other, become members of the new upper class and have children who lead sheltered lives in their upper class social bubble. Members of the new upper class, on Murray’s account, are typically insulated from an authentic understanding of the lives of their lower-class counterparts, which poses a grave problem for democracy since, in most cases, America’s governing elite wind up being members of the new upper class – individuals with little understanding of the lives of their constituents.

A crucial point here is that Murray’s thesis in Coming Apart is compatible with a wide range of normative stances. Murray seemed to indicate that he didn’t favor a class of elites who had never lived outside the bubble, but rather thought that a healthy democracy required its leaders to understand the lives of all their constituents. This remarkably progressive vision strongly contradicts the elitism Kaplan attempts to read into Murray’s argument. And although The Bell Curve did not feature in Murray’s talk, a similar principle applies. Even if one accepts the empirical truth that average IQ varies along ethnic lines, one can still, of course, recognize that the evolutionary and historical forces which contributed to racial IQ disparities were arbitrary and oppressive, respectively – and ought to be corrected for through affirmative action or educational reform, for instance. The bottom line is that Murray’s Ath talk involved statistical data, not the highly offensive ethical claims Kaplan thought she heard. The reason students didn’t angrily condemn Murray as a racist or a sexist during the Q & A is that he didn’t defend anything even remotely close to a “racist” or “sexist” position.

My last Claremont Independent article argued that the censorship of oppressive viewpoints is virtually never justified, and, coincidentally, considered Murray’s The Bell Curve. So instead of critiquing Kaplan’s views on censorship here, I’d like to conclude this article with a discussion of the problem of bigotry.

In her article, Kaplan repeatedly characterized Murray as a bigot. A bigot is defined as “a person who strongly and unfairly dislikes other people, ideas, etc.” While Murray’s views may not align with Kaplan’s own, they emphatically do not make him a bigot.

Each of Murray’s views is the result of fair and thoughtful consideration – for instance, Murray recently changed his mind, on reflection and decided to support the legalization of abortion and same-sex marriage. Charles Murray is remarkably open-minded for a man Kaplan essentializes as a racist, sexist, “old white rich man who thinks that women and people of color are inferior beings.” Indeed, Murray is far more open-minded than Kaplan herself. While Murray grounds his viewpoints in statistical evidence and careful reflection, Kaplan writes angry tirades only marginally evidenced by a single peremptory Google search. While Murray favors the open exchange of conflicting viewpoints (and explicitly thanked Claremont McKenna for hosting exactly that kind of exchange at the Athenaeum), Kaplan favors a McCarthy-esque policy of censoring individuals with whom she harbors moral disagreement. Consequently, the true bigot in this episode is Kaplan. If Kaplan genuinely felt Murray’s talk dehumanized and devalued her as a human person, she has some serious soul searching to do.

Lone Star Farce: A Response to the Claremont Port Side

In what will be the most high-profile gubernatorial race of the year, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott looks to succeed the 14-year incumbent Rick Perry, who has led the Lone Star State to the pinnacle of economic prosperity. Abbott’s Democratic opponent will be State Sen. Wendy Davis, who ascended to national fame in 2013 by filibustering a strict Texas abortion bill that ultimately became law. Unless Abbott catastrophically implodes, the governor’s mansion is unequivocally projected to remain in Republican hands. Regardless, liberals nationwide have seized this opportunity to advance their agenda of exposing misogynistic elitism and the oppression of women.

The Claremont Port Side appears to have drunk the Kool-Aid. In an article titled “Lone Star Democrat – Why Texas Can’t Handle Wendy Davis,” published in the magazine’s recent “Feminism Issue,” the two authors embark on a variety of uncoordinated tangents and proffer a series of unsubstantiated claims regarding the gubernatorial race. As a consequence, the article’s account of the gubernatorial race is misleading, and skews political realities to accommodate their narrative of Republicans unfairly persecuting Davis.

Throughout the article, the authors advance the idea that “republicans are desperate to slander Davis’ character” because “an ambitious woman threatens men.” However, this assessment rests on a painfully superficial understanding of Texas politics. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), the first female Senator to represent the Lone Star State, recently retired after a very successful 20-year congressional tenure. Her enormous popularity was exhibited by the fact that she nearly defeated Rick Perry in a 2010 GOP primary challenge for governor.

Other women who have made significant inroads into the Texas political scene include two current justices of the Texas Supreme Court, Eva Guzman (R-TX) and Debra Lehrmann (R-TX), both of whom have been elected with wide margins. Moreover, Nandita Berry (R-TX), recently became the first Indian-American and one of only a handful of women to serve as the Texas Secretary of State.

In an obvious way, these women are all living, breathing examples of how “women can stand up for themselves in Texas.” They are indicative of the fact that oppression of women in Texas politics is neither systematic nor commonplace. As a result, the Port Side’s underlying theme that Davis will suffer in the general election due to an anti-female political environment holds little to no merit. She’ll suffer in the general all right, but she’ll lose on policy – not as a victim of insidious structural oppression against women.

Nevertheless, the authors seek to crystallize on this point, claiming that “by virtue of her being a woman, Davis endures far more scrutiny than male politicians.” Yet the only concrete example provided of unfair criticism directed at Davis is an isolated incident in South Carolina (note: South Carolina), where former state Republican Party Director Todd Kincannon made a series of offensive and ill-advised comments.

I wholeheartedly agree that Mr. Kincannon’s slanderous Twitter campaign was despicable – but one cherry-picked extreme case from another state does not prove a rule. Here’s an alternative narrative that coheres with all the facts: conservatives are critiquing Davis because she’s a liberal progressive, and investigating the accuracy of her personal story because (and let’s be absolutely clear on this point!) she’s playing the game of politics.

Greg Abbott, a paraplegic, has been subject to equally venomous slander from the Davis camp.

Battleground Texas, a liberal group composed of veteran Obama campaign officials, seeks to help elect an increasing number of Democrats in the Lone Star State, Davis included. A recent undercover video exposed members of the organization mocking Abbott for his disability and confinement to a wheelchair. The legitimacy of the video is validated by the fact that it merited a response from Davis herself, who quickly condemned the video’s cruel language.

Wendy Davis has undoubtedly received brash, unwarranted criticism that lacks any possible justification; however, liberals such as those at the Port Side appear to suffer from severe tunnel vision, believing that they are the only victims of political foul play. This is a dubious proposition considering the aforementioned criticism direct at Abbott, which was sadistic and beyond the realm of reason. Remember: this is politics we’re talking about.

The authors conclude their disparate series of observations by offering the prediction that the “conservative backlash against Davis” will be “pervasive enough to significantly impact the gubernatorial election.” Once again, this assertion simply is not grounded within the realm of reality, and is nothing more than wishful thinking.

For months, Abbott has held a comfortable double digit lead over Davis, one that is not expected to dissipate anytime soon. Perhaps the most damning reality for liberals is the fact that no Democrat has been elected to a statewide office in Texas since 1994. In today’s deeply polarized political environment, the chances of Davis upsetting the status quo are minimal at best.

While those at the Claremont Port Side may believe that Davis will be able to remain a “viable political candidate in Texas,” we at the Claremont Independent hold a more rational perspective.

Barring a move to another state, Davis will likely disappear into political abyss following a decisive defeat this fall. This is due to the fact that the current political environment in Texas, coupled with the limited lifespan of political candidacies, will effectively mitigate Davis’s chances of ascending from her state senate seat to any statewide office.

Brandishing the victim card and angrily appealing to the oppression of women, while classic feminist strategies, are ultimately ineffective at securing concrete political outcomes – at least in Texas. In addition to energizing the Republican base, polarizing feminist rhetoric will alienate many independent voters, which are critical in a general election. So don’t be surprised when Abbott sends Davis into political oblivion this November.

In Defense of the Independent

The Claremont Independent has come under fire recently. Not only were several copies of our most recent issue physically torn apart on the Scripps campus for brandishing the sign of the devil (the drawing on the cover was of the GOP elephant), but the magazine also found itself being torn apart within the opinion pages of The Student Life, where one columnist opined on what he found most “incredulous” about the Independent.

It is worth pointing out that we believe it a complete coincidence that the columnist only stopped to share his thoughts about the Independent after it published a not-so-flattering rebuttal to one of his previous columns, in which he urged the Claremont Colleges to join in the American Studies Association’s boycott of Israeli academic institutions. But, ulterior motives aside, the author’s criticisms of the magazine hold both little weight and scant coherence. From the top:

First, the author notes his disappointment that “the magazine was not at all the source of libertarian or even classically conservative journalism that it claimed to be,” which assumes that we claim to be anything at all. If the author had taken the time to read our mission statement, talk to any of our magazine’s leadership or staff, or even read closely the name of the magazine (ClaremontIndependent”), this initial disappointment could have easily been avoided.

Second, the author censures the Independent as “…just another digest of popular Republican Party talking points,” no doubt referring to our piece about Republicans’ increasing odds of taking back the Senate in the upcoming midterm elections; however, this criticism does not have a leg on which to stand. Analyzing trends, polling data, and candidates to form an election forecast is hardly the same thing as espousing “Republican Party talking points.” In fact, since publishing our article, The Economist, The Atlantic, and Nate Silver’s “Big Data” website, 538, have published articles concurring in our view. We look forward to an upcoming TSL column deriding these media outlets as nothing more than purveyors of “Republican Party talking points.”

Third, and perhaps most bizarre, the author claims that he – by taking the stance that the Claremont Colleges should boycott Israeli universities – is the true standard-bearer of the classically conservative spirit, and the Independent does “a disservice to the real principles of conservatism and libertarianism when they champion the intellectually bankrupt Republican platform.” Furthermore, the author blames this perversion of “true” conservatism, to which perversion the Independent has purportedly succumbed, on none other than Ronald Reagan (for reasons unknown).

Rather than squarely address the rebuttal that the Independent wrote of his column, the author shifts the battle to one over undefined terminology. This shift to the undefined and infinitely flexible has a rhetorical purpose: it helps the author avoid a fact-based discussion and replace the real debate with a series of random and incoherent bursts of unsubstantiated assertion that simply tend to shut-down understanding, if only because the reader can’t imagine where to try to begin. But try we must.

The only hint that the author gives about what he might mean by “conservative” is that he appears to see liberty as its end goal: “…the Claremont Colleges should embrace the ASA boycott because in doing so, they will be contributing to the preservation of what the liberal arts are truly about: liberty.” But if the supposedly “conservative” principle of boycotting Israeli universities is simply a means toward the end goal of “liberty” (a dubious proposition through and through, but we’ll play along with it), then that would not make the principle conservative in the classical sense at all. Rather, it would almost by definition be liberal in the classical sense (or based on ideas rooted in liberty).

Furthermore, perhaps it is worth asking from whence the author gets the bold idea that pre-Reagan conservatives often took anti-Israel stances. Even if one were to take his claim that perversion of the Republican Party began with Reagan at face value, then would the author have us believe that, say, Richard Nixon was a relentless antagonist of Israel? That’s a somewhat curious suggestion. It is now well known that President Nixon – a die-hard, pre-Reagan Republican – threatened thermo-nuclear war (by raising the alert status of U.S. nuclear forces worldwide) to protect Israel and to deter Soviet intervention on the side of an attacking Egyptian army during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Is that the move of a conservative who would want to boycott Israeli academics? Did the writings of the influential and legendary conservative scholar Irving Kristol, who is also Jewish, indicate some sort of pre-Reagan maliciousness toward Israel? Or maybe the author believes that the father of modern American conservatism and National Review founder William F. Buckley, who was so deeply fond of Israel that he proposed in 1972 that it become the 51st state, secretly held very anti-Israeli sentiments.

Both in the perfectly malleable and therefore incoherent definition of conservatism he advances and in the entire history he completely overlooks, the author leads his helpless readers on a disorienting tour through the unexplored recesses of his own intellectual idiosyncrasies. But perhaps more important, this debate illustrates exactly why academic freedom should not be treated like just another piece on a political chessboard. By engaging with the author and pointing out the blatant flaws in his reasoning, we actually do more to alleviate fallacious speech than by allowing it to fester beneath the surface unchecked (as Clay Spence expands upon in this issue’s cover article). If the purpose of the liberal arts is to liberate the masses, then its instrument in doing so is truth. And we can only arrive at truth when the free exchange of ideas goes unfettered and academic freedom reigns supreme.

[This article has been edited to correct a misquote in the article referenced. The Claremont Independent regrets this error.]

Boycotting Israeli Academics? A Response to TSL

The American Studies Association (ASA), a scholarly group that publishes American Quarterly, announced in a statement Dec. 16 that it “endorses and will honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. It is also resolved that the ASA supports the protected rights of students and scholars everywhere to engage in research and public speaking about Israel-Palestine and in support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.”

The ASA’s statement was strongly criticized by the greater world of academia, with dozens of universities and university presidents, including Pomona’s President Oxtoby, condemning the move. President Sean Decatur of Kenyon College stated that the boycott contradicted the concept of academic freedom, which he defined as “the unfettered exchange of ideas.”

This response repudiated the burgeoning movement in some realms of academia to define academic freedom as “the unfettered exchange of ideas – so long as those ideas adhere to a left-liberal orthodoxy. If not, utilize the existence of right-leaning beliefs to infer a degree of moral turpitude upon the person and engage in thinly veiled ad hominem.”

Admittedly this interpretation was also limited by its verbosity, but it still apparently holds some sway in the precincts of Pomona College, where an Opinions writer in the Feb. 7 issue of The Student Life took issue with President Oxtoby and dozens of other universities’ stance on the importance of academic freedom.

There seems to be some confusion on the part of this column about the facts on the ground. The author declared that Israel has “one of the most illiberal systems of education,” but then completely failed to mention a single university located inside the nation of Israel and seemed to interpret border security measures between warring states as a direct attack on Palestinian academia, and not as a larger part of being in a state of combat. In addition, the author does not mention that, at Israeli universities, students are admitted regardless of ethnicity or faith. Nor does the author mention that these institutions actually practice affirmative action to increase Arab attendance. In addition, the “most illiberal” charge becomes laughable when one considers that Israel has a free press and strongly independent judiciary, and that most of its neighbors are dictatorships that do impose limits on the press and academics, and engage in actual political oppression (see Iran’s hanging of sexual and political dissidents; Egypt’s targeting of Christians; everything Syria has done recently, etc.).

This confusion continues as the author notes that Israel’s activities “have been likened to those of South African apartheid.” The passive voice here is important, because the author can simply make the insinuation without substantiating it in any way. To clarify, ethnic minorities in Israel can serve in government, vote, and benefit from Israeli social services. The only conceivable similarity is that the bulk of Palestinians are physically separated from the Israelis, but unlike South Africa, their separation stems from the fact that they have two (or three, depending on how one categorizes the Hamas-Fatah split) de facto national governments and distinct, if disputed, territory. The two are in conflict with one another, but the history, attitudes, and policies are very different from those in South Africa.

The writer also trotted out a point that claims Israel has violated more UN resolutions than any other nation. What he does not explain is that these resolutions were issued primarily by the General Assembly, a generally petty and vindictively political body, and were also non-binding, a term that should not need defining but apparently has some nuance that escaped our TSL author. The only thing this little statistic tells us is that the General Assembly has a disproportionate interest in the nation of Israel. In addition, the UN frequently ignores the transgressions of its authoritarian member-states in favor of attacking the politically vulnerable. For example, in a recent report, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child condemned the Holy See for its treatment of children and further demanded that the Vatican abandon several of its long-held political and moral positions in favor of the UN doctrine. It is rather surprising that this was the most pressing issue for this UN committee, but considering that it is made up of members from human rights stalwarts such as Russia, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Tunisia, Sri Lanka, Egypt, and until last year, Syria, its judgments should probably just be held as sacrosanct. In reality, however, the UN is hardly an authoritative body to appeal to in this instance.

None of this is to say that Israel is blameless, or that it has not committed transgressions in this conflict. Very few countries can actually claim and hold the moral high ground, and attempting to develop a simple “good/bad” dichotomy, on either side, serves no practical purpose. To do so would simply drive one party from the negotiating table. This is the primary issue with the ASA’s boycott and the TSL author’s support for it. The boycott attempts to ideologically isolate one side, which will likely lead to belief polarization and continued conflict. This is a region with political, religious and ethnic conflicts that span millennia. However, the TSL author seems to think that isolating Israel further will make them more likely to negotiate. This seems unlikely, because while the author heavily emphasized the Palestinian liberty interests, he failed to note that the Israelis also have pressing liberty and security concerns. The Israelis are already isolated, considering that countries that they have fought against on multiple occasions in the last 70 years surround them. In addition, several of their neighbors have also denied their right to exist at various points in time. Isolating them further will not convince them of the security of their position, nor is it at all justified in the context of this conflict. Free academic exchanges will keep international influence ensconced in both countries and improve the likelihood of a real solution. Only an incredibly tendentious reading of history can justify defining this conflict in an absurdly simple and dualistic manner and make a boycott a reasonable response. A real solution means bringing both sides into negotiations, not just one.

[This article has been edited to reflect the fact that The Student Life article referenced is an opinion piece rather than a news article.]