September 24, 2010
Petition opposing Harvard's honoring of Marty Peretz
Dear organizers of the Social Studies 50th anniversary commemoration:
We regret the fact that the Social Studies program at Harvard University is choosing to honor Martin Peretz, given his long history promulgating bigotry and hatred. Such a decision sends the wrong message to Muslim students—indeed all students—at Harvard. It is a sad testament on the state of public discourse that sweeping generalizations that demonize Muslims as a group are not rebuffed in the strongest terms.
Most recently, Peretz publicly asserted that it is “a statement of fact, not value” that “Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims…So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.”1 It is impossible to imagine a more straightforward, open-and-closed demonstration of bigotry. Just picture the reaction if the word “Muslim” in that statement were replaced with “Jewish” or “black” or “Latino.” Peretz would (rightly) be scorned by all respectable institutions and certainly would be receiving no recognition from Harvard.
To be sure, once under fire, Peretz backtracked on the First Amendment claim and conceded that Muslims should have free speech rights. Tellingly, however, he repeated that he believed that Muslim life is cheap, most notably for Muslims2. Sadly, this incident is not the first for Peretz. He has a history of xenophobic comments, including the assertion that “Arab society” is “hidebound and backward”3 and that “We have higher standards of civilization than [Arabs] do.”4 He has stated that “Latin societ[ies]” enjoy “characteristic deficiencies” such as “congenital corruption” and “near-tropical work habits,”5 and that “So many in the black population are afflicted by cultural deficiencies.”6 Peretz should be isolated and the views he has expressed should not be lent any legitimacy—from Harvard or any other public institution.
Thus far, we remain unimpressed by the university's response and distressed by its lack of moral courage. We saw a similar posture when Martin Kramer said last year that Palestinian young men are “superfluous.”7 Once again, the attempt by university officials to distance themselves as individuals from the views expressed by Peretz, while at the same time defending the invitation, is puzzling.
We also remain unconvinced by the argument that this is a question of free speech. This is not a disagreement over Peretz's right to hold whatever views he wishes. Rather, it is a disagreement over the institutional decision to honor a person holding such views and create a fund in his name.
Repeatedly, we are being disappointed by our own university and seeing moral principles betrayed. We call upon the university, the Social Studies Program, and all those who are involved to exercise moral judgment by rescinding the invitation to honor Peretz.
Arab Caucus (Harvard Kennedy School)
Co-Chairs of Human Rights PIC (Afreen Akhter, Natalie Black, Katy Peters,
Elliott Prasse-Freeman, Harvard Kennedy School)
Co-chairs of Progressive Caucus (Jesse Lava, Jesse Wilderman, Emily Polak,
Harvard Kennedy School)
Harvard Longwood Muslims (umbrella organization for various groups at Harvard Medical School,
Public Health School, and Longwood hospitals)
HBS Islamic Society (Harvard Business School)
HBS MENA Club (Harvard Business School)
HKS Pakistan Student Group (Harvard Kennedy School)
HLS NAACP (Harvard Law School)
J Street U
Justice for Palestine (Harvard Law School)
Middle East Law Students Association (Harvard Law School)
Muslim Student Group (Harvard School of Public Health)
National Lawyers Guild (Harvard Law School)
Palestine Caucus (Harvard Kennedy School)
Progressive Jewish Alliance (Harvard College)