Glasgow Caledonian University 1: Princeton & Harvard 0
Disclaimer: I went to a “Liberal Arts” college for my undergraduate degree. And, no, “Liberal” does not connote leftist, godless, pagan, hedonist potheads (though I’m not judging those either). Instead, it suggests that an educated person, for the sake of general civil engagement and, at times, for elocution, is sufficiently exposed to a breadth of the humanities so as to not be incapable of logical formation and engagement. One of the values of exposure to the humanities is the resulting capacity to critique your own experience and participate in public debate without coming across as illiterate.
This week’s alumni performance by the Hon. President Hassan Fereydoun Rouhani of the Islamic Republic of Iran (graduate of Glasgow Caledonian University) and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) of his imagined Evangelical Republic of Texas (graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law) served as an exceptional example of the dysfunction of our ‘civil society’. The quotes below were both, in part, pandering to an illiterate electorate. Whether you’re an anti-Semitic revolutionary in Iran or a Bible thumping, tea-swilling patriot in Texas, the likelihood that you’ll spend much more time in contemplation than the few milliseconds it takes to figure out that “that guy sounds funny” as you reach for your god-given-right-to-bear-arms pistol that you’re packing is pretty slim.
When seeking to describe the profound injustice associated with the idea that a society should have a mechanism where the citizens of a country have to pay for their ravenous consumption of industrial medicine (you’ll notice I will not use the term “health” or “care” as we’re not predisposed to either), Senator Cruz compared the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148) to a Nazi state behavior.
"You go to the 1940s, Nazi Germany. Look, we saw in Britain, Neville Chamberlain who told the British people, accept the Nazis. Yes, they'll dominate the continent of Europe but that's not our problem. Let's appease them. Why? Because it can't be done. We can't possibly stand against them.
"I suspect those same pundits who say defunding Obamacare can't be done, if it had been in the 1940s, we would have been listening to them. They would have been saying we cannot defeat the Germans."
What Ted apparently failed to attend or flunked out of in Princeton and clearly neglected in Harvard Law School was any course that would have taught him that rhetoric, if designed to be taken seriously and critically, must not be prima facie (that’s Latin for those of you who know who you are) falsifiable. Neville Chamberlain was actually holding onto a global desire for peace that following the First World War had given rise to the League of Nations. In 1938, as the Third Reich was seeking to annex Sudetenland (a German majority region of Czechoslovakia that had been created under the Versailles Settlement), Chamberlain desperately sought to avoid an all-out war in Europe. Advocating for the avoidance of conflict is not cowering. In fact, Mr. Cruz, it was Chamberlain who actually sought a moral advantage over actual immorality in Germany. Oh, and Chamberlain was not in the 1940s – his Munich Agreement was in 1938. But you would have known that if you were a scholar of history.
Which leads me to my second Nazi Germany reference. When asked if he subscribed to the denial of the Holocaust like his predecessor, President Hassan Fereydoun Rouhani stated that his posture was not to comment on the history (ambiguous in whether he meant the 1930-40s or whether he meant President Ahmadinejad’s reckless rants) but he went on to make a lucid and morally unambiguous response evidencing an argument for apolitical basic human values.
"I have said before that I am not a historian and historians should specify, state and explain the aspects of historical events, but generally we fully condemn any kind of crime committed against humanity throughout the history, including the crime committed by the Nazis both against the Jews and non-Jews, the same way that if today any crime is committed against any nation or any religion or any people or any belief, we condemn that crime and genocide. Therefore, what the Nazis did is condemned, (but) the aspects that you talk about, clarification of these aspects is a duty of the historians and researchers, I am not a history scholar.”
So here we sit. We have a U.S. Senator Holocaust trivializer (suggesting the genocide is comparable to having to pay for your x-rays and over-priced pharmaceuticals) and an Iranian President “fully condemning any kind of crime committed against humanity throughout the history.” Lest you think that this is mere theater and politically posturing, think again. It is reprehensible to think that the United States Senate is insufficiently constituted to allow hate speak in 2013. It is even more reprehensible that major news outlets failed to celebrate the substance of President Rouhani’s statement choosing instead to focus on his statement that he was not a scholar of history. He acknowledge “the crime committed by Nazis both against Jews and non-Jews.” This is an amazing step forward for a member of the Supreme National Security Council and Expediency Council.
Our world and its economy our destabilized by reckless rhetoric. When uninformed, we react to hyperbolic diatribes rather than engage in thoughtful discourse, we create schisms which frequently lead to great instability. Senator Cruz brought dishonor on the American people and the institution of the Legislative branch. President Rouhani took a giant leap forward for an Iranian President (angering his revolutionary opponents at home) to open a door for appeasement. Who is Chamberlain? Who is Hitler? Who are Germans, Americans, Iranians? Let’s let history serve as a teaching metaphor so, through it we may learn to build a More Perfect Union.
Final Note. Near the corner of 25th and Madison in Manhattan is the Memorial to the Victims of the Holocaust Injustice. This amazing memorial sculpted by Harriet Feigenbaum is emblazoned with the quote:
“Indifference to Injustice is the Gate to Hell”.
For those of you who still value humanity and the celebration of our finest moments as well as our most despicable, I commend its visiting to you. Its subtle presence is disarming but its impact reminds us all to be human.