Stevenson Mistaken In Praises of Rushdie
I would like to bring the argument presented in "In Defense of Blasphemy" [Counterpoint, Jan. 1994], to a more constructive level by clarifying my position and pointing out three major flaws in Daniel C. Stevenson's recent column in The Tech ["Rushdie, not Martin, Deserves Respect," Feb. 8].
First, Stevenson not only incorrectly assumes that I respect both Salman Rushdie and Wellesley Professor Tony Martin, but also assumes that I support the usage of the controversial text The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews (written by The Nation of Islam, not Martin himself, as Stevenson incorrectly asserts) in his history class. If Stevenson read my article carefully, he would have noticed that I wrote that "the question over The Secret Relationship and the new The Jewish Onslaught: Despatches from the Wellesley Battlefront is a question of scholarship."
Thus, I feel that there is a clear distinction between freedom of speech and academic freedom, but I am vehemently opposed to any speech codes. An example of a speech code would be if Wellesley College decided to ban "insensitive speech." As I wrote in my article, "it is more dangerous however to suppress these ideas and drive them undercover than they be confronted head-on, in public." Presently, Martin's usage of the text and his inflammatory public statements are being battled with more free speech, as they should be.
Second, Stevenson is mistaken in his assertion that "Rushdie, not Martin, deserves respect." Neither "deserves" respect. One does not deserve respect for contributing to the archives of world hate-literature. Although Stevenson, in his ecstatic fondness of Rushdie, tries to justify his advocacy of granting respect to Rushdie by stating that his "literary greatness stems mainly from his other works," the same argument could be made for Martin, whose "greatness" and position of tenured professorship at Wellesley College is mainly due to his research on Marcus Garvey. It is interesting that Stevenson respects The Satanic Verses, which is taught in a Wellesley English class, by calling it fiction with a "possible historical setting" and feels that the author "champions the right to express controversial opinions." The same can be said about bigots like Martin. Stevenson should not advocate respect for these bigots. Rather, he should speak out against all bigotry (i.e. not be selective), as he proudly claims he was raised to do.
Third, Stevenson repeatedly mistook me for a "he" in his column. Although a valid guess, as a Wellesley College student, I would prefer to be addressed as either "Miss" or "Ms."
Samira Khan Editor in Chief Counterpoint