To the Editor:
Law and Mind Games Continue
Last Thursday, during his first Law and Mind class, Professor Hay asked the ten year old daughter of a student what sex was. She said she didn’t want to talk about it; but he continued to ask her, repeatedly. He badgered her on the topic for several minutes. Eventually, a few students began to intervene, first interrupting only to point out the obvious fact that the girl did not want to answer. There were offers to answer for her. Then came more strenuous objections to the treatment. Finally, a student accused Professor Hay of playing a joke, calling it first disturbing, then boring, and ultimately saying he wanted the questioning stopped.
The point? Professor Hay, with the full cooperation of the mother and daughter, wanted his class to experience witnessing an emotionally charged scene, then try to recount the events with accuracy, in order to demonstrate the fallibility of eye witness testimony even moments after the event. The point was made. It was brilliantly executed. Many students were taken in, as evidenced by their responses. And those who weren’t fooled remained silent, not spoiling the performance for others. But Professor Hay failed to account for one very important thing. Some people don’t like to be tricked. And when they are not only tricked, but make a great show of themselves publicly in reaction to the rouse, their embarrassment may turn to anger.
Several students complained about the performance. So Professor Hay devoted the next day’s class to a discussion of the issue. It was not entirely clear at first why Professor Hay’s actions were condemnable, only that they were. There was a sense that students ought not to be fooled or made to feel uncomfortable. Professor Hay even offered his critics an angle from which to attack him. Although it was not his intention, he said the performance could be construed as non-consensual experimentation. Some took up the language in their remarks, referring to the demonstration as the experiment in later discussion. One student suggested that Professor Hay should have shown more concern for potential sexual abuse survivors in the class. Professor Hay did not sexually abuse the child (nor did he actually abuse her at all; it was an act). He asked her over and over, with her mother present and not objecting, what sex was.
The strained comparison to conducting an experiment without consent, and the outlandish suggestion that Professor Hay’s conduct was reminiscent of sexual abuse, hides the true and reasonable cause of the widespread discomfort. Simply put, students were understandably upset during the performance, and afterwards were embarrassed for being fooled or ashamed for not acting on the girl’s behalf. Some have demanded recognition of their feelings and assurance that the child was not harmed. Others want nothing but to move on. A few can’t move on though, perhaps because they won’t embrace or even face their own feelings. These deniers demand to be assured that they are righteous victims of a bad act, and refuse to acknowledge the subjectivity of their indignation.
Although most of the class discussion focused on such negative feedback, eventually some supportive students confessed they were not upset by the previous day’s events. It was after one supporter finally spoke that the vague association of Professor Hay’s performance with an act of sexual abuse was put forward. When another supporter dared to speak up, the dismissive notion was advanced that those who found the performance acceptable were simply incapable of understanding the moral issue because they were male. This idea must have been particularly strange to Professor Hay’s several male critics. It seemed a thinly veiled attempt to insult and alienate his supporters, as well as to designate them as incomplete moral agents whose opinions did not matter.
In response to all the criticism, Professor Hay has again performed brilliantly. He has apologized so believably that some of his critics now feel sorry for him. And perhaps most cleverly, he even denounced his supporters. The vast majority of his critics were probably satisfied by Professor Hay’s apology. A couple of vocal supporters have been insulted; but they’ll get over that. The administration can be certain that Professor Hay will never again attempt such a stunt. As for those deniers hiding from their embarrassment and shame while blaming others – they are free to continue acting out their own grotesque play in the darkness they create.
Professor Hay’s real offense was inadvertently making students face themselves. The scene he performed wasn’t nearly so horrific as the idea of reality seeping into the classroom. We’ll meet unpredictability and suffer powerlessness and embarrassment after HLS. Woe to anyone who dares force an early introduction.
Walter Scott (’06) is a student taking Professor Hay’s Law and Mind course.
In response to the recent article published, “Harvard’s Ethical Dilemmas,” I believe the article raises important issues for Harvard as well as its students. If Harvard is to maintain its name as a school of excellence and one that is committed to objective research and scholarship, we must not allow the grant to color the objectivity of the research that is conducted at the Middle Eastern Center. As is (I believe rightly) pointed out, refusing the grant would be more consistent with Harvard’s stand against the Solomon Amendment. If Harvard refuses the grant, I would set a higher standard for its students for when to compromise principles for monetary and economic advantage. In addition it would also raise important moral issues surrounding the US Government’s aid and protection of the Saudi regime.
Haroon Jan Baryalay
Dear Record Editors,
I write to express my concern at the tone and message in Richard Cravatt’s article on “Harvard’s Ethical Dilemmas” in the February 2nd edition of The Record. As a Muslim-American from NJ who was meant to fly out of JFK on Sept. 12, 2001 for my duty in Peace Corps, it is disturbing to me to read Richard Cravatt’s disparagment of the Council of Islamic American Relations, whose mission is “to enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, and empower American Muslims.” It is particularly ironic that Mr. Cravatt’s attacks on CAIR as some sort of terrorism-apologist propaganda organization comes only days before CAIR spoke out to condemn the destruction of the Danish embassy in Syria.
In this time of turmoil and increased distrust between the Western and Islamic worlds, it is baffling that Mr. Cravatt’s would attack an organization dedicated to improving cultural understanding and tolerance in America for a minority faith, and that he would wish Harvard to turn down a generous $20 million donation aimed at improving our Western understandings of the Middle East. I hope the University continues to be a place that promotes tolerance and understanding through research and knowledge.
Dear Editor: I was dismayed to read in last week’s Record Richard Cravatts’s article, “Harvard’s Ethical Dilemmas.” Although Cravatts touches on a very important topic, his biases in regards to Islam and Muslims sully the larger discussion of the issue.
First, Cravatts tries to deflect attention from the core intellectual intent of Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talaal’s gift by making baseless attacks on a respected institution. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is a non-profit civil rights and advocacy group whose mission is to “enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.” CAIR is one of the few organizations in America that has stood up for the rights o
f Muslims in America. Every day, its members work their hardest to ensure that the Muslim in America is treated just like any other American. They strive to improve the average American’s understanding of Islam in the face of constant misinformation and attack. CAIR is for Muslims what the NAACP is for African-Americans.
Cravatts’s outrageously false characterization of CAIR as “an apologist for terror and anti-Americanism” is on its face anti-American. Here is a group that supports civil rights, that seeks to build civil society links between the American Muslim community and the broader American public, that promotes all of the freedoms and values that America prides itself on; yet Cravatts magically overlooks all that CAIR stands for and brings up the specter of terrorism because the organization is a Muslim group. If Cravatts had done some research he would have found that CAIR engages in a considerable amount of work to challenge extremism, terrorism, and violence in the name of religion.
Cravatts’s opposition to CAIR’s educational efforts again reveals his own ignorance about Islam and about America’s educational system. It should come as no surprise to anyone that there is a serious deficiency in America regarding the understanding of Islam. In my own middle school and high school, whenever Islam came up in world history or discussions of religion, I would often be called upon by the teacher to explain Islam. I was comfortable doing this, mainly because I knew more about the subject than the teacher, but it is symptomatic of the lack of training and background that many teachers have on world religions and especially Islam. Correcting flawed information about Islam in curricula is not evidence of bias; it is desperately needed to ensure that the next generation of policy-makers in America actually understands the religion. CAIR’s efforts rightly try to address this failure.
I also disagree with Cravatts’s pessimism about Prince Alwaleed bin Talaal’s contribution to the formation of a center for the study of Islam and the West here at Harvard. Prince Alwaleed made a similar contribution to Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (CMCU); a simple evaluation of the CMCU will clearly reveal the benefits of Prince Alwaleed’s gift to Harvard. As an alumnus of Georgetown University and its CMCU, I can attest to the fact that the CMCU has made enormous contributions to the understanding of Islam both on and off campus. At Georgetown, the CMCU has greatly advanced the level of intellectual inquiry and discussion about Islam and all related aspects of intellectual, political, and social life in the Muslim world. It also boasts renowned professors like Professors John Voll and John Esposito, and it retains an impeccable reputation for advanced scholarship on Islamic civilization and on Muslim-Christian relations. Prince Alwaleed’s intent in his gift to Harvard was clearly to have a CMCU-like institution here at Harvard. Harvard can greatly benefit from this gift by expanding its academic coverage of Islam, the Muslim world, and Muslim relations with the West.
Instead of positing a constructive discussion of the issues surrounding Harvard’s sources of funding, Cravatts injects bias against Islam and Muslims into his article. Sadly, this type of attack is all too commonly made against civil rights groups by bigots and other misinformed individuals. Cravatts’s article and his demonstrated ignorance of Islam is precisely the reason why Prince Alwaleed’s contribution to Harvard is so important. I hope the Record will be more careful next time in printing such baseless accusations against American civil rights groups, and in accepting articles that express clear biases against Muslims.
Arsalan SulemanTreasurer, Muslim Law Students Association
To the editor,
Thank you to Richard Cravatt for having the courage to write truthfully about the Council of American-Islamic Relations (“CAIR”). CAIR long condoned and defended terrorist organizations; it endorsed and facilitated contributions to the terror-sponsoring Holy Land Foundation (before the federal government shut it down); and several of its co-founders and former top officers have been convicted of terrorist-related offenses. New York Senator Charles Schumer identified CAIR members’ intimate links with Hamas and concluded, “We know [CAIR] has ties to terrorism.” Illinois Senator Richard Durbin, considered by many to be the country’s most liberal senator, noted that CAIR is “unusual in its extreme rhetoric and its associations with groups that are suspect.”
By pretending to be a civil rights organization, CAIR demeans a category of advocacy groups, including the NAACP and the ADL, devoted to combating all forms of discrimination and to fighting for civil liberties for all Americans. CAIR shares no such agenda, and therefore it enjoys no such support or legitimacy. Nor, thankfully, does CAIR represent the vast, vast majority of Muslim-Americans, who reject CAIR’s intolerant and extremist positions.
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