Another Speech Row at the Other College

Yet another free speech battle has erupted over at Harvard, the same school which gave us the famed Lawrence Summers controversy. Subramanian Swamy, an associate professor of economics who does double duty as a politician in his native India, published a piece in the Indian newspaper Daily News and Analysis in which he advanced various Hindu nationalist political positions for India. In the wake of the recent Mumbai bombings, Swamy demanded that Muslims be denied the vote unless they acknowledge their Hindu heritage. He also called for (among other things) mosques built atop Hindu temples be destroyed, the abolition of conversion from Hinduism, and the annexation of territory from Bangladesh as retaliation for Bangladeshi illegal immigration.Subramanian Swamy

Swamy’s position has unsurprisingly caused an uproar in Cambridge, where a petition has been created calling for Harvard to sever all ties with the professor. Currently, there are 14 faculty and over 130 students signed on, along with several hundred others. The petitioners declare that “While free expression and the vigorous contest of ideas are essential in any academic community, so, too, are respect and tolerance for human difference. By advocating measures that would grossly violate freedom of religion and the unqualified right to vote for different religious groups, and by aggressively vilifying an entire religious community, Swamy breaches the most basic standards of respect and tolerance.” Although the school has stated it is looking into the matter, a spokesman for the school has also stated that “It is central to the mission of a university to protect free speech, including that of Dr. Swamy and of those who disagree with him. We are ultimately stronger as a university when we maintain our commitment to the most basic freedoms that enable the robust exchange of ideas.”

Hopefully, Harvard will stick to this position. However odious Swamy’s opinions may be to the majority, any institution which claims to value free speech must be willing to tolerate extreme positions and calls for radical social change. Harvard has employed plenty of Marxist professors over the years whose ideology supported violent revolution; it can handle one Hindu nationalist. Additionally, if Swamy is removed for being a “religious extremist,” how long will it be until professors who voice opposition to gay marriage or some other left-wing cause-of-the-moment find their positions threatened as well?

–Blake S. Neff