During my first three weeks at GW I have encountered many conservative upperclassmen who offered me their warnings of a liberal bias in the classroom. As both a steadfast conservative and an inexperienced student, I have no reason to doubt such conclusions. On the contrary, I hold these upperclassmen with the utmost esteem and veracity. However, given the dignified, honorable and nonpartisan manner in which the GW September 11 commemoration ceremonies were conducted, I am now willing to suspend all such judgments and give the University an unqualified benefit of the doubt.
I was nervous about attending the September 11 vigil. I expected plenty of the usual Bush bashing, along with the malicious cries of American “imperialism,” “bullying” and “racism.” However, such fears were quickly allayed amid the poignant and tasteful reflections of our own University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and the Tunisian ambassador. As the evening came to a close, any remaining anxieties of mine were lost in the beautiful and especially moving rendition of “America the Beautiful.”
Perhaps my initial cynicism regarding the sincerity of the ceremony was unwarranted. Yet, as I held a candle in my hand and immersed myself in the tranquility of the moment, I could not help but feel a sense of thankfulness.
I was thankful that I was not a student at one of the many other American universities that had chosen to remember such a tragic day in a different and highly offensive manner. Indeed, my cynicism was rooted in the harsh reality that too many American universities chose to transform the events of September 11 into an ideological pulpit at which to flaunt an anti-American agenda and suppress all dissent.
A prime example of this unfortunate reality is the September 11 memorial service held at Cornell University. At first glance, the university’s intentions appeared noble and appropriate – “reflections on the tragedy and comments on its continuing implications.” However, as Cornell Daily Sun columnist and observer of the event Joe Sabia wrote, “the ceremony quickly morphed into an outrageous leftist rant on the evils of American oppression.”
In his opening address, the Rev. Kenneth I. Clarke, the principle figure at the service, quickly dispelled any hopes of a sincere and solemn tribute to the innocent victims of September 11. Instead, his remarks effectively trivialized America’s loss by dismissively equating 9/11 to various archaic moments in world history.
“Thirty years ago on September 11, Chilean President Salvador Allende was assassinated. On September 11, 1977, the South African leader Stephen Biko was killed … We share in a collective tragedy.”
Now, I do not mean to belittle the victims of such obviously traumatic and sorrowful events. However, I strongly resent Rev. Clarke’s implication that the deaths of the Chilean president and the anti-apartheid South African activist are somehow morally equivalent to the tragedy of September 11. At the very most, this is a suitable topic for a political debate or symposium, but not for a memorial service organized under the original pretense of remembering those Americans lost on September 11.
Unfortunately, this was only the beginning. Rev. Clarke later proffered what he believed was the underlying lesson of 9/11 and directly insinuated that America is at least partly to blame for its occurrence.
“We must have a deeper comprehension of the concern, anxiety and fear (of others in the world) and understand the wrongs they suffer … (as well as) the societal problems we must address – racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-religious sentiment, anti-Semitism and xenophobia,” he said.
Again, my goal here is not to argue the validity of such a statement; it is to say that such controversial ideas are only appropriate in a forum in which opinions are meant to be challenged and ideas are meant to be heard. Furthermore, the fact that Rev. Clarke would pervert the solemnity of his position and sacred undertaking simply to purport a leftist agenda constitutes a reprehensible misuse of authority. Rev. Clarke took advantage of his student audience, casting his personal ideology under the deceitful guise of nonpartisan, indisputable fact. My heart goes out to the Cornell students who attended this ceremony with the simple yet dignified purpose of reflecting upon the tragedy of September 11 and venerating its innocent victims; little did they realize their faculty had vastly different intentions.
On September 11 GW distinguished itself from many American universities. It surpassed petty, political agendas and, like a true academic institution, recognized the diversity of its student body, not necessarily in terms of race or ethnicity but, more importantly, in terms of ideas and viewpoints. This is the most important measure of diversity, and the attribute of a genuine, intellectual environment.
–The writer is a freshman majoring in political science.