[UPDATE, SEPT. 25: THE 'PARTY FOR MARTY' DEMONSTRATION AT THE SOCIAL STUDIES CELEBRATION SUCCESSFULLY CONFRONTED PERETZ, AND LATER 10 FACULTY AND STAFF WALKED OUT OF HIS TALK. SEE VIDEO. SEE ALSO THE LETTERS SIGNED BY VARIOUS STUDENT GROUPS AT HARVARD.]
[UPDATE, SEPT. 22: PRESIDENT FAUST ANNOUNCED THAT HARVARD WILL ACCEPT THE PERETZ FUND -- WE ARE CONTINUING TO ORGANIZE AGAINST THIS DECISION, SO EVERY ADDITIONAL SIGNATURE STILL COUNTS! SEE OUR STATEMENT HERE http://bit.ly/bl0Fdj]
As members of the Social Studies community, we strongly oppose the decision to feature Martin Peretz as a speaker at the 50th anniversary of Social Studies, as well as the creation of a fund for undergraduate research in his name.
As you know, Peretz has publicly aligned himself with the xenophobic campaign against the proposed Islamic cultural center in Manhattan, lauding
it as "the closest thing we've had to a genuinely grass roots effort against the casual and elitist First Amendment fundamentalists." He insists
as "a statement of fact, not value" that "Muslim life is cheap, especially for Muslims."
These remarks cannot be dismissed as an aberration. Peretz has a long and sordid public record of racist statements directed against various groups. He has described
"Arab society" as "hidebound and backward" and claimed
(in an article later removed from The New Republic website) that "We have higher standards of civilization than [Arabs] do." He has opined
that "Latin societ[ies]" enjoy "characteristic deficiencies" such as "congenital corruption" and "near-tropical work habits." Peretz has declared that "So many in the black population are afflicted by cultural deficiencies" and that "in the ghetto a lot of mothers don't appreciate the importance of schooling."* Peretz' belated attempt
to "apologize" for a portion of a recent blog posting about Muslims -- prompted only by condemnation in The New York Times -- does not erase this legacy of bigotry.
We are aware that on this occasion some may prefer to ignore Peretz' vitriol and instead focus purely on his role in the Social Studies program. We also understand the appeal of accepting donations that would support student research. There are, however, larger concerns at stake that call for a principled stand at this moment. Social Studies describes
itself as a community of independent thinkers "who share not only a fascination with social science research and theory but also concerns about pressing social, political, and economic problems facing contemporary societies." Today in the United States there is an unmistakable and alarming resurgence of the open expression of racist and xenophobic attitudes, in this case directed against Muslims. We cannot ignore the historical moment in which we live. And we can be sure that history will not ignore a decision to publicly honor Martin Peretz.
*: Lynne Duke, "Continuing 'Dialogue of Disagreement,'" The Washington Post, 28 Mar 1994.