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September 16th, 2010
10:40 PM ET

New Republic controversy on Islam blog post roils Harvard

From CNN Jerusalem bureau chief Kevin Flower:

A blog post on Islam on the website of the liberal political magazine The New Republic has prompted a torrent of criticism that is roiling the hallowed halls of Harvard University.

Writing about Muslims in America, New Republic editor and former Harvard professor Martin Peretz posted the following on the magazine's site:

"....Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood. So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse."

The reaction to Peretz's comments was swift and blistering. New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof called the post an example of how "debased and venomous the discourse about Islam has become" and The Atlantic's James Fallows characterized Peretz's words as "an incredible instance of public bigotry in the American intelligentsia."

After ten days of heavy and sustained criticism from various quarters of academia and media Peretz issued a quasi-apology for his comments, saying he was wrong and embarrassed to have suggested that any group of Americans is not deserving of First Amendment rights. But he defended his description of Muslim attitudes toward the lives of other Muslims, arguing that the comment was "a statement of fact, not value."

Apologies aside, it would appear the controversy has yet to run its course. Today the Boston Globe reported on growing opposition within Harvard University over plans for a daylong celebration of Peretz by some members of the alumni and faculty who have helped raise money for a research fund in his name.

Harvard has released a statement acknowledging that Peretz's web post was " “distressing to many members of our community, and understandably so.’’ The university said it will not move to cancel the celebration and defended Peretz's right of free speech.

Contacted by the Globe, Peretz said, “I was a faithful Harvard teacher, the notion that I have to defend myself when students who I’ve taught over 40 years are honoring me is really a little stupid.’’

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: 'Ground zero mosque' • Islam • Muslim

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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.