April 28, 2010
A Triumph of Civilization at Chapel HillBy Jay Schalin and Jenna Ashley Robinson
Maybe there is some hope for civilization after all. At least, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill seems a little more civilized this April than it did last April, when an out-of-control mob of protesters chased former U.S. Congressman Tom Tancredo from the dais and off the campus. A subsequent speech later that month by another former congressman, Virgil Goode, resulted in seven arrests. The very idea of free speech seemed under attack.
Monday night (April 26), Rep. Tancredo returned amidst a great deal of anticipation, invited by the same official student group as before, Youth for Western Civilization. The UNC chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society, which planned the earlier protest, and other groups from the school and the community were up in arms over his return. SDS member Scott Williams wrote a letter to the student newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel, entitled "Tancredo and his beliefs have no place on UNC campus." He suggested that "'Western Civilization' is nothing but an alteration of the discourse of white supremacy."
Inflammatory rhetoric about Tancredo was spread on fliers and on the web: He was said to be "actively seeking to organize a movement around his racist ideology and inspire further acts of vigilante violence against people of color," and his "arguments" were described as "disturbingly similar to those of the Ku Klux Klan or the Nazis."
The pre-speech buzz drew not only radicals and fans of Tancredo, but thrill-seekers as well. A pair of female students in the audience who declined to give their names said that they came in the spirit of spectators at a car race who were there "to see some accidents."
This time, however, there was nothing resembling an oratorical car wreck. Tancredo remained at the podium to deliver his speech, entitled "Is Western Civilization Worth Saving?" and it was the protesters who left the lecture hall -- voluntarily and in an orderly fashion, to boot. Approximately ten minutes into Tancredo's speech, the protesters chanted in unison "No human is illegal," and slightly more than one hundred audience members walked out in a show of contempt for Tancredo (and his well-known stance against illegal immigration).
As they left, Tancredo said, "this is a great example of what I'm talking about. The fear of ideas, the fear of hearing somebody that you disagree with...in our halls of academia, instead of encouraging the kind of debate that we should have in these places...they're going to walk away." His remarks drew loud applause from the remaining audience members, who numbered between 75 and 100.
At the press conference after the lecture, Tancredo said of the protesters, "If they're so afraid to listen to me for an hour, what does it tell you about the power of their ideas?"
The protestors then marched to "The Pit," an area outside the student union where demonstrations and events are traditionally held.
While for the most part, the protest went off without incident, one UNC student was arrested in the lobby outside the union's auditorium on a charge of carrying a concealed weapon where Tancredo was speaking, according to a university press release.
The events in The Pit lasted about an hour, and were a potpourri of standard protest fare -- ranting (sometimes incomprehensively), poetry, profanity, music, and chanting. There were many attacks on Arizona's new law that gives police broad new powers to arrest anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. Conservatives were derided as "racists," filled with "ignorance, bigotry, hate," "well-funded," and "white supremacists." One admitted illegal alien claimed that people like Tancredo made it impossible for her to succeed.
One sign seen on campus said, "Racism Kills, So Kill Racists." Another said "Tancredo/YWC = Modern Day KKK. Racist Bigots, Go Away."
It was inside the auditorium, however, where the better show was to be seen. Tancredo was blunt and passionate in his call to defend Western civilization. "I will never believe that all cultures and traditions are morally equivalent," he began, adding that he felt that "political systems that work toward the goal of greater individual liberty" are "superior to those that strive to enslave their populations."
The actions of the world's population reveal the true value of the West, he said. "When the gates are open anywhere around the world, the people run one way -- to countries that have adopted ways that we identify as Western. People do not leave their homes and culture for the same life. They seek a better life."
Despite this positive international perspective of the U.S. "here, where we epitomize Western civilization, we say very little good about it," he continued. "Why we are not proud of who we are, I cannot fathom."
He noted that only a short time ago, the idea of the need to defend Western culture in the West was unheard of. "But today, given the ascendancy and dominance of radical multiculturalism within the university community, even the term Western civilization is derided as quaint, or xenophobic, or racist."
The true racists, however, are the multiculturalists, according to Tancredo. "They are stuck on race," he said, adding that they cry racism as "an epithet thrown out there to stop debate, because they can't deal with debate." He said that their aim is to change America by dividing us. Growing bilingualism is a serious threat in a country that is already as diverse as the United States. "Something has to hold us together," he explained. "Otherwise, we're just a Tower of Babel."
The principles of Western civilization, on the other hand, "transcend race," he suggested. "Adherence to the rule of law, valuing the individual over the collective, market capitalism, and an understanding of human rights as being inalienable...are practiced all over the world, and have absolutely no connection to race or ethnicity."
But despite Western civilization's gifts of freedom and material bounty, and despite its attraction and utility for much of the rest of the world, the West has been rejecting its own principles, he said. "Our nation needs a new dialogue. But first, to have that dialogue, we must decide that Western civilization is threatened and that it needs saving."
He blamed the universities for much of this cultural malaise, since they "no longer see it as part of their mission to transmit to a new generation the values that make Western freedom possible."
"We have been taught to view the end of American freedom as a good and necessary thing."
But if America were indeed to "fall to international socialism," he suggested, every other free place will fall as well. "America is the world's last, best hope," he said.
He said that once the commitment to save Western culture is made, we must attend to a couple of very important matters. The first is to pay as much attention to the "neglected battlefield" of culture as we do to politics. This includes everything from education to entertainment to the family structure.
Then we must conduct "defensive warfare" on two fronts: against radical Islam, and against the "war on citizenship" caused by illegal immigration. Of the former, he said that the jihadists have one very powerful advantage: "our own complacency."
Tancredo finished his lecture on a positive note, stating that despite the threats from without and within, "the future is brighter because of the values of Western civilization."
After the speech, Tancredo said that "from the day I left (after the 2009) incident, I wanted to come back. ... It's the only place I was ever stopped from speaking." He said that he was further encouraged to return the next day by both Chapel Hill's chancellor Holden Thorp and UNC system president Erskine Bowles.
Daryl Ann Dunigan, the president of Chapel Hill's Youth for Western Civilization, said that the decision to reinvite Tancredo "was made this fall when I became president of the UNC chapter. I felt that bringing Tancredo back was necessary to show that free speech will be allowed on this campus."
One reason for the tepid protest might have been the intense security, praised effusively by Tancredo. No bags -- not even purses -- were allowed into the auditorium, and there were several dozen police and security people in attendance. Still, the protesters might have accomplished one of their goals -- limiting the audience by taking up seats. The university said that all 390 tickets for the event were distributed, but only about 200 seats were filled.
Jay Schalin is a senior writer with the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Raleigh, North Carolina. Jenna Ashley Robinson is the Pope Center's Campus Outreach Coordinator.