Rushdie was invited to be the graduation speaker at Nova Southereastern University in Davie, Florida.
Some student members of the International Muslim Association are protesting the invitation, presumably because they agree with those who regard Mr. Rushdie’s 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses” as a blasphemy against Islam and the Prophet Mohammed. (It’s the Danish cartoons all over again, only this time with an additional twist provided by the literary quality of the offending document.)His closing argument:
Graduating senior Farheen Parvez is planning not to attend. “I was looking forward to my graduation,” she told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, but “when I found out that Salman Rushdie would be the speaker, I was appalled.”
But a graduation ceremony is not a class; it is, quite precisely, a ceremony, a formal rite of passage where etiquette and ritual are more important, and more appropriate, than profundity. Inviting controversial speakers to campus is certainly a good idea, but inviting controversial speakers to give a commencement address may not be. Mr. Rushdie’s visit is trumpeted (in the college’s announcement) as the “capstone” to a series of public lectures and classroom discussions on “tolerance, acceptance and social justice.” One assumes that in the classrooms and at the public lectures, vigorous participation was encouraged, and those who disagreed with the teacher or speaker could make their disagreement known. But graduation speeches are not usually followed by question-and-answer periods or by a panel of people representing opposing views. A graduation speech is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, and those who prefer to leave it must either walk out or resolve to stay home.In my experience of commencement speakers, they vary between the hopelessly banal and the irritatingly offensive. Despite that, it is certainly worthwhile to invite a speaker who will actually say something interesting and maybe even profound, even if one doesn't agree with everything he says. Are colleges and universities required to give in to the sentiments of students who are insulted on religious or political grounds? My institution of higher learning is hosting the editor of the National Review tonight. I'm sure he'll say a lot of things I don't agree with - but so what? Are we guaranteed the right not ever to be insulted by the views of others? I don't think so.
Ms. Parvez [one of the protesting Muslim students] had it exactly right when she said, “If he was here for any other event, that would have been fine, because that’s optional. But having him at graduation, it’s not appropriate because that’s for the families and the students.” When you’re the proud parent of a graduating son or daughter, the last thing you want to hear is something that will make you think. You want to hear something that will make you feel good. Professor Smith asserted, “The choice of Rushdie as speaker inspires questions, invites challenges and embodies larger issues… .” That’s precisely the problem.