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Harvard Instructor May Face Removal Over Anti-Muslim Op-Ed

Controversy sparks debate over free speech in academia

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Subramanian Swamy, a Harvard Summer School economics instructor and a political leader in India, wrote an op-ed called "How to Wipe Out Islamic Terror" for the Indian newspaper Daily News and Analysis on July 16, in response to the July 13th Mumbai bombings that killed 23 people. The article, that "many have called offensive and inflammatory," according to the Harvard Crimson, has since spurred over 200 people to sign a petition demanding that the administration "repudiate Swamy's remarks and terminate his association with the University."

In the op-ed in question, Swamy proposes the following response to Islamic terrorism in India:

We need a collective mindset as Hindus to stand against the Islamic terrorist. The Muslims of India can join us if they genuinely feel for the Hindu... If any Muslim acknowledges his or her Hindu legacy, then we Hindus can accept him or her as a part of the Brihad Hindu Samaj (greater Hindu society) which is Hindustan... Others, who refuse to acknowledge this, or those foreigners who become Indian citizens by registration, can remain in India but should not have voting rights (which means they cannot be elected representatives).

“Not allowing Hindus to convert to any other religion, not allowing other groups to vote unless they proudly declare their Hindu ancestry—it’s honestly kind of absurd,” one Harvard PhD candidate said in response. Swamy's editorial also adds that Muslims in India are being "programmed":

The first lesson to be learnt from the recent history of Islamic terrorism against India and for tackling terrorism in India is that the Hindu is the target and that Muslims of India are being programmed by a slow reactive process to become radical and thus slide into suicide against Hindus.

A student at the Harvard Divinity School reacted that, “these are statements you’d expect a demagogue on the extreme right to say...” In an interview, Swamy himself told the Crimson that “I can’t condemn all Muslims. I’m not against them. I never said Muslims as a whole are terrorists.” Nonetheless, Donald H. Pfister, the dean of Harvard Summer School, said in a statement sent by a spokesperson that the school will examine the issue.

But following the controversy,  the civil liberties group Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) sent a letter to University President Drew G. Faust cautioning against an investigation. According to the Crimson, the vice-president of FIRE wrote that "the threat of a disciplinary investigation of Swamy stands in sharp and unflattering contrast to this admirable and appropriate understanding of the importance of freedom of expression in the academic community." He went further to say:

If members of the Harvard community are given to understand that Harvard might begin an investigation—with possible disciplinary consequences—of the views they express, they likely will self-censor. This is precisely the result that a university dedicated to intellectual freedom must seek to avoid.

At the moment, the Crimson notes that "Harvard has not explicitly said that it is investigating Swamy or that it has considered such an investigation."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.