Fighting Words


Rick Santorum speaks at Harvard amid protests and controversy.

In a controversial speech last week, former senator Rick Santorum urged Harvard students to fight against radical Islam. The event, entitled “The Gathering Storm of the 21st Century: America’s War Against Islamic Fascism,” was met with both applause and protests. The speech took place on Monday, November 5th and was sponsored by the Harvard Salient, a conservative-leaning publication.

Chris Lacaria ’09, the editor of the Salient, introduced Santorum to loud applause. The former Republican senator from Pennsylvania began his speech by describing universities as the “seedbed of the future leadership of this country” and identifying the main duty of policy makers as “being truthful to the American public.” Santorum told the audience, which seemed to be largely supportive of his views, that “you’re not going to make the right decisions unless you have the full information.”

Santorum arrived quickly at the main point of his speech. Acknowledging that the Muslim faith can inspire tolerance, he emphasized that a “subset of Islam” focuses on hatred and violence, most of which is directed against the United States. He cited that 60 percent of the American public believes the country is at war with Islam and called on politicians to acknowledge America’s true foe. “This combination of radical Islam and violence is the most difficult enemy the West has ever faced in its history,” Santorum said.

The former senator lambasted liberals for being overly sensitive to criticism of Muslims. To highlight the contrast between the values of liberalism and fundamentalist Islam, he mentioned Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent remarks at Columbia that homosexuals do not exist in Iran. “I get more people that fear Jerry Falwell than fear Ahmadinejad,” he exclaimed, “and Jerry Falwell’s dead!”

“Radical Islam does not differentiate between church and state,” said Santorum. “The state is the church. The church is the state.”
Santorum urged the audience to stop being politically correct and to call America’s enemies by their real names. While terrorists call Americans infidels — a religious term — Americans use the phrase “war on terror.” “Is terror an ideology?” asked Santorum, “Is terror a world view? Does terror accurately describe who the enemy is?”

“The biggest assumption we make in this country that is foundationally in error is that the enemy is like us,” he said. He then went on to list three cultural differences between America and the Middle East. First, Islam is an ancient civilization whose teachings are deeply ingrained. Second, while Jesus “never conquered a thing” and “never had a code of how you govern, because he never governed,” Muhammad created “a complete governance… There is no Islam religion, Islam government; everything is Islam.” Third, both Islam and Christianity claim to be the final revelation.

Santorum traced the history of Islam from its founding to the split between Sunnis and Shiites up through the present. In 1683, the high water mark for Islamic conquests, “Muslims were at the gates of Vienna ready to conquer Austria.” Santorum joked that all the countries in Europe except for France joined together against the Islamic invaders.
“For one thousand years, their civilization was arguably better than Western civilization,” Santorum remarked. “But for three hundred years they sat in squalor.” While some 20th-century Islamic leaders called for modernization, others demanded a return to a more orthodox faith, laying the foundation for today’s Islamic fundamentalism.

According to Santorum, America must take four steps to combat radical Islam. First, we must go on the offensive. “It is not an accident that we have not been attacked for six years,” he said. “We need to stop underestimating this enemy.”

Second, we must relate to Muslims and help them modernize their religion. Christianity underwent a reformation after 1500 years, Santorum pointed out, and Islam has been around for almost that long and is due for a similar change.

Third, Americans must be educated. Santorum quoted the movie Glory, in which Colonel Robert Gould Shaw decides to “teach properly” the members of the first African-American regiment in the Civil War. An impassioned Santorum told the audience that “We are not going to lose this war in the streets of Baghdad… We’re going to lose it right here.” Lowering his voice dramatically, he said that “it will come here, and it will be awful.”

Finally, he called on Americans to use domestic sources of oil to avoid dependence on the Middle East. “If we have any kind of huge terrorist incident, the last thing we’re going to worry about is global warming,” he said.

Santorum closed his speech by comparing the war against fundamentalist Islam to World War II. Lamenting America’s delay in entering World War II, he urged students to take immediate action against radical Islam. “We’re at a turning point in history,” he said. “This evil isn’t gonna go away on its own.”

The audience comprised students from several universities, including Harvard, Tufts, and Northeastern. Numerous members of the Harvard Republican Club were present, as well as dissidents from the opposite end of the political spectrum. The protesters included five Harvard students sporting top hats, black wigs, and masks from the movie V for Vendetta in honor of Guy Fawkes Day. Their t-shirts were emblazoned with slogans such as “R.I.P. consensual sodomy,” a reference to Santorum’s support of anti-sodomy laws. Additionally, three protesters unaffiliated with Harvard were in attendance, dressed in orange prison jumpsuits and holding signs that read “American Fascist Rick Santorum coming to Harvard” and “Who’s the real nuclear threat?”

After the speech, Santorum took questions from the audience. A jumpsuit-clad protester immediately began to heckle Santorum, asking why President Bush “killed one million Iraqis” and “tortured people in Abu Ghraib.” The man repeatedly interrupted Santorum as the former senator attempted to answer his questions. At one point Santorum told the protester, “I don’t need to justify America’s war crimes because there aren’t any.” He was met with wild applause.

Santorum also had heated exchanges with an Islamic student and a self-proclaimed “atheist communist of the left.” Apparently forgetting terrorist attacks in Madrid and London, one student asked, “If they’re against the West, why is it that only America is being attacked?”
The former senator appeared relaxed and confident throughout the speech and the question and answer session. Unruffled by the hecklers, he eagerly defended his opinions and fired questions back at audience members. “Let’s go until someone kicks us out!” he suggested as a growing crowd waited outside the lecture hall for another event.

An officer from the Harvard University Police Department was present for the duration of the speech, and two more arrived during the question and answer session to stand near the protesters.

“I was surprised, honestly, that most of it seemed moderately sensible,” said Gabe Schonfeld, a senior at Lexington High School. “I think he’s got a good sense of the problems we face, but his political tactics aren’t going to function in the real world.”

After the crowd was forced to vacate the room, Santorum fielded questions in the foyer of Harvard Hall and signed copies of his book It Takes a Family, which was on sale for 10 dollars at the event. He told the Independent that he decided to visit Harvard because “I was at Brown last year, so I figured this was a step up to conservatism… If you’re going to visit colleges to influence opinion, this is the place you’ve got to go to.”

Lacaria told the Independent that he invited Santorum because he “has political star power that few people on our side of the aisle have. He’s a great speaker and a voice for common-sense conservatism.”

The speech was the first of a series of four talks Santorum plans to give at universities. He will also speak at the University of Oklahoma, the University of Virginia, and Duke.