Column | Feb. 23

Controversial views must be debated, not boycotted

I’ll discuss pretty much any topic with anyone, including a complete stranger. I just really enjoy hearing other people’s views and offering my own  a large part of why I am an opinion columnist. But there is one topic I avoid talking about with other students, my best friend and even my family. I just won’t discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with people.  Every time I do, tensions run high, sparks fly and people end up extremely upset. The discussion rarely gets anywhere before the other person gets so upset she or he storms off  and I’m referring to people who normally can hold civilized debates even when we argue extremely different opinions.

The Israel-Palestine debate is an incredibly complex situation that strikes a very personal chord with a lot of people both here and overseas. I suppose it’s because of these strong feelings that constructive debate often appears impossible to achieve. With excellent points on both sides, many people are just too emotionally invested in their own opinion to listen calmly to opposing views and criticisms. Too often we allow these emotions to get in the way of being willing to listen respectfully and discuss the entire conflict and possible solutions with others. Often I’m guilty of this myself. Nevertheless, I think it’s essential that people, especially students who might just be the key to finding a peaceful solution over the next decade or sooner, try to open themselves up and at least be receptive to listening to others’ points of view, even if they disagree with yours.

The recent controversy surrounding Richard Falk’s self-acknowledged contentious lecture last week on campus highlights the importance of listening to others and having informed debates on the issue, rather than merely retreating to the comfort of silence, activism or merely discussing the crisis with those who agree with you. I don’t think any of these actions are bad, per se; I completely support people standing up for what they believe. It’s when these things are the only course of action and no attempts at cross-aisle discussions are made that these actions can impede finding a solution. Don’t get me wrong  I am proud of much of the debate and activism that occurred around campus before and during the event. I think the letter to the editor from a few members of the English department was a great way to open debate on the issue. The letter did not proclaim that Falk not speak nor that people not attend, it just stated that the authors disassociated themselves from the department’s co-sponsorship of  the lecture. I also support the lecture attendees who asked tough questions either in support or in opposition of Falk’s views during the Q&A period at the end. And I applaud those handing out flyers with their beliefs. I do believe a respectful discussion is even more beneficial than dissenting activism, like people handing out posters or other related actions, in moving forward toward a solution or at the very least understanding those with opposing views. But these protests do keep the conversation going and introduce various opinions together in one forum, even if they are not yet in conversation.

What worries me is some people who oppose Falk’s opinions were discouraging students from attending. And while I understand this is one way of voicing your opinion, the key difference is that by not even listening to the other side, you automatically stifle debate. This abstention fails to bring us any closer to a viable and sustainable solution. I don’t care if you don’t agree and won’t be persuaded  there is still inherent value in listening to others and at least trying to understand the motivation behind their perspective.

The emotions and strongly held personal beliefs certainly make any Israel/Palestine discussion contentious, but that also holds true for other topics. I know I get worked up when capital punishment issues come up, but somehow I can still discuss this issue with others. Yet both on campus and beyond, even the idea of a dialogue regarding Israel and Palestine is often seen as acceptance of the legitimacy of the other groups’ opinions. That preconception needs to change, and it can only do so through creating channels of dialogue. You can talk with others, and even recognize some truth to their arguments, without agreeing with their stance. We do so with other issues, and it’s time we engage in civilized discussions about difficult topics like the Israel/Palestine conflict with those who hold different opinions, whether this is around the dinner table or in a more formal setting. The groundwork is already being laid  members of student activist groups have been holding regular meetings together to discuss this issue. Hopefully the rest of the student body can follow their lead and from that we can effect broader change to the tone of the discussion throughout Princeton and beyond.

Marni Morse is a freshman from Washington, D.C. She can be reached at mlmorse@princeton.edu.

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