UCLA’s Dodd Hall was fortified Friday night by an impenetrable network of fences, yellow-jacketed security guards and saberlike metal detectors. Inside, the students were outnumbered by suave television reporters pacing around, looking for material.
“Are you a student?!” shrieked a camerawoman with one hand on my shoulder. Her young accomplice, a fresher-looking Dallas Raines clone searching for student blood, was disappointed to discover that I was just one more media guy.
The occasion was yet another “unveiling” of the Mohammed caricatures that have been seen around the world for months (and, a few weeks ago, in a similar setting at UC Irvine), hosted by UCLA’s student objectivist group L.O.G.I.C. (Liberty, Objectivity, Greed, Individualism, Capitalism). Disciples of Ayn Rand and her ideology of radical individualism, the objectivists have been blamed for the increasingly conservative drift in American philosophy departments, where logic and certainty is worshipped, and such “relativist” fields as post-colonial, ethnic and women’s studies are abhorred. Objectivists are often described as the Larouchites of the humanities, nervous tics included.
At the L.O.G.I.C. promotional table, hosted by two very dapper reps, there was a literal pyramid of free Ayn Rand books (“Take several, for your friends and family”), as well as T-shirts for sale with slogans like “Fcuk the UN” and “Communism is a great ideal . . . FOR ANTS.” L.O.G.I.C. members seemed to share good looks and a Washington, D.C., sense of dress; they circulated aimlessly in the waiting area like overqualified interns with no task at hand.
The panelists eventually entered the auditorium escorted by a security detail (even though UCLA received no specific threats about the event). That they had managed to survive until this point constituted for the crowd an act of heroism that was rewarded with heartfelt applause. The speakers included Ayn Rand Institute president Yaron Brook, who was introduced as an authority on Middle Eastern affairs, due to his experience serving in the Israeli Defense Forces; Avi Davis, a freelance Australian journalist who occasionally reports on the Arab world; Kevin James, a right-wing radio host; and finally, Dr. Khaleel Mohammed, professor of religion at San Diego State.
“Thank you for making the decision to be here tonight,” said L.O.G.I.C. Chief Officer Arthur Lechtholz-Zey, in accordance with the objectivist principle of rational choice. Discussion got under way, but was interrupted by an organizer who indicated that the time had come for the caricatures to be unveiled.
A grim silence fell over the room. After allowing the audience a moment to process the significance of what was happening, Brook issued an ominous topic sentence: “I believe the cartoon demonstrations are equivalent to 9/11 in terms of their motivation and goals.” Over the next eight minutes, after telling the audience that he stands for free speech, he reiterated the word “terror” in his Brooklyn accent until everyone was dizzy and let loose a diatribe about how we should learn from the Hiroshima example and nuke Iran into submission, and recommended that all those who had issued fatwas against the Danes “should be arrested,” and that “America should have taken action” because “violence is the only way you can stop people from talking.”
Davis spoke of the danger of Eurabia, a mystical name for a nightmare scenario in store for the U.S. if it doesn’t act: “Through negotiation, now Euro Muslims can do what they could only previously do with jihad: a takeover of Europe.”
James plugged his employer — “Red Eye Radio, where it’s cool to be American, and I speak English!” — before explaining that the “bad behavior that we saw abroad” during the cartoon protests made UCLA’s police presence necessary and is also responsible for America’s aversion to the recent Dubai ports deal.
Dr. Mohammed looked like he regretted being the token Muslim. After a brief but spirited fight (“Yes, terrorism is among my people,” he acknowledged, but also said “I’m tired of hearing this mantra of Moslems and the West. We are part of the West,” and “This is hypocrisy in the guise of free speech. It’s an issue of selectivity”), he left early to catch a train back to San Diego.
Listening to the fear-mongering rhetoric — the supposed political extension of applied logic — I reminisced about my logic classes as a philosophy undergrad, filled with innocuous symbols and connectors, and wondered how things got to this point. But just when everything seemed grayest, we were treated to a fitting and uplifting surprise. Propped up behind the panelists on tripods, one of the blown-up cartoons dislodged and fell on the moderator’s head. The panelists were stunned, and the objectivists gasped. It was the perfect, illogical poltergeist to end the evening.