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Commentary

No offense? Not possible

Enlightened men and women - er, I mean, wise womyn and — men - will tell you that you should respect all points of view and offend — no one. That is what they say they are trying to do on university campuses, — after all. But I am not convinced that they know what they mean or that — such a feat is even possible.

Take some recent contradictory events at prestigious universities. — Actress Jada Pinkett Smith, who forms one half of a Hollywood power couple — in tandem with star Will Smith, received an artist of the year award in — late February from Harvard University's Foundation for Intercultural and — Race Relations. In accepting the award, she encouraged young women to — dream big: "Women, you can have it all - a loving man, devoted husband, — loving children, a fabulous career," she said. "They say you gotta choose. — Nah, nah, nah. We are a new generation of women. We got to set a new standard — of rules around here. You can do whatever it is you want. All you have — to do is want it."

That triggered an avalanche of condemnations. From whom — - Focus on the Family? From the Stay-at-Home Soccer Moms of Suburbia? — Actually, the prime complainant was Harvard's Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, — Transgender, and Supporters Alliance (BGLTSA), whose members said Ms. — Smith's comments were offensive in that they were "heteronormative." That — would be an overdressed Harvard term for "way too straight for my tastes."

"Some of the content was extremely heteronormative, and — made BGLTSA members feel uncomfortable," BGLTSA Co-Chair Jordan B. Woods — explained to the Harvard Crimson.

Uncomfortable. I had forgotten: Making someone uncomfortable — is grounds for deportation nowadays.

Fellow BGLTSA co-chair Margaret Barusch added: "I think — the comments had a very strong focus for an extended period of time on — how to effectively be in a relationship - heterosexual relationship. I — don't think she meant to be offensive, but I just don't think she was — that thoughtful."

Whoops, that's another key principle I had forgotten. — If you talk about your life, you are not thoughtful; if you talk about — my life, you are brilliant.

As a former longtime staffer at a major West Coast university, — I often wrestled with the contradictions and conundrums that contemporary — academia poses through its mission to be inoffensive and all-inclusive. —

In the wake of 9/11, the University of North Carolina — asked its incoming freshman class to read an introductory book on the — Quran, to expose them to the thinking of one billion Muslims around the — world. Christian fundamentalists were appalled to be left out of the party, — but progressives in academia and the media said this was an important — step toward developing healthy interculturalism and proper respect for — the Muslim worldview.

The conundrum for a progressive university person is — that the Quran denounces all sexual relationships outside of male-female — marriages. Muslims are offended by homosexuality and gender-blind approaches; — they may be willing to accept the existence of such activity within a — free society, but they feel violated when they feel such values are being — "pushed" on them or their children and they talk about leaving the country. — Does their ability to be offended suddenly matter no longer?

How does one reconcile the progressive impulse to understand — and embrace all cultures with the reality that many of us, Muslims, gays — and lesbians included, have different views of what is acceptable within — the rest of society? When this happens, there is no win-win.

University progressives relish bashing conservative Christians — for not respecting Muslims as having an equal claim to the truth. But — when both of those groups take moral stances that these progressives feel — is an affront to decency, then what?

Progressives who want to be all-inclusive and inoffensive — must realize that they will by necessity offend someone: Either the Muslim — who doesn't want his daughter to see gay people kissing on TV, or the — lesbian who feels left out whenever she sees only people like Jada and — Will Smith kissing on TV.

The selectively applied notion on university campuses — is that it is a crime for someone to offend me because of who they are, — while it's perfectly fine for me to offend someone else, because of who — I am. Enough already. Academic life and our society as a whole will gain — if we drop the self-imposed shackles of oversensitivity.