Ian Buruma (Bard College): “Tolerance Under Fire”
Liberalism in the classic sense of tolerance, individual freedom, and moderation, is once again being attacked. Radicals of all kinds, whether left or right, have always despised liberals, for being wishy-washy, selfish, boring, bourgeois, and weak in the face of adversity. Between the two World Wars, Communists as well as the hard right tried to crush liberalism. Now it is often the self-appointed defenders of Western Civilization against the Islamic threat who attack liberals for tolerating intolerance, for being soft, appeasing, and cowardly. The talk will be a defense of classic liberalism. I will argue that liberalism does not have to be dull, wishy-washy, or cowardly, but that liberals are in fact the best defenders of open societies against all forms of tyranny. Henry R. Luce Professor of Democracy, Human Rights, and Journalism at Bard College, Ian Buruma was educated in Holland and Japan, where he studied history, Chinese literature, and Japanese cinema. In 1970s Tokyo, he had a career in documentary filmmaking and photography. In the 1980s, he worked as a journalist, and spent much of his early writing career travelling and reporting from all over Asia. Buruma now writes about a broad range of political and cultural subjects for major publications, most frequently for The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Corriere della Sera, The Financial Times, and The Guardian. Buruma has been a Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg, Berlin, the Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington D.C., and St. Antony’s College, Oxford, Ian Buruma was awarded the 2008 international Erasmus Prize for making “an especially important contribution to culture, society or social science in Europe, and was voted as one of the Top 100 Public Intellectuals by the Foreign Policy/Prospect magazines (May/June 2008). Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance (Penguin USA) was the winner of The Los Angeles Times Book Prize for the Best Current Interest Book, and Princeton University Press has published Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents in March 2010, based on the Stafford Little lectures given at Princeton in 2008. This lecture is free and open to the public.