On Tuesday night, hundreds of New York City Police Department officers from specialized units rolled with quiet orderliness onto the campuses of Columbia University and City College. Within a few hours, they had arrested hundreds of students who had taken over campus property, barricaded buildings, destroyed furniture and windows, and allegedly even taken custodial staff hostage.

Social media soon flooded with videos capturing a rainbow coalition of twentysomethings in crop tops, piercings, and Kurt Cobain-era jeans, heads swaddled with Arab keffiyehs in solidarity with the fundamentalist Islamic forces that rule Palestinian Gaza. They shouted for violent uprising—“intifada!”—and then whined, went limp, and feigned unconsciousness as unflappable officers scooped them up, zip-tied their hands, and marched them into waiting police buses for arrest processing.

The NYPD operation, which occurred at the sundown conclusion of Passover, was uncomfortably resonant with the Jewish holiday’s central message: the great costs of freedom, and how easily we forget them.

The holiday enjoins participants not only to read aloud the story of the ancient Israelites’ miraculous exodus from Egyptian slavery, but to feel—personally­­—that they themselves had been in bondage and then freed.

We are witnessing a generation of Americans never asked even to imagine themselves in an unfree society—and who therefore are unable to grasp the enormity of the liberties that they take for granted. This has shown itself in how gleefully—to the point of extreme caricature—students have adopted the battle cries, demands, garb, and imagery of implicitly violent Islamist groups and governments, under whose rule they would find themselves brutally subjugated. Khymani James, the gender non-conforming Columbia student and protest spokesperson who avowed his desire to murder Zionists, is clearly not imagining his own, lip-glossed self in the type of society that he wants to empower in the Middle East. Such a regime would not recognize his pronouns—as a recent Iraqi law imposing 15 years’ jail time for homosexuality might caution him.

How did these students get so confused about what powers and ideologies genuinely protect human liberty? They have recited aloud a backward story about freedom.

They intone official Columbia “land acknowledgments” that conjure up the nations of Native Americans who trod around Morningside Heights for centuries before the university laid its first cornerstone. They are reminded that, contrary to pre-America—where all was equitable and tranquil and tolerant—what we have now is “exclusion, erasure, and systemic discrimination.” Never acknowledged are the American Revolutionary War soldiers who shed their blood so that their descendants could live in a society committed to the proposition that all men have an inalienable right to liberty.

On the contrary: in their high-priced classes, Ivy League youths are drilled in the idea that it was colonial-era settlers who stole freedom from indigenous peoples. It is police, like the helmeted public servants laboriously cleaning tents filled with chipotle wrappers and Marxist texts from campus lawns this week, who curtail freedom by incarcerating predators. It is America, Israel, and the West that usurp liberty, with their capitalist-based property rights—which, in truth, have helped drive the greatest advances in living standards in human history—and their commitment to free expression so staunch as to permit even bizarre notions such as the idea that biological sex is a construct.

So entitled are young Americans in their license that they are shockingly blind to their own villainy in appropriating it from others. UCLA protesters blocked Jews from campus libraries; Columbia students obstructed quads and buildings from those whose opinions (Zionists) they don’t like. In Columbia’s Hamilton Hall, they stacked vending machines against doors and chained together chairs and tables to impede elevator access. Wholly deluded about the responsibilities their freedoms confer, students then held press conferences claiming that the university was refusing them needed “humanitarian aid” by not delivering food and water to their hijacked, pillaged hideaways. Even after arrest, these PFLP-on-spring-break revolutionaries blubbered about limited bathroom access. “I really needed to pee the whole damn time,” complained a City College arrestee upon his release—echoing the dramatic tampon deprivation panic of the brave liberators at a Vanderbilt sit-in in March.

So precious is freedom, teaches the Passover story, that the biblical God slaughtered all the Egyptian firstborn to convince Pharaoh to release the Israelites from bondage. It’s an image as ghastly as the tragic photographs of Gazan children killed in the conflict. And just as Egypt could have spared itself that and nine other plagues by simply freeing its slaves, Hamas could have ended the war before it began by releasing all Israeli hostages and renouncing its fundamentalist, explicitly genocidal aims.

For millennia, civilizations were inspired by a story that does not take lightly the grim, necessary cost of securing freedom from those who will sacrifice their own rather than grant it.

But freedom often seems cheap to those never denied it. Perhaps the experience of being zip-tied and temporarily deprived of access to two-ply toilet paper gave American students some brief taste of the visceral discomfort of being unfree. And it should be a lesson to the rest of us that the moral stories we tell our children are what they will act out.

Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images


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