“Reading is not an end to itself, but a means to an end,” one bestselling author wrote.
We beg to disagree. Reading is often a pleasure that is an end to itself. But in this case, this quote from the author of Mein Kampf makes an excellent point about one book – the author’s book. We’ve read Adolf Hitler’s screed in college as a means to an end, to understand the diseased thinking and rhetoric that led to the world’s biggest war and its most horrific atrocity.
We would point out that Winston Churchill took the trouble to read Mein Kampf, and referred to it often in warning about the gathering storm while others breezily dismissed Hitler’s views as mere prejudices that would fall by the wayside once he was in office.
These thoughts were prompted by a back-and-forth between the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) and what it called an “Orwellian reporting” system that ensnared a student – a young woman who posted a Snapchat picture of herself reading Mein Kampf with a quizzical expression on her face.
“It is an ambiguous photo, and everyone sees what they want to see,” Rabbi Jessica Kirschner, executive director of Stanford’s Hillel chapter, told Inside Higher Education.
In the ensuing fury, fair points emerged. Jewish students have reason to be sensitive about resurgent antisemitism, as we reported about comments made in a Stanford Diversity Equity and Inclusion program (a gobsmacking irony if ever there was one). On the other hand, FIRE reports that this Stanford student may face questioning as a result of her book-reading being reported to Stanford’s Protected Identity Harm reporting system.
Which brings us back to Rabbi Kirschner’s shrewd observation that the photo could be interpreted in many ways. Was it a juvenile joke? Was it an incitement? Was it a show of appropriate and cautionary skepticism?
Only the woman who posted the picture knows. And we would suggest that instead of spending any more time trying to deduce her thinking, perhaps it should be enough to trust the good heart and mind of a woman who got accepted into Stanford and affirm that good people read bad books for good reasons.