Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech – Ward Churchill

Ward Churchill was a tenured professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado. Ward is not what you would call bashful about expressing his opinion.

Shortly after 9/11 he wrote an article pointing out that the U.S. State Department’s history of foreign policy abuses were at least partially responsible for the attack. Of course he was right.

Let’s get one thing straight. An act of terrorism against unarmed civilians is an act of cowardice. I’ve said that before and I’ll say it again. If we agree on that then let’s talk about what is an “act of terrorism.”

An “act of terrorism” is an attack designed to induce fear in a population in order to bring about some goal. The rounding up and execution of the men of Lidice by the Nazis in World War II was an act of terrorism. The lynching of blacks in the Jim Crow South was an act of terrorism. The firebombing of Tokyo was an act of terrorism. The bombing of Dresden was an act of terrorism. A Palestinian suicide bomber blowing up a supermarket is an act of terrorism. The shelling of West Bank Palestinian towns by the Israeli army is an act of terrorism. A Shiite suicide bomber exploding a bomb in the midst of mourners at a Sunni funeral is an act of terrorism.

Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of acts of terrorism to go around. Yet while the U.S. cries foul at every act of terrorism aimed at itself or its allies, it tends to feel it’s ok to commit or condone acts which are just as bad.

Let’s face it, our hands are not exactly clean of blood. You can draw a direct line between our support for Israel ,through our supplying of arms to Saddam Hussein during the Iraq-Iran war, to the rubble of the twin towers.

That’s all Ward Churchill was saying and he was saying it because those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Now this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t wipe the scum that attacked the World Trade Center off the face of the earth. I thought that was a real good idea and I still do. I agree with Belgarath. "Good and Evil" and "Right and Wrong" are too messy and complicated. I prefer "Us and Them." It's simple and let's you get past the preliminaries and down to the main event quickly.

Too bad Little Georgie got distracted by Iraq, who had nothing to do with the World Trade Center attack and who Bush and Rumsfeld knew had nothing to do with the World Trade Center attack, and let the real bad guys off the hook. Looks like Obama is in the process of correcting that mistake. But I digress. Let’s get back to Ward.

His article sort of languished in the archives of the internet until one day it came to the attention of the American Council of Trusties and Alumni (ACTA). While ACTA states that one of its objectives is to “safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus,” they weren’t real happy with Ward’s ideas and began to put pressure on the University of Colorado to terminate him.

ACTA is clearly a conservative right wing group that throws out all the nice sounding glittering generalities to advance or defend positions that they agree with. But apparently they’ll do everything they can to suppress ideas they don’t agree with and they sure as hell didn’t agree with Ward.

Right now universities tend to be dominated by liberal viewpoints so ACTA is screaming for “Intellectual Diversity.” Yet you can take it to the bank that if academia was dominated by conservatives, they’d be defending “Traditional Values” and “Academic Privilege.”

I hear them attacking Harvard, Yale and Stanford but they appear to be mum about Brigham Young, Oral Roberts and Liberty University.

Still, they were perfectly within their rights to disagree with Ward, point out why Ward had his head up his ass and call him nasty names. Even I admit that he went way over the line when he referred to some of the victims of 9/11 as “little Eichmanns.” He clearly deserved to be criticized and have someone tear him a new one for that pronouncement.

But what ACTA did not have the right to do was pressure the University of Colorado to silence him. It never ceases to amaze me how conservatives fail to understand the principles that they claim so loudly to love and support. If you can deny someone you disagree with his right to free speech, then someone else can deny you yours. Either everyone is protected by the Constitution or no one is protected. And they call themselves Patriots.

What? What’s that you say? Doesn’t the left do the same thing? Aren’t Creationism and Intelligent Design being censored? No. Despite Ben Stein’s absurd claims, no one is trying to silence Creationists. No one is petitioning Lehigh to terminate Michael Behe because they disagree with his viewpoint.

We will loudly and often point out Creationist misconceptions, distortions and outright falsehoods and we reserve the right to call them morons for ignoring the overwhelming evidence in nature and clinging to the fairy tales and myths of a group of ignorant unwashed nomads. But we’re not trying to silence them. If YouTube tried to shut down Creationist accounts, simply because they were promoting Creationism, their opponents in the Evolution-Creationism debate would be among the loudest howling “foul” in indignation. Yet I will bet you that the Creationists wouldn't let out the slightest whimper if YouTube decided to shut down their critics.

What's that you say? What about the Left’s fight to keep Creationism out of the science classroom? Isn’t that the same thing as ACTA trying to silence Ward Churchill?

We fight to keep Creationism out of the science classroom because being recognized as a scientific theory is not available on-demand. It has to be earned.

You can’t pick up a degree at the local Rite-Aid. It has to be earned with time and effort. You can’t order a Purple Heart from Amazon.com. It has to be earned with blood and pain. Your opinions aren’t accorded the recognition of being a scientific theory simply by you declaring they’re worthy of that recognition. You have to do the research; you have to write the papers; you have to present the evidence. The distinction of being recognized as a scientific theory has to be earned. Creationism hasn’t earned it. It hasn’t even tried to earn it. So no, it’s not the same thing at all.

The University of Colorado, under pressure from ACTA, decided to investigate Ward’s work to see if he had violated any academic ethics. They looked for skeletons and apparently found enough to revoke his tenure and terminate his teaching position.

I didn’t read the report on Ward’s termination issued by the university so I can’t pass judgment other than to say that I doubt that any of us could undergo a really intense scrutiny without something turning up. I know of a few lines of text here and there that I’ve written that someone could claim was plagiarized. I know in my storage account at work and in e-mails I’ve sent that there are things that violate the “Terms of Use” for computers and e-mail that they make me swear to abide by every year or so.

I didn’t read the report, but the courts did, and decided that the University of Colorado wrongefully terminated Ward Churchill. How’s that for a kick in the face ACTA? Yet ACTA continues to grind this axe. In their publications directory you can find a paper which moans that “throughout American higher education, professors are using their classrooms to push political agendas in the name of teaching students to think critically” entitled “How Many Ward Churchills?”

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