"What did you learn in school today / dear little child of mine? / I learned our government must be strong / It's always right and never wrong ..."
-- Tom Paxton, folk singer
It's too bad more people didn't pay attention to a forum last week. At Emory University, a score or so scholars gathered to talk about something called "academic freedom." More precisely, the topic was "Academic Freedom in a Time of War" -- but we'll get to "a Time of War" bit in a minute.
In dispassionate tones befitting a university, a half-dozen of Emory's finest expressed fears that their work was being manipulated and censored. While some examples were esoteric for most audiences -- the influence of Hindus in programs studying the religion, for example -- others are downright scary.
Recalling the bleak days in the 1950s, when Sen. Joe McCarthy's acolytes required university professors to sign loyalty oaths and teach only patriotic versions of reality, Emory professor Shalom Goldman noted that it wasn't just politics that caught the inquisitors' eyes. The entire English department at Ohio State University was fired for being insufficiently pro-American.
"More than 800 faculty members nationwide were forced out of jobs," Goldman said. The real toll was much higher. Thousands of professors quietly left the ivory tower rather than defend their politics -- or, as happened in Florida and elsewhere where homophobia combined with anti-intellectualism, their sexual preferences. Even more thousands were frightened into silence.
That college dons felt compelled to fret over their own freedom says a lot about the state of the nation. The additional fact that no one seems to much care about what promises to be a revival of McCarthy-style witch hunts on campus is chilling commentary.
Fear and ignorance are the powerful tools of the would-be enforcers. The public is buffaloed by the alarmist rhetoric. (Are we at Alert Status Orange or Yellow today?) A recent survey by the Freedom Foundation reported that 41 percent of the respondents would place limits on the academic freedom of professors and ban press criticism of the military. (You could hear the Bushies, the neocons and the chickenhawks all yell, "Yippee.")
Last month, the blitzkrieg (and that word was chosen precisely for its Nazi allusion) against academia roared into high gear. Daniel Pipes, one of America's most notorious Arab-haters and Islamophobes (qualities held in high esteem in Washington these days), launched a website, www.campus-watch.org, that solicits students to spy on their teachers. Campus-watch.org kicked off its pogrom with "dossiers" on eight professors and 14 colleges that the self-appointed heresy-finders found apostate.
This follows a similar onslaught earlier this year, when Republican ideologue William Bennett demanded the rousting out of impure thought from campuses. In an article titled "Maddening Deeds at U.S. Universities," he declared that "the condition of moral clarity at our universities is murky, at best. We should not be neutral about our country."
What constitutes correct thinking, according to mullahs such as Pipes and Bennett, is rigid support of a right-wing agenda that embraces the war policies of both America and Israel.
Pipes is best known for his strident and often racist denunciations of Arabs and Islam. In an effort to divide Americans -- one that if you inserted "blacks" for "Muslims" and "whites" for "Jews," would be vigorously damned as KKK-speech -- he told the American Jewish Congress a year ago that he worries "the presence and increased stature, and affluence, and enfranchisement of American Muslims ... will present true dangers to American Jews."
I contacted Pipes, and he not only confirmed his quote but, incredibly, added: "It is accurate in itself but you must note that this was spoken to a Jewish audience. I make the same point respectively to audiences of women, gays, civil libertarians, Hindus, Evangelical Christians, atheists, and scholars of Islam, among others, all of whom face 'true dangers' as the number of Muslims increases."
Pipes' latest offensive goes much wider. He takes aim at some of America's leading experts on the Middle East, such as Georgetown University's John Esposito, generally considered one of the world's foremost thinkers on the relationship of Islam and the West.
Pipes has met with solid resistance. Scores of professors have condemned his smear effort and demanded to be put on his list of thought-crime culprits.
Ironically, what Pipes is trying to silence in America -- criticism of Israeli and American policies -- is readily available in media in Israel and the rest of the world. A statement signed this month by scores of Israeli intellectuals, the overwhelming majority of them Jewish, contends:
"We, members of Israeli academe, are horrified by U.S. buildup of aggression toward Iraq and by the Israeli political leadership's enthusiastic support for it. We are deeply worried by indications that the 'fog of war' could be exploited by the Israeli government to commit further crimes against the Palestinian people, up to full-fledged ethnic cleansing."
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