FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Stifling Dissent on Campus

by Robert Jensen

Based on the mail of the past month, a lot of people still want me fired from my teaching position at the University of Texas for my antiwar writings in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

Many accuse me of being “anti-American,” but ironically it is their call to limit political debate that is anti-American, for it abandons the core commitment of a democracy to the sovereignty of the people and the role of citizens in forming public policy.

Some of the folks writing to me — and to the president of my university — do not mince words: Jensen is not supporting the war effort. So, he should be fired.

Other people, perhaps aware that such a call violates any reasonable conception of free speech and academic freedom, take a slightly more nuanced position: Because Jensen is so political in public, he cannot possibly teach in a fair and objective manner (though none of them has ever visited my classroom). They reach the same conclusion: He should be fired.

Both arguments are attacks on any meaningful conception of democracy and higher education. Let’s test the logic of those calling for my firing.

In several essays between Sept. 11 and Oct. 7 (posted on CounterPunch and at the No War Collective site, I (along with many others in the antiwar movement) argued against military retaliation, on moral and practical grounds — innocent civilians abroad likely will die, making future terrorist attacks more likely by deepening the anger and resentment against the United States in the Arab and Muslim world. Once the war began, I continued to oppose the reckless Bush policy that has created a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan as the war blocks significant food distribution and the civilian death toll mounts. Events in the world suggest this analysis coming from opponents of the war has been painfully accurate.

Throughout, I have suggested that Americans should confront the ugly history of U.S. attacks on civilians in such places as Southeast Asia, Latin America and the Middle East to understand why so many around the world see us not as the defender of freedom but as a violent bully.

If I had supported the president’s decisions and endorsed a military strike, would anyone have suggested I should be fired? Clearly not; many academics have done that without criticism.

Whatever the merits of either the prowar or antiwar position, one thing is inescapable: Both are political. So, my correspondents’ real objections cannot be that I am political, but instead that my political ideas are unacceptable to them. That means their actual argument is that in times of crisis, certain analysis and ideas are not acceptable and certain views should be purged from public universities, which sounds pretty anti-American.

It is of course dangerous to label any idea “anti-American,” because the term suggests that there can be political positions that are fixed forever. But the foundation of the U.S. system is (or should be) an active citizenry; being a citizen should mean more than just voting every few years. We have the right — maybe even the obligation — to involve ourselves in the formation of public policy, and in that process no one can claim that some proposals cannot be voiced.

If that’s true, then those calling for my firing are anti-American to the bone; their patriotism is supremely unpatriotic.

In my writing and speaking since Sept. 11, I have not supported terrorism or minimized the depth of the pain that Americans feel. I simply have suggested that it is important to understand the reasons that terrorists were willing to fly jets into buildings. Our president’s claim that terrorists “hate our freedoms” is embarrassingly simplistic, to the point of being childish. It is time to face honestly the way in which U.S. foreign policy — so often cruel, callous and indifferent to the suffering of innocent people — must be understood as part of this story.

Those are political arguments. No matter what one thinks of the soundness of the arguments, expressing them is an act of citizenship. In a democracy, we do not surrender to leaders the right to make policy undisturbed by the people.

If people want to eliminate spirited political discussion from the universities, what is left of higher education?

If they want to punish the exercise of citizenship, what is left of democracy?

Robert Jensen is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, a member of the Nowar Collective and author of the forthcoming book Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream. He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu.

 

Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. He is the author of several books, including the forthcoming Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully (Counterpoint/Soft Skull, fall 2015). http://www.amazon.com/Plain-Radical-Living-Learning-Gracefully/dp/1593766181 Robert Jensen can be reached at rjensen@austin.utexas.edu and his articles can be found online at http://robertwjensen.org/. To join an email list to receive articles by Jensen, go to http://www.thirdcoastactivist.org/jensenupdates-info.html. Twitter: @jensenrobertw. Notes. [1] Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, 3rd ed. (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996), p. 106. [2] Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986). [3] Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, edited and with a revised translation by Susan McReynolds Oddo (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2011), p. 55.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail