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.

February 11, 2016
Bruce Lesnick
Flint: A Tale of Two Cities
Ajamu Baraka
Beyonce and the Politics of Cultural Dominance
Shamus Cooke
Can the Establishment Fix Its Bernie Sanders Problem?
John Hazard
The Pope in Mexico: More Harm Than Good?
Joyce Nelson
Trudeau & the Saudi Arms Deal
Zarefah Baroud
The Ever-Dangerous Mantra “Drill, Baby Drill”
Anthony DiMaggio
Illinois’ Manufactured Budget Crisis
Colin Todhunter
Indian Food and Agriculture Under Attack
Binoy Kampmark
Warring Against Sanders: Totalitarian Thinking, Feminism and the Clintons
Robert Koehler
Presidential Politics and the American Soul
Thomas Knapp
Election 2016: The Banality of Evil on Steroids
Cesar Chelala
Is Microcephaly in Children Caused by the Zika Virus or by Pesticides?
February 10, 2016
Eoin Higgins
Clinton and the Democratic Establishment: the Ties That Bind
Fred Nagel
The Role of Legitimacy in Social Change
Jeffrey St. Clair
Why Bernie Still Won’t Win
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Aleppo Gamble Pays Off
Chris Martenson
The Return of Crisis: Everywhere Banks are in Deep Trouble
Ramzy Baroud
Next Onslaught in Gaza: Why the Status Quo Is a Precursor for War
Sheldon Richman
End, Don’t Extend, Draft Registration
Benjamin Willis
Obama in Havana
Jack Smith
Obama Intensifies Wars and Threats of War
Rob Hager
How Hillary Clinton Co-opted the Term “Progressive”
Mark Boothroyd
Syria: Peace Talks Collapse, Aleppo Encircled, Disaster Looms
Lawrence Ware
If You Hate Cam Newton, It’s Probably Because He’s Black
Jesse Jackson
Starving Government Creates Disasters Like Flint
Bill Laurance
A Last Chance for the World’s Forests?
Gary Corseri
ABC’s of the US Empire
Frances Madeson
The Pain of the Earth: an Interview With Duane “Chili” Yazzie
Binoy Kampmark
The New Hampshire Distortion: The Primaries Begin
Andrew Raposa
Portugal: Europe’s Weak Link?
Wahid Azal
Dugin’s Occult Fascism and the Hijacking of Left Anti-Imperialism and Muslim Anti-Salafism
February 09, 2016
Andrew Levine
Hillary Says the Darndest Things
Paul Street
Kill King Capital
Ben Burgis
Lesser Evil Voting and Hillary Clinton’s War on the Poor
Paul Craig Roberts
Are the Payroll Jobs Reports Merely Propaganda Statements?
Fran Quigley
How Corporations Killed Medicine
Ted Rall
How Bernie Can Pay for His Agenda: Slash the Military
Neve Gordon
Israeli Labor Party Adopts the Apartheid Mantra
Kristin Kolb
The “Great” Bear Rainforest Agreement? A Love Affair, Deferred
Joseph Natoli
Politics and Techno-Consciousness
Hrishikesh Joshi
Selective Attention to Diversity: the Case of Cruz and Rubio
Stavros Mavroudeas
Why Syriza is Sinking in Greece
David Macaray
Attention Peyton Manning: Leave Football and Concentrate on Pizza
Arvin Paranjpe
Opening Your Heart
Kathleen Wallace
Boys, Hell, and the Politics of Vagina Voting
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail