When it comes to left and right, meaning the respective voices of sanity and dementia, we’re meant to keep two sets of books.
Start with sanity, in the form of Ward Churchill, a tenured prof at the University of Colorado. Churchill is known nationally as a fiery historian and writer, particularly on Indian matters. Back in 2001, after 9/11, Churchill wrote an essay called "Some People Push Back", making the simple point, in his words, that "if U.S. foreign policy results in widespread death and destruction abroad, we cannot feign innocence when some of that destruction is returned."
That piece was developed into a book, On the Justice of Roosting Chickens. On the matter of those killed in the 9/11 attacks, Churchill wrote recently, "It is not disputed that the Pentagon was a military target, or that a CIA office was situated in the World Trade Center. Following the logic by which U.S. Defense Department spokespersons have consistently sought to justify target selection in places like Baghdad 1991 this placement of an element of the American ‘command and control infrastructure’ in an ostensibly civilian facility converted the Trade Center itself into a ‘legitimate’ target."
At this point Churchill could have specifically mentioned the infamous bombing of the Amariya civilian shelter in Baghdad in January, 1991, with 400 deaths, almost all women and children, all subsequently identified and named by the Iraqis. To this day the US government says it was an OK target.
Churchill concludes, "If the U.S. public is prepared to accept these ‘standards’ when they are routinely applied to other people, they should be not be surprised when the same standards are applied to them._ It should be emphasized that I applied the ‘little Eichmanns’ characterization only to those [World Trade Center workers] described as ‘technicians.’ Thus, it was obviously not directed to the children, janitors, food service workers, firemen and random passers-by killed in the 9-1-1 attack. According to Pentagon logic, [they] were simply part of the collateral damage. Ugly? Yes. Hurtful? Yes. And that’s my point. It’s no less ugly, painful or dehumanizing a description when applied to Iraqis, Palestinians, or anyone else." I’m glad he puts that gloss in about the targets of his characterization, thus clarifying what did read like a blanket stigmatization of the WTC inhabitants in his original paper.
A storm has burst over Churchill’s head, with protests by Governor Pataki and others at his scheduled participation on a panel at Hamilton College called "Limits of Dissent." In Colorado he’s resigned his chairmanship of the department of ethnic studies, and politicians, fired up by the mad dogs on the Wall Street Journal editorial page and by Lord O’Reilly of the Loofah on Fox, are howling for his eviction from his job.
Why should Churchill apologize for anything? Is it a crime to say that chickens can come home to roost and that the way to protect American lives from terrorism is to respect international law? I don’t think he should have resigned as department chair. Let them drag him out by main force.
So much for the voice of sanity. Now for the dementia of the right. The New Republic’s Tom Frank (not the Frank, please note, who just wrote a book about Kansas) describes in TNR how he recently sat in on an antiwar panel in Washington.
Frank listened to Stan Goff, a former Delta Force soldier and current organizer for Military Families Speak Out, whose speech duly moved Frank to write that "what I needed was a Republican like Arnold [Schwarzenegger] who would walk up to [Goff] and punch him in the face."
Then upon Frank’s outraged ears fell the views of International Socialist Review editorial board member Sherry Wolf, who asserted that Iraqis had a "right" to rebel against occupation, prompting TNR’s man to confide to his readers that "these weren’t harmless lefties. I didn’t want Nancy Pelosi talking sense to them; I wanted John Ashcroft to come busting through the wall with a submachine gun to round everyone up for an immediate trip to Gitmo, with Charles Graner on hand for interrogation."
After Wolf quoted Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy’s defense of the right to resist, Frank confided to The New Republic’s readers, "Maybe sometimes you just want to be on the side of whoever is more likely to take a bunker buster to Arundhati Roy."
Now suppose Churchill had talked about Schwarzenegger’s war on the poor in California and called on someone to punch the guv in the face, or have a jovial Graner force Pataki to masturbate what remain of Schwarzenegger’s steroid-shriveled genitals, or have Ann Coulter rub her knickers in his face or get blown up by a bomb? He’d be out of his job in a minute.
Right-wing mad dogs are licensed to write anything, and in our Coulter-culture they do, just so they can burnish their profiles and get invited on Fox talk shows. Why else would Tony Blankley call on the Washington Times editorial page for Hersh to be imprisoned or shot for treason? But it’s a PR game only right-wingers are allowed to play.
After savaging Churchill, the mad dogs of the right are now turning their sights on Shahid Alam, a tenured professor of economics at Northeastern University in Boston. Alam, author of the excellent Poverty From the Wealth of Nations, wrote a column for the CounterPunch website in December in which he argued that the 9/11 attacks were an Islamist insurgency, the attackers believing that they are fighting-as the American revolutionaries did, in the 1770s-for their freedom and dignity against foreign occupation/control of their lands. Second, he argued that these attacks were the result of the political failure of Muslims to resist their tyrannies locally.
It was a mistake, Alam said, to attack the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Now he has been labeled "an un-American" professor by O’Reilly and Daniel Pipes, and there’s an Internet campaign to have him stripped of his faculty position. So write to all the appropriate names, defending Churchill and Alam; and if you feel like a pleasant outing to execrate Frank and The New Republic, there’ll be a demonstration sponsored by the DC Anti-War Network, the DC chapter of the ISO and others at 5 pm on Friday, February 11, outside TNR’s DC editorial offices at 1331 H Street.
Afterword: Latest word from Colorado since this column went to press last Wednesday in the print edition of The Nation, is that the university’s Inquisition team has taken time out, for a month, so that they can read everything Ward Churchill has ever written. A month? That’s like saying you need only a year to read the works of Alexander Dumas, which would mean reading a couple of novels a day. This job will take those UC officials a lot longer than that. Ward is a very prolific guy and he’s been at it for many years. And, yes, this is the same University of Colorado whose officials decided last year to take no firm disciplinary action after Katie Hnida and two other women charged they had been raped or assaulted by members of the UC football team, also that Coach Gary Barnett’s staff had staged porno movie showings for potential team recruits, also promising them easy sex if they signed on. Once again, two sets of books. For rapists and procurers a wink and a nod;for political commentary, a full press persecution and threats of termination. Hnida told Katie Couric a few days ago that her lawyers are actively pursuing legal sanctions.