Ward Churchill, University of Colorado at Boulder professor, recently resigned his post as head of the school’s ethnic studies department following an uproar over an article he wrote about the people who died in the World Trade Center 9/11 event. Pressure had been applied.
The longtime native rights activist and leader of the Colorado chapter of the American Indian Movement had written an article underscoring how US foreign policies in Iraq and its support of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinians played a role in the attack in inspiring the hijackers. He questioned whether the victims inside the World Trade Center should be described as “innocent civilians.”
I remember (very well) the first time I came across his “little Eichmans” take; if I live long enough…I think it’ll stay with me more vividly than the JFK assassination moment has to date.
To draw from one of Democracy Now!s headlines which delved into Churchill’s mind/recent statements: “They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire – the ‘mighty engine of profit.’ Churchill accused the victims of Sept. 11 as being among the Americans who were too busy in their own lives to see the abuses being carried out by the U.S. overseas. This week Churchill said ‘The overriding question that was being posed at the time was…why did this happen, why did they hate us so much,…and my premise was when you do this to other people’s families and children, that is going to be a natural response.”
The enrolled Keetoowah Cherokee said, “they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break.” That set off New York’s Governor Pataki who immediately objected to Churchill’s scheduled appearance (this Thursday) at Hamilton College He said ”There’s a difference between freedom of speech and inviting a bigoted terrorist supporter.” A firestorm has followed. (1)
The Wall Street Journal didn’t take long to chime in: “It’s dÈj¦ vu all over again. Less than two months after Hamilton College tried to hire a former Weather Underground activist who was indicted in the 1981 Brinks murders, the Clinton, N.Y., liberal-arts college plans to showcase a cheerleader for the 9/11 attacks. Just the sort of thing parents pay nearly $40,000 a year in tuition and board to have their children hear.” (2)
The New Criterion took the occasion to lambast Hamilton’s President, the cutting-edge Kirkland Project and the “misrepresentation” of academic freedom on campus, as they sought to undermine Churchill’s upcoming appearance/standing:
“Churchill is scheduled to appear at Hamilton courtesy of the Kirkland Project — or, to give it its full name ‘The Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society and Culture,’ an organization, as the campus website puts it ‘committed to social justice, focusing on issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, disability, as well as other facets of human diversity.’ In other words, it is a left-wing, activist organization that has nothing to do with liberal arts education and everything to do with political agitation. It was the Kirkland Project, for example, that just last month invited the convicted felon (and former member of the Weather Underground) Susan Rosenberg to campus to teach; it was the Kirkland Project that, back in 2002, invited the former prostitute Annie Sprinkle to campus to instruct undergraduates in the joys of pornography and sex toys. Question for Hamilton’s Trustees: What legitimate academic role does the Kirkland Project play at Hamilton College? Why does it exist?” (3)
Hamilton’s president, Joan Hinde Stewart is taken to task by The New Criterion for saying, “open-ended and free inquiry is essential to educational growth.” (4):
“…surely a college president should understand that ‘open-ended and free inquiry’ is one thing, political agitation and proselytizing is another. Our society provides many outlets for the expression of political opinions. Thank God for that. It has also taken care to provide for educational institutions whose purpose is learning, scholarship, and pedagogy. Pace President Stewart, academic freedom is not the same thing as free speech. It is a more limited freedom, designed to nurture intellectual integrity and to protect those engaged in intellectual inquiry from the intrusion of partisan passions. The very limitation of academic freedom is part of its strength. By excluding the political, it makes room for the pursuit of truth.” (5)
Even Bill O’Reilly felt compelled to put in his two cents, informing viewers that it would be cruel to let Churchill speak “spreading his vile opinion around the country.” (6)
Why am I suspecting that continued denial of Churchill’s “little Eichmans” concept is going to be the cruelest thing imaginable for the country? And beyond.
There are plenty of people whose academic freedom have been compromised since Bush took office. For me, it doesn’t even matter if Ward himself says it’s no biggie to step down from his post. I’m not asking people to get riled up on this for the first line/obvious reasons. Rather, I want people to know –on a very personal note– that I’m not the only radical writer in these here parts who has taken much inspiration from Ward…and that this coordinated effort to silence him rings in an Unhappy New Year.
As soon as I heard the news I immediately contacted Joe Bageant and Derrick Jensen (in part, to get them to contact Churchill for a response). Joe’s known Ward for quite some time, but I haven’t heard back from him yet. Derrick has shared the stage with him twice, and Ward’s given him a couple of blurbs for his published work. (7) They’ve very clearly both enjoyed working together when they have, moving their audiences deeply.
When I reached Derrick this morning, he immediately emailed back: “One of the things I love about sharing the stage with Ward is that I don’t feel like I’m the one who’s pulling to be more radical and militant. It’s really fun to not be the most radical and militant person in the room for once. It feels very supported. I’m hoping I do something similar for him.”
I hope readers will pick up that baton and run with it. I trust that I don’t have to tell leftists what to do to address the abomination.
I close with cherished words from Derrick Jensen. Food for thought, as always:
“I don’t think there really is anything even remotely resembling academic freedom or freedom of discourse within the culture. I keep thinking about RD Laing’s 3 rules of a dysfunctional family, which are also the 3 rules of a dysfunctional culture. Rule A is Don’t. Rule A.1 is Rule A does not exist. Rule A.2 is Never discuss the existence or nonexistence of Rules A, A.1, or A.2. The way this plays out within an abusive family structure is that the members can talk about anything they want except for the violence they must pretend isn’t happening. The way this plays out on the larger social scale is that we can talk about whatever we want–we can have whatever ‘academic’ or ‘journalistic’ ‘freedom’ we want–so long as we don’t talk about the fact that this culture is based on systematic violence, and has been from the beginning. Anyone who’s been paying any attention at all for the last 200 years knows that the United States is based on systematic violence. We live on land stolen from Indians. The economy runs on oil stolen from people the world over. The entire economy is based on conquest and theft. It’s no wonder most of the people in the world hate the U.S. But of course we can’t talk about that. Anyone who does talk about that and is noticed must be silenced as quickly as possible.
I’ve never written this before in public, but my first thought on September 11 when I heard someone was attacking the World Trade Center is, ‘Ah, so now it begins. Someone is finally fighting back. Given the terror that the United States routinely inflicts on people (including nonhumans, of course) the world over (and of course now a couple of years later the United States calls these programs of systematic terror ‘Shock and Awe’), I’m surprised it didn’t happen long ago. The poor have been very patient and longsuffering, more patient and longsuffering than anyone could ever expect.’ That is what I thought.
One of the fundamental premises of this culture it is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always transparent, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.
As we see.
Those in power may kill with impunity, but when those lower on the hierarchy fight back, they are committing blasphemy and must be eliminated. Even to acknowledge that this is what is happening is itself a form of blasphemy, and those who speak the unspeakable–that those who are being terrorized by those in power have the right to fight back–must be silenced.” (8)
(3) http://www.newcriterion.com/weblog/2005_01_01_cano.html The article also adds: “Please do not launch into a sermon about ‘free speech,’ ‘diversity,’ and ‘academic freedom.’ For one thing, The Kirkland Project is not about diversity, it is about promulgating a single, left-wing, anti-American, moral antinomian line. For another thing, Colleges and Universities do not exist to promote free speech. They exist to pursue and teach the truth.”
(7) See www.derrickjensen.org
(8) Emailed response on the first day of February, 2005.
RICHARD OXMAN, who holds the world’s record for being dismissed prematurely (the most times) from east coast institutions of so-called higher education, can be reached at email@example.com.