Justice for Loretta Capeheart! Defend Free Speech in the Academy!

Friends and colleagues:
Please respond by signing onto the petition; please forward and circulate. This case has broad ramifications for freedom of expression on the part of faculty across the country.

THIS IS an urgent appeal for your support to defend Professor Loretta Capeheart in her struggle with her employer, Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) in Chicago. After four years of legal action, we are now awaiting a key decision from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals–a decision that could set a precedent for free speech rights on campus and possibly move the case on the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) wrote, “If upheld on review, the district court’s ruling would deal a major blow to professors’ academic freedom and free speech in the Seventh Circuit–and quite likely beyond, as it would send the unmistakable message that faculty members aiming to speak out and be active in campus dialogue risk having their careers damaged.”

Capeheart is a 10-year tenured professor at NEIU and a respected union and community activist. NEIU administrators have systematically targeted her for years. Administrators have engaged in slander against her, denied her a department chair position and earned merit pay increases. These attacks resulted from Capeheart’s union activities and anti-war work and her attempts to promote the rights of students and faculty, especially Latino/a faculty.

NEIU President Sharon K. Hahs is an arrogant opponent of student, worker and minority rights on campus and has presided over a spectacle of administrative scandal during her tenure.

In Capeheart v. Hahs et al, a federal judge concluded that Capeheart could be punished for speaking out against the war because she advised a student club. The court agreed with NEIU’s lawyers that academics have no right to free speech under the Supreme Court’s 2006 decision Garcetti v. Ceballos.

In Garcetti, the Supreme Court stripped most government workers of their rights to speak in the workplace but made a footnoted exception for professors. In deciding against Capeheart, the lower court effectively ignored this footnote and left workers with fewer rights.

Other federal courts have similarly misapplied Garcetti. Now the appeal before the 7th Circuit Court of appeals will either reject the new limits set by the lower courts or further establish them. Either way, this decision could lead to another hearing before the Supreme Court.

Visit the Justice for Loretta Capeheart website for updates on the case. Post a link to the website on Facebook and Twitter, and send it to your friends and coworkers. Sign the petition calling for justice for Loretta.

Send e-mails, phone calls and letters to NEIU President Sharon K. Hahs, S-Hahs@neiu.edu, 773-442-5400 and President Sharon K. Hahs, 5500 N. St. Louis Avenue, Chicago, IL 60625.

Support the campaign financially. You can make a donation to the legal fund via Paypal at the Justice for Loretta Capeheart website, or by sending a check to Thomas D. Rosenwein, Glickman, Flesch & Rosenwein, 230 W. Monroe St., Suite 800, Chicago, IL 60606, Memo: Loretta Capeheart Defense.

Show your solidarity by passing resolutions in your union, your faculty senate or other organization through which you can gain support. Send messages of support to justice4loretta@gmail.com.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

Signatories
Noam Chomsky, Institute professor (emeritus), MIT
Michael Ratner, President, Center for Constitutional Rights*
Jesse Sharkey, Vice President, Chicago Teachers Union*
Dave Zirin, Sports Editor, The Nation
Ahmed Shawki, Editor, International Socialist Review
Anthony Arnove, Editor, Haymarket Books
Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed*
David McNally, Professor of Political Science, York University, Toronto
The Coalition Against Corporate Higher Education (CACHE)
Mike Davis, Professor, UC Riverside
William Keach, Professor, Brown University
Deepa Kumar, Associate Professor, Rutgers University
Hector R. Reyes, Associate Professor, Harold Washington College, Vice Chair, HWC Chapter, AFT Local 1600
Helen C. Scott, Associate Professor, University of Vermont
Marvin Surkin, Professor, Long Island University, Ramapo College
Pranav Jani, Associate Professor, English, Ohio State University
*Organizations listed for identification only

Account of UNC protester on Tancredo visit 4/14

The letter was written by Billie Murray, Ph.D. Candidate at UNC Chapel Hill. H

April 16, 2009

Dear Chancellor Thorp:

I want to express my concerns over the events of April 14, 2009. Currently, I am a Doctoral Candidate and Teaching Fellow in the Department of Communication Studies specializing in the rhetoric of social protest. I have been a part of the UNC system for 6 years and a student and member of the UNC-Chapel Hill community for over 4 years. During that time I have witnessed some of UNC’s proudest, shining moments and consider those less shining to be opportunities for growth and progress. As a member of this community, a first-hand witness to the protest events on April 14th, and as a scholar of free speech issues, I believe it is my responsibility to address what I see as precisely one of those opportunities.

In the days leading up to April 14th, I reviewed a number of emails, websites and other literature about the Youth for Western Civilization, Tom Tancredo, and proposed responses to his presence and the presence of the YWC chapter on campus. I attended the event on the 14th as a researcher of social protest and free speech and to stand in solidarity with those students who felt threatened by the presence of the YWC and Mr. Tancredo in our community. During the protest, I watched as some of my students were roughly pushed to the ground by police officers, sprayed with pepper spray, and threatened with a taser. I helped some students to the bathroom on the second floor of Bingham Hall to rinse the spray from their noses, mouths, and eyes. Needless to say I was afraid for their safety and my own. The Students for a Democratic Society released a statement today detailing a side of this story that has been absent from police accounts, the Daily Tar Heel, and other mainstream media sources. In the interests of free speech, that side of the story deserves to be heard, and I encourage you to hear their voices.

I can’t say I wasn’t warned that something violent might occur at this event. A faculty member in my department who researches hate speech sent out an email requesting that anyone deciding to take part in the protest use caution because demonstrations against hate groups can increase the likelihood of violence. I suppose I should have known from my own extensive experience and research that this violence most often comes not from protestors, but from the “protectors” of free speech. It seems only Mr. Tancredo’s free speech rights and safety were of concern on Tuesday, not the free speech rights and safety of your own students. The apology issued to Mr. Tancredo on the grounds that he felt threatened and was unable to be heard was out of place. An apology should be issued to those students who feel threatened by the presence of the YWC and Mr. Tancredo and the violent silencing of their own voices at the hands of police officers.

Other arguments have surfaced since the events that a cursory review of the history of protest would reveal as commonplace. For example, protests just give those protested against the publicity they crave, and there are better ways to deal with these groups. But I ask you, what are these better ways? In your notice to students you suggest that: “There’s a way to protest that respects free speech and allows people with opposing views to be heard. Here that’s often meant that groups protesting a speaker have displayed signs or banners, silently expressing their opinions while the speaker had his or her say.” While I might agree that sometimes silence can be golden, Alice Walker reminds us that “no person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.” This demand for silence also reveals a misunderstanding about one of the main goals of protest, both historically and in the current moment, to disrupt. Protestors often seek to disrupt our comfort zones in order to bring light to injustices. Silence is not disruptive. Disruption requires volume, and they were loud. Yes, a window was broken. But there seems to be more concern over this small piece of damaged property than over the overreaction of police in spraying and threatening bodily harm to the students.

Threats of criminal and Honor Court charges against the students who exercised their free speech rights is indicative of how effectively they embodied their power to express themselves and protect their community from the silencing effect of hate speech. We often lament the lack of involvement of young people in politics and issues of importance. But how quick we have been to encourage their silence, demonize their expressions, chill their participation, and discipline and punish them when they have any real effect.

Some have argued that it is not entirely clear that YWC or Mr. Tancredo are/were engaging in hate speech. Your own comments refer to his talk as being about “immigration.” However, a review of Mr. Tancredo’s past speeches and YWC literature makes it quite clear that a rhetoric of “anti-immigration” is being used to thinly disguise intolerance, racism, fear, and attacks on the cultural identities of people of color who should “assimilate” into Western Culture. As purveyors of higher education, we have a responsibility to our students to be more critical and discerning and to teach them to be more critical and discerning about the rhetoric to which they are exposed. You don’t need to be a rhetorical scholar to see the insidiousness of this rhetoric. Hate speech (or if you prefer to err on the side of simple racist rhetoric) does not promote social justice or any other democratic values. Hate speech silences free speech by humiliating, denigrating, instilling fear, and inciting violence

It has been argued in the past couple of days that supporters of free speech should be tolerant of all speech. While I am of the view that as a democratic society we must be tolerant of dissenting views, in no way does this mean that all speech promotes democratic ends or should be tolerated. Put simply, some stories are better than others. The litmus test for these “better stories” include those that promote tolerance, acceptance, social justice, equality, and yes, free speech. The rhetoric espoused by YWC and Mr. Tancredo does not promote tolerance of difference and silences those who are “different.” Why then should we be tolerant of a rhetoric that in no way promotes the goals of a democracy and that creates a culture of fear and hate? Hate speech silences free speech.

Mr. Tancredo is a former Congressperson and Presidential candidate. Therefore, he is someone with a great deal of political power, who has had many and will continue to have many opportunities to have his voice heard. I do not lament his speech being disrupted in this particular instance. What I do lament is that the students who attended Mr. Tancredo’s speech with the goal of engaging in dialogue or debate with him, did not get the opportunity to have their voices heard. Their voices are too often silenced it seems. However, it is my understanding that the groups who organized the protest have since been in conversation with these students to apologize and find productive ways to work in solidarity so as to avoid a similar clash of communication strategies in the future. But as a teacher of communication, I would say to those students desiring dialogue, I admire your resolve. However, to have a truly productive dialogue with someone holding contrary views, all must come to the table willing to respect the diversity of others, trust in their goodwill, and prepared to be honest and open-minded. I do not believe that given the opportunity to dialogue with Mr. Tancredo or members of the YWC, you would have found these conditions to be present.

In closing, I would like to ask you, Chancellor Thorp, to use this moment as an opportunity to truly hear your students’ diverse voices when they say to you that they will not be silent when racism threatens their community. Use this opportunity to forge a dialogue among students, faculty, staff, and university police so as to have more productive, peaceful interactions in the future that protect our students and their rights.

Respectfully,
Billie Murray

Defend Loretta Capeheart!

JUSTICE FOR PROFESSOR LORETTA CAPEHEART!
A TEST CASE FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND WORKERS’ RIGHTS

Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) Justice Studies professor Loretta Capeheart has been targeted by her administration for her outspokenness for workers’ rights, against the Iraq war, and for increased representation of minority scholars at NEIU. In 2007 she was elected to chair her department by a 2/3 majority of her colleagues, yet the University refused to appoint her to that post and even went so far as to put the department into receivership and install a representative of the administration as chair. Capeheart was also denied merited awards during this time.

What were Capeheart’s “crimes”? An activist in her union (University Professionals of Illinois-AFT/IFT), Capeheart was a leader in the 2004 faculty strike. In 2006, she testified in the state legislature on the need to recruit greater numbers of Latino/a faculty, contradicting and infuriating Provost Lawrence Frank, who was in attendance. In February 2007, she defended students in the anti-war movement who were arrested during a protest of a CIA recruitment event on campus. This controversy led NEIU President Sharon Hahs to propose a campus events policy (subsequently withdrawn) imposing draconian and unconstitutional restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly on the campus.

When Capeheart spoke up at a faculty council meeting to question the treatment of the students, NEIU Vice President Melvin Terrell lashed out at her, stating that Capeheart was a “person of interest” to the police and that a student had filed charges of stalking against Capeheart. These defamatory statements were absolutely unfounded. But the threat against Capeheart—that if she continued to speak out, she and her career would be targets for retribution—remains very real. “Stalking is a criminal offense,” she said. “I lived in continual fear that someone would come to arrest me in my class and that I would lose my job. The message was that if I continued to speak they would come after me.” To date, Terrell has not retracted his accusations.

Capeheart is suing Terrell for defamation, alongside Hahs and Provost Lawrence Frank for violation of her constitutional right to free speech and retaliation against her. She seeks an injunction against further violations, her rightful appointment as chair, and from Terrell, monetary damages for harms resulting from his defamation of her. Incredibly, the administrators’ response argues that Capeheart, as a state employee, may not sue the University or its officials, contravene their positions, question their conduct, or speak as a faculty member on matters of public concern. Their motion to dismiss the case states that “clothed in her authority as a faculty member,” Capeheart criticized University policy, “even going so far as to disagree with the stated positions of the Provost.” “It is very middle ages,” Capehart said, “like the lord vs. the serf.” The case is pending hearing in Federal Court.

We cannot allow NEIU administrators to get away with these attacks on academic freedom and workers’ rights. Their actions should be chilling to all workers, activists, and scholars. Her case is a perfect example of the stakes of the ongoing struggle for academic freedom—for labor, for inclusion and equality of minorities, and for the right to protest against war and injustice. We stand with her.

Petition at http://www.petitiononline.com/j4lc/petition.html

“Facts Count” by Freeexchangeon campus.org

Go to freeexchange on campus.org for the full report. Here are their conclusions about Horowitz’s latest book, “One-Party Classroom”

FACTS STILL COUNT
executive summary
Nearly three years after our first report, Facts Count, debunked the accusations against
faculty members and higher education in David Horowitz’s 2006 book, The Professors,
we find ourselves confronted with yet another round of attacks against higher educa-
tion in his latest book, One-Party Classroom, which he co-authored with Jacob Laskin.
Our conclusion, after reading this new book and examining its arguments and their
factual bases, is the same as it was in 2006: Facts still count, and Horowitz’s arguments
still sorely lack supporting evidence.
New policies that affect higher education should not be undertaken lightly, considering
the millions of students and future leaders attending American colleges and universi-
ties, the communities relying on important research to solve our collective challenges,
and the policymakers depending on institutions to add economic vitality and growth to
their districts.
Unfortunately, instead of the rigorous examination upon which future policies and
planning should be based, Horowitz’s analysis in One-Party Classroom closely resem-
bles the shoddy research and baseless conclusions in The Professors. Like previous
works from Horowitz, One-Party Classroom attempts to indict all of higher education
based on examples the authors have cherry-picked and then distorted beyond any sem-
blance of reality.
This report examines the inaccuracies in One-Party Classroom’s accusations, as well
as the lack of evidence and faulty logic underlying its claims and conclusions. As in
his previous works, Horowitz cites only a scant number of academics and courses, and
then makes broad generalizations and indictments of higher education based on that
unrepresentative sampling. In this book, Horowitz adds to his research problems by
reviewing only course syllabi available online, faculty member profiles and reading
lists—often incompletely and/or inaccurately—and failing to include any real measure
of what occurs in a course. In particular, this report will examine:

conclusions and accusations based on incomplete and inaccurate course syllabi:
Horowitz repeatedly uses inaccurate copies of course descriptions, intentionally omits
sections of course descriptions and simply misquotes course descriptions, when claim-
ing that a course, department or faculty member’s work is inappropriate for higher
education. With a lack of accurate evidence, Horowitz’s conclusions fail to hold water.
misrepresentations of classroom reading lists.
Repeatedly, Horowitz cites the reading list of a course as evidence that it is used to
indoctrinate rather than educate—typically because his representation of the read-
ing list contains only perspectives of which he disapproves. However, in a number of
examples, Horowitz’s account literally leaves out books and reading assignments that
would disprove his claims.
misrepresentations of faculty members’ credentials:
As in his previous attacks on higher education, one of Horowitz’s chief complaints is
that faculty members lack the credentials to teach their courses. Similar to his treat-
ment of reading lists, Horowitz relies on, at best, incomplete information to make his
claims. He repeatedly leaves out significant research or writing in the relevant field
when making his accusations.
Facts still count, and our assessment of Horowitz’s latest book finds it sorely lacking.
Much like The Professors, the data in One-Party Classroom is cherry-picked, manipu-
lated or grossly blown out of proportion to serve Horowitz’s agenda—to smear and
discredit higher education. To the extent One-Party Classroom provides evidence of any
trend, it demonstrates only the consistency of Horowitz’s biases against higher education.

And so it begins again . . . Horowitz targets me with lies, exaggerations, and distortions

On April 9, 2009, a rowdy group of about 60 students protested the appearance of  neo-McCarthyite culture warrior David Horowitz in Austin. Because Horowitz repeatedly targets me in his attacks on progressive and critical intellectuals, I was part of the protest.

On April 18, The Wall Street Journal published a lengthy opinion column by David Horowitz in which he condemned the demonstration and impugned me, University of Texas students, and several activist organizations. He not only claimed that the protest was an attempt to silence his free speech, but also argued that my reasonable contribution to the discussion was a pretense.  In spite of a recent rash of withdrawn speaking invitations to left-wing professors (e.g., Norman Finkelstein, fired at DePaul and refused a scheduled lecture at Clark College)–not to mention the spate of firings and denials of tenure on political bases at universities across the country–he claimed that leftists never face protest or censorship when they speak.

In response to his account here in The Wall Street Journal, I shall make three arguments. First, his account and his demagoguery in general are full of lies, distortions, and exaggerations. Second, protest, even disruptive protest, is neither violent nor censorious. Finally, David Horowitz should be confronted loudly and often wherever he goes, because he represents nothing less than the thought police. In Orwellian fashion, he projects his thought-police role onto his opponents as a disingenuous strategy of disciplining academics who hold views contrary to his (unfortunately influential) orthodoxy–and who might actually make sense to independent-minded students.

First, Horowitz’s account of the evening, not to mention the content of his entire lecture, is full of lies, distortions, and exaggerations. The only assault he has ever “faced” involved a cream pie. That he travels around with a hunky bodyguard and routinely calls the police on protesters (now, there’s censorship) is a bit of over-the-top self-aggrandizing drama. He is no victim of the left. 60 students posed no threat to his safety, and neither did I, a 45-year-old professor. Furthermore, when I rose to speak, and when I began to make sense, he cut off discussion and launched into a hysterical rant, calling students little fascists. I had merely asked why he disrespected students so much as to think that they are so vulnerable to indoctrination. I explained how how his targeting of me has resulted in real, actual threats and voluminous hate mail against me; I discussed how his activities and that of others amounted to a New McCarthyism that has put numerous scholars across the country at risk (now, there’s censorship). I also explained that just as I keep my family life separate from the undergraduate classroom, so do I separate my activism from my pedagogy. He had no answer to these criticisms and questions. Instead, he and others started claiming that my appearing reasonable and genuine (even going so far as to invite any audience member into my class) was a manipulative act.

His “work,” likewise, is shoddy and riddled with lies. I invite readers to the check website freeexchangeoncampus.org for detailed account of his misrepresentations about me and others in their report “Facts Still Count.” In general, his presentation made a number of questionable claims. For example, he claimed that race is no longer a barrier to achievement in the U.S., that gender is biological (and therefore so is women’s alleged inability to do math), that renowned Black scholars like Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson are “buffoons” and “clowns” (note the invocation of slavery-era stereotypes.)

In an infamous instance during his round of “Islamofascism Awareness Week” tours, Horowitz claimed that a photo used to dramatize the oppression of women in Islam (in which a woman is shown being beaten and buried alive); it turns out that the photo is from a Dutch film, De Steen.

He claims that he humanities are riddled with nefarious faculty indoctrinating their students in disciplines that don’t count as scholarship, yet he says nothing about the evident ideological uniformity of the business school, aerospace engineering, and the like. Contrary to his accusations, Sami-al-Arian does not lead a terrorist group and Iranians for Peace and Justice have not officially endorsed or supported Hezbollah or Hamas. My courses do, in fact, include readings in anti-feminism and the conservative movement. One can discover the same errors with regard to the syllabi and records of all of my award-winning colleagues. (One rather humorous error is that he claims that the author of my text on social movements is the radical Robert Jensen, when it is a much less scary Richard Jensen.)

As Horowitz publicist Patricia Jackson noted, “We don’t generally fact check.” Yet Horowitz claims that his right to free speech has been abridged. Last time I checked, libel is illegal and not covered by the First Amendment.

Second, it is wrong to equate protest–even loud, disruptive protest–with censorship. Public disruption has been a staple of movements for social change in this country from the Boston Tea Party forward. (In this light, it is incredibly ironic that conservatives who claimed to be acting in the tradition of the Boston Tea Party last week also would condemn our protest. The BTP was nothing if not rude and disruptive.) Our norms of decorum are ridiculous when compared to other countries’ forms of political discourse. Take, for example, the British Parliament, where booing, heckling, and shouting are the order of the day.

Protest is not censorship; it is simply the exercise of more speech. Where would our democracy be without disruptive protests for women’s rights, civil rights for minorities, and for the meager protections and rights afforded gays and lesbians today? Indeed, where would our democracy be without the (very violent and disruptive) war  for independence or without Sherman’s  (very violent and disruptive) march to the sea?

Third, I hear the argument from all quarters that even witch-hunters like Horowitz deserve their say and that they should be allowed to speak respectfully and uninterrupted. However, if one acknowledges that the man is a witch-hunter, giving him a platform is akin to aiding and abetting his program of imposed orthodoxy and the purging of radicals from the academy. One recent case in point was reported today in InsideHigherEd: The College of DuPage just adopted his Orwellian-misnamed “Academic Bill of Rights,” which, among other things, “includes language that some professors fear will make it impossible for them to explain to students that issues such as evolution are not in question in reputable scientific circles. . . . The measure also seems to rule out the possibility that faculty members could teach a course from their philosophical perspective, and seems to equate doing so with disrespect for students.” The climate that David Horowitz and others of his ilk have fostered legitimates the firing and disciplining of faculty. He says he doesn’t call for people to be fired. He doesn’t have to.

Do you know at whom I wish someone had hollered early, loudly, and often?

Joe McCarthy.

The Joe McCarthy of the “I have here a list”–or, in Horowitz’s case, a book, or two books, or three books, or the Internet network of intellectuals as terrorists–fame. In hindsight, many defenders of freedom would have challenged him more vociferously had they recognized what he represented. David Horowitz is a modern-day McCarthy. Award winning teachers and dedicated, respected scholars face censorship and dismissal because of the climate that David Horowitz fosters. We do not let witch-hunters or other complete and total enemies of free speech take a platform unchallenged. (Appallingly, some conservative respondents to Horowitz’s column have argued that McCarthy had the right idea.)

I am a socialist. However, contrary to Horowitz’s rantings, I am not a Stalinist. My politics are quite the opposite of fascism, and I invite readers to explore the differences between, say, Trotskyism and fascism before making any further accusations. To seek a world in which ordinary people control the conditions of their existence is neither fascism nor Stalinism. To criticize a world in which we get devastating wars for oil but not universal health care is not terrorism. To recognize the sickening fact that capitalism goes into crisis not because there is too little to go around, but because there is too much–while people starve on the streets, join the unemployment lines, and lose their homes, vast office buildings stand vacant and tons of grain are dumped each year because they cannot be sold– does not make one a Stalinist. Working people are paying for the crisis that greed and power made. It is no wonder that a Rasmussen poll taken last week indicated that only 53% of Americans believe today that capitalism is better than socialism. (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/10/rasmussen-capitalism-poll_n_185665.html) I’d like to keep the campuses a space where we can debate these matters of grave significance–not whether faculty are involved in an imaginary program of insidious mind control.

Horowitz’s inflamed rhetoric is no more than casuistry and demagoguery, aimed at getting universities to discipline their faculty even as campus social movements emerge from their doldrums. There is a connection here. Campuses are historically sites of truly open debate, critique, and activism. The ground has shifted radically under the feet of conservatives as recent events have inspired Americans to question the terms of existing society and to protest inequality and injustice. It seems that the academy is the final flag in the culture war, and conservatives like Horowitz are holding on by their teeth. That his column was published in The Wall Street Journal lays bare the connection between this culture war and the defense of capitalism as an economic system.

Even when desperate, the speech and action of David Horowitz have consequences, and these consequences have absolutely nothing to do with protecting undergraduates from left-wing indoctrination. I invite you to look up the cases of Jonathon Kovel and Norman Finkelstein, and the lesser known cases of political harassment and dismissal of teachers like Loretta Capeheart.

No, we will not stand by silently while the hysteria of an increasingly desperate witch-hunt builds. We will not leave the new McCarthys to speak in peace so long as they threaten actual academic freedom.

Confronting Right-Wing Bigots

This, from a colleague at the University of North Carolina. Could have written the same thing about our protest against Horowitz last week.

April 16, 2009

Dear Chancellor Thorp:

I want to express my concerns over the events of April 14, 2009. Currently, I am a Doctoral Candidate and Teaching Fellow in the Department of Communication Studies specializing in the rhetoric of social protest. I have been a part of the UNC system for 6 years and a student and member of the UNC-Chapel Hill community for over 4 years. During that time I have witnessed some of UNC’s proudest, shining moments and consider those less shining to be opportunities for growth and progress. As a member of this community, a first-hand witness to the protest events on April 14th, and as a scholar of free speech issues, I believe it is my responsibility to address what I see as precisely one of those opportunities.

In the days leading up to April 14th, I reviewed a number of emails, websites and other literature about the Youth for Western Civilization, Tom Tancredo, and proposed responses to his presence and the presence of the YWC chapter on campus. I attended the event on the 14th as a researcher of social protest and free speech and to stand in solidarity with those students who felt threatened by the presence of the YWC and Mr. Tancredo in our community. During the protest, I watched as some of my students were roughly pushed to the ground by police officers, sprayed with pepper spray, and threatened with a taser. I helped some students to the bathroom on the second floor of Bingham Hall to rinse the spray from their noses, mouths, and eyes. Needless to say I was afraid for their safety and my own. The Students for a Democratic Society released a statement today detailing a side of this story that has been absent from police accounts, the Daily Tar Heel, and other mainstream media sources. In the interests of free speech, that side of the story deserves to be heard, and I encourage you to hear their voices.

I can’t say I wasn’t warned that something violent might occur at this event. A faculty member in my department who researches hate speech sent out an email requesting that anyone deciding to take part in the protest use caution because demonstrations against hate groups can increase the likelihood of violence. I suppose I should have known from my own extensive experience and research that this violence most often comes not from protestors, but from the “protectors” of free speech. It seems only Mr. Tancredo’s free speech rights and safety were of concern on Tuesday, not the free speech rights and safety of your own students. The apology issued to Mr. Tancredo on the grounds that he felt threatened and was unable to be heard was out of place. An apology should be issued to those students who feel threatened by the presence of the YWC and Mr. Tancredo and the violent silencing of their own voices at the hands of police officers.

Other arguments have surfaced since the events that a cursory review of the history of protest would reveal as commonplace. For example, protests just give those protested against the publicity they crave, and there are better ways to deal with these groups. But I ask you, what are these better ways? In your notice to students you suggest that: “There’s a way to protest that respects free speech and allows people with opposing views to be heard. Here that’s often meant that groups protesting a speaker have displayed signs or banners, silently expressing their opinions while the speaker had his or her say.” While I might agree that sometimes silence can be golden, Alice Walker reminds us that “no person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.” This demand for silence also reveals a misunderstanding about one of the main goals of protest, both historically and in the current moment, to disrupt. Protestors often seek to disrupt our comfort zones in order to bring light to injustices. Silence is not disruptive. Disruption requires volume, and they were loud. Yes, a window was broken. But there seems to be more concern over this small piece of damaged property than over the overreaction of police in spraying and threatening bodily harm to the students.

Threats of criminal and Honor Court charges against the students who exercised their free speech rights is indicative of how effectively they embodied their power to express themselves and protect their community from the silencing effect of hate speech. We often lament the lack of involvement of young people in politics and issues of importance. But how quick we have been to encourage their silence, demonize their expressions, chill their participation, and discipline and punish them when they have any real effect.

Some have argued that it is not entirely clear that YWC or Mr. Tancredo are/were engaging in hate speech. Your own comments refer to his talk as being about “immigration.” However, a review of Mr. Tancredo’s past speeches and YWC literature makes it quite clear that a rhetoric of “anti-immigration” is being used to thinly disguise intolerance, racism, fear, and attacks on the cultural identities of people of color who should “assimilate” into Western Culture. As purveyors of higher education, we have a responsibility to our students to be more critical and discerning and to teach them to be more critical and discerning about the rhetoric to which they are exposed. You don’t need to be a rhetorical scholar to see the insidiousness of this rhetoric. Hate speech (or if you prefer to err on the side of simple racist rhetoric) does not promote social justice or any other democratic values. Hate speech silences free speech by humiliating, denigrating, instilling fear, and inciting violence

It has been argued in the past couple of days that supporters of free speech should be tolerant of all speech. While I am of the view that as a democratic society we must be tolerant of dissenting views, in no way does this mean that all speech promotes democratic ends or should be tolerated. Put simply, some stories are better than others. The litmus test for these “better stories” include those that promote tolerance, acceptance, social justice, equality, and yes, free speech. The rhetoric espoused by YWC and Mr. Tancredo does not promote tolerance of difference and silences those who are “different.” Why then should we be tolerant of a rhetoric that in no way promotes the goals of a democracy and that creates a culture of fear and hate? Hate speech silences free speech.

Mr. Tancredo is a former Congressperson and Presidential candidate. Therefore, he is someone with a great deal of political power, who has had many and will continue to have many opportunities to have his voice heard. I do not lament his speech being disrupted in this particular instance. What I do lament is that the students who attended Mr. Tancredo’s speech with the goal of engaging in dialogue or debate with him, did not get the opportunity to have their voices heard. Their voices are too often silenced it seems. However, it is my understanding that the groups who organized the protest have since been in conversation with these students to apologize and find productive ways to work in solidarity so as to avoid a similar clash of communication strategies in the future. But as a teacher of communication, I would say to those students desiring dialogue, I admire your resolve. However, to have a truly productive dialogue with someone holding contrary views, all must come to the table willing to respect the diversity of others, trust in their goodwill, and prepared to be honest and open-minded. I do not believe that given the opportunity to dialogue with Mr. Tancredo or members of the YWC, you would have found these conditions to be present.

In closing, I would like to ask you, Chancellor Thorp, to use this moment as an opportunity to truly hear your students’ diverse voices when they say to you that they will not be silent when racism threatens their community. Use this opportunity to forge a dialogue among students, faculty, staff, and university police so as to have more productive, peaceful interactions in the future that protect our students and their rights.

Respectfully,

Academic Speaks Out against Charlie Wilson Chair

http://statesman.com.pk/opinion/op11.htm

——————————————————-

The Statesman, Peshawar

September 13 , 2008

Charlie Wilson’s war: The academic blowback

Dr. Mohammad Taqi

Just when we thought that Charlie Wilson would fade away into the
dustbin of history, he staged a come-back last year, via a Mike Nichols
movie “Charlie Wilson’s War”ˇ based on a 2003 book by George Crile with
the same title.

Both the book and the movie represent an American view of the Afghan
conflict of the 1980s, presented in a post-Soviet era, when very few
people are willing to or care about analyzing these works objectively.
The author, director and their US audiences do have a right to gloat
over a glossed-up version of the history.

So far so good, but now there is group of Pakistani-Americans who
have started a campaign to name a soon-to-be-founded Pakistan
Studies Chair at the University of Texas, after Rep. Charlie Wilson.
An Iftar dinner has been arranged in Washington, D.C. on September
24, 2008 to help plan, support and possibly raise money for this
venture. Dr. Randy Diehl, the Dean of College of Liberal Arts at the
University of Texas at Austin, TX, will be the featured speaker at
the event.

Whereas we don’t doubt the sincerity of the efforts by this group, among
which are some leading lights of the Pakistani Americans Public Affairs
Committee (PAKPAC), it is unfortunate that these fine men and women have
chosen one of the most controversial figures of the Afghan imbroglio,
ostensibly to promote, in the USA, the study of Pakistan-related matters.

Unlike Charlie Wilson, few – if any – of these do-gooders have ever
set foot on the Pashtun-Afghan lands and are completely oblivious of
the fact that Afghans and Pashtuns continue to reap – till this day-
what Wilson and Ziaul Haq sowed in the killing fields of Afghanistan.

Charlie Wilson might be a hero to a few Americans, who wanted to give
the Soviets a bloody nose in Afghanistan, to avenge their own humiliation
in Vietnam. However, it is an established fact that Wilson is also the
grand-daddy of the present-day Taliban and is one of the few people
directly responsible for Talibanisation of Pakistani and Afghan societies.

Warlords like Jalaluddin Haqqani – Wilson’s favorite commander – and
Gulbudin Hikmatyar were direct beneficiaries of the arms and largesse pumped
in by Wilson. It is not a surprise that Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin remain
active Taliban till today, fighting both the US and Pakistan and that the US
had to bomb their hideout on September 7, 2008. Hikmatyar too, is not far
behind OBL on America’s wanted list.

Wilson and his coterie’s stated strategy of mixing religion with politics and
more importantly, a covert war continue to give us a blowback in the form of
battle-hardened religious zealots, now marauding the tribal and settled areas
of Pakistan. He remained a part and parcel of an unholy war, which in the words
of a CIA operative “was fought with Saudi money, American arms and the Afghan
bloodˇ.” All the players in this war, including Wilson, remained committed to
fight “till the last Afghanˇ.”

This is not the only concern about Wilson’s methods, for some would
argue that anything and everything was necessary to defeat the “Evil
Empire.” What is of more concern to the democratic forces in Pakistan
and their supporters in the US and the West is that Wilson, along with
George Schultz, Richard Armitage and Michael Armacost produced a post-Zia
policy, thus sidelining the nascent democratic government of Benazir Bhutto.
According to Steve Coll, the author of “Ghost Warsˇ.” Wilson and Co. drafted
this policy literally on the fly, while en route to attend Zia’s funeral.

The fallout from this relationship, where money and weapons were handed
over to an intelligence agency, without civilian oversight would come back
to haunt all of us. Twenty years later Senator Joe Biden, along with Senator
Dick Lugar, had to undertake the herculean task of rectifying this anomaly.
The VP aspirant is trying to undo the damage done to both the US-Pak
relations as well the Pakistani people, through the “Biden-Lugar”ˇ bill.

The issue at hand is fairly straight-forward: is there a need for a
Pakistan Studies Chair at the University of Texas or for that matter
at any other US academic institution? The answer is a resounding yes.
The next question we have to ask is if such Chair should be named after
someone like Charlie Wilson, whose personal and political scruples are
very dubious to say the least. What kind of role model would he make for
the students enrolling at the proposed center?

If Rep. Wilson and the Temple Foundation – the other potential donor -
want to do something substantial for Pakistan Studies, a reasonable way
to proceed would be by making an unmarked and unrestricted donation to
establish a Chair in Pakistan studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

I call upon the academics and pro-democracy friends in Pakistan and
around the world to write directly to Dr. Randy Diehl, the Dean of
College of Liberal Arts, University of Texas at Austin, TX asking
him to revisit the idea of naming a wonderful venture after a
divisive character from the cold-war era. The blowback from Charlie
Wilson’s war must stop – at least in the academia.

(The author teaches and practices Medicine at the University of
Florida and can be reached at taqimd@gmail.com)