Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Freedom of Speech, Academic Freedom, and Nadia Abu el-Haj

A friend sent me a cutting from The New Yorker with the story of the attempt to block Nadia Abu el Haj from getting tenure at Barnard. The story isn't online, but the detailed abstract is here. My friend wanted my opinion, which I dutifully wrote down - and here it is:

I especially enjoyed – if that’s the word – the long article on Ms. Prof. Nadia Abu el-Haj. I haven’t read her book, I must say, so my ability to have an informed opinion on the matter is a bit cramped – though it doesn’t seem that most of the people in the story felt impaired by such considerations. Still, the story as told in the article raises interesting questions.

Generally speaking, I’m in favor of freedom of speech – one reason I tend to dislike the whole concept of political correctness is my heartfelt conviction that freedom of speech includes the freedom to be nasty, offensive, and to lie with a gusto. Has Ms el-Haj done any or all of these? I don’t know, but she may well have. More serious, to my mind, is that her basic assumptions – Zionism as a colonial project – seem silly to me, so that I could imagine that her entire argument is flawed from its start. But that’s clearly not a reason to shut her up. If we locked up all our fools, who would run our governments for us?

So trying to block her for talking nonsense sounds wrong to me.

On the other hand, there was a position clearly expressed by some of her allies in the controversy, whereby the public – taxpayers and philanthropists – must pay for the upkeep of the university, but dare not have any opinion about what’s taught there. This I find strange. Freedom of speech doesn’t necessarily have to mean freedom to live off the public purse. You want to talk nonsense and make a living from it too? Find a publisher, sell your books, go on the lecture tour, sell tickets, get employed by a think tank that’s expressly there for fools of your ilk and funded by the folks who like you. The distance between getting locked up for your opinion and having to make a living on your own steam so that you can express your opinions, seems to me rather significant.

Finally, a word about content – not the content of this book, which I haven’t read, but the content of some of what goes on at some universities, and much of which being influenced by the malign shadow of Edward Said, some of whose stuff I have read. There is, these days, a pernicious set of ideas being propagated by some people at some universities and in some media outlets, which is deeply offensive and threatening to liberal and rational humanism; and since liberal rational humanism is the least worst system man has so far devised for organizing society, undermining it is a bad idea. The propagators of these ideas need to be branded for what they are. They shouldn’t be locked up, they shouldn’t be shut up, but there is no harm and probably much good in setting them up for public shame and ridicule. Especially as they so love to mete out the same to whomever they don’t like.


Anonymous said...


Maybe, you have to be super-duper religious to think the word 'zionism' means anything. But, here, in America it's got a hollow ring. And, where I know a lot of Jews! I've never heard even one of them EVER refer to "zionism." Marxism, on the other hand, has followers. Especially, in the European sensitive variety, where it is called socialism. It still stinks to the high heavens.

And, from what I know, and suspect, it was socialism; and the Jewish male's propensity to join labor's GOONS, that kept the door closed to Jews during the critical period in the 1930's.

Don't forget, the 1930's starts with an American depression. Bank failures. Farmers facing disasterous weather conditions. And, 1/3 of the country's males were without jobs.

In 1932, when Franklin D. Roosevelt became president; this was the troubles he took over. And, "over the pond" in Europe, hitler was rising. And, then you have to come to respect the reasons there were American Jews who did not want to get involved in another world war. There were lots of isolationists, as a matter of fact, at that time.

Meanwhile, as bad as it was in America, Jews weren't following "zionism" looking to leave here to go to Palestine. That's just the way it was.

Ben Gurion made mistakes. His biggest one was his embrace of a unicameral Knesset system; instead of a better one, as designed by America's Founding Fathers. In my country, on one state has a unicameral legislature. 49 others have the Federal system, with TWO HOUSES. And, believe it or not, the dual system works better at balancing powers.

Now, you want to throw in zionism? What a waste of time.

As to who gets tenure these days; soon it won't matter. Right now, academia looks like the very old Catholic Church, when the pope even thought he could pass a death sentence on the priest, Martin Luther.

You can think that everything remains the same. But it did not. And, it does not.

Israel is wrapped in its own problems!

Just yesterday, Yeshiva "yoots" in Jerusalem attacked two palestinians; and then, when they ran to safety in a Jew's home (and were protected!), the man whose home offered this protection, found himself stabbed by one of the goons.

And, the rabbi who runs the yeshiva said "it wasn't one of his men." As if that clears the slate. Or, perhaps, we can call that zionism?

Meanwhile, too, these very "zionists" have a clan ... with insider information into the newspapers ... where leaks of Olmert's case gets exposed. Does Mazuz care? You're kidding me. So, I guess, he, too is some sort of zionist. But it's not healthy!

Why are the Haredi so angry? They've been angry since disengagement. They wear orange. Are street mobs. And, if that's zionism it's bad for Israel.

Just as the system put in place by Ben Gurion, where socialism was gonna last forever ... but now? You think the kibbutzim are where it's at? I think it's a failure of a system that contains some very nice people in them. So what?

Israel needs t regain its secular feet. It needs to stop with this ultra-orthodox religion, as if Jews didn't have hundreds of years of debates under their belts, already. Forming seprate branches of Judaism.

True, in New York, a stinker like Morris Talansky was able to do "business" in Israel. With the ultra-orthodox; and people are watching this as if their Knesset were a Roman carnival. No. It is not.

Sometimes, you can point to the outside, and hope for sympathy. But when you have freedom of speech you really are given the freedoms to look within.

As a matter of fact, the palestinian kid who was blind folded, and brought by an IDF officer in front of a soldier with a gun ... (who fired a rubber bullet at the ground) ... Got, already Ehud Barak to come out, all pompous, telling how the IDF "doesn't do things like that." WHEN THE OFFICER IS STANDING RIGHT THERE! So, you want to believe he said "shake your gun?" Or? Shake your zionism, putz.

One reason that palestinian village had video cameras is that the abuses got the attention of others. Not zionists. Who provided a means of capturing the complaints on film.

This film has now been seen by the world.

zionism is no blanket. It won't protect you. But the truth will! And, yes, Jews (sans zionism) are taught to treat people better.

What a crock and a half. And, with now Israeli news outlet even willing to touch the subject honestly. Film at 11.

Lydia McGrew said...

Well, tenure is supposed to be an academic honor, conferred on people who are real scholars and know what the heck they are talking about and are professional and careful. So I think there could be a real point for not giving somebody tenure if her whole academic career is built on nonsense. From a purely academic point of view, it makes sense. Too much pseudo-education going on in the universities anyway. Some standard-holding would be a welcome change.