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Juan Cole's "Informed Comment" website Oct 25 2004

Defending Massad

Those who care anything for freedom of speech and academic integrity should please rise to the defense of Professor Joseph Massad at Columbia University. A concerted campaign has been gotten up against him by the American Likud, aimed at getting him fired.

We don't fire professors in the United States for their views when we are in our right minds. It happens when the US is seized with an irrational frenzy, as during the McCarthy period. A researcher at the University of Michigan was let go in the 1950s for "tending toward Scandinavian economics."

You know, we really need a Political Action Committee for professors. The American Association of University Professors is a wonderful organization, but has mainly moral authority (it can de-certify universities that behave egregiously). There are hundreds of thousands of teachers at community colleges, four-year colleges and universities in this country, and they just let themselves be walked all over by small single-issue constituencies who don't want them teaching this, that or the other thing.

Congress is increasingly a battleground on such matters, and elected representatives tend to cave to special interest groups if there is no money coming in on the other side.

We don't have to be sitting ducks and put up with this. There are lots of forces in US society that would support the researchers. The debate over attempts by creationists on the school board in Kansas City to curtail the teaching of evolution has been informed by city council concerns that such moves may damage the city's biosciences initiative. It is increasingly clear to a lot of Americans that they can be ignorant and poor or they can cultivate science and get rich. Likewise, a lot of Americans realize that serious security thinking at the university level requires a free-for-all in which you can't put some subjects off limits for debate.

In the meantime, I urge academics and others to boycott the United States Institute for Peace this year, as long as extremist ideologue Daniel Pipes serves on it. Bush put him on it despite the Senate's refusal to confirm him. Pipes is leading the charge to have US academics censored for daring speak out against Ariel Sharon's odious predations in Palestine. Sharon's state terrorism and expansionism is endangering both Israel and the United States, and puts both Jewish Americans and other Americans at unnecessary risk. Those who attempt to stop criticism of Sharon are in essence giving aid and comfort to extremists of all stripes, who benefit from polarization. In parlous times like the post-9/11 environment, demagogues grow powerful and American values are endangered. Massad is the canary in the mine shaft of American democracy.