Anybody who can spell existentialist must be smarter than Bill O'Reilly. A guy who can spend day after day in a shack in the woods and doesn't have pinecones sticking in his hair and a beard down to his knees has got to be civilized—erudite even. This rascal reads Kurt Vonnegut; he worked for Gary Hart; he would have been on Laugh In if Dick Martin had known a first-rate standup comedian when he saw one. He knows more about Christianity than Jerry Falwell, more about Judaism than the rascal who wrote The Protocols of the Elders of Zion; more about Buddhism than a Jihadist with a satchel charge eyeing a giant Buddha; more about Hinduism than a van loaded with Hari Krishnas on the way to the Bhagwan's ranch in Colorado. He could have told James Jones he was using the wrong flavor of Kool-Aid.
Gosh, and he writes poetry—not one-two, buckle my shoe poetry, but real honest-to-goodness poetry, the kind of stuff that Maynard G. Krebs would have read; that would have brought tears to the eyes of Jack Keroauc. He's been a mystic, a philosopher, a Renaissance man and a good caretaker. (That's a fancy word for janitor) He took care of a cabin in the woods for a Madison Wisconsin Muslim organization called Khidria and never once was he cited by a Ranger for starting a major forest fire! He was so smart he became a Muslim. That's what happens to an intellectual once he has learned everything worth learning. It's a curse!
In recognition of his incredible brilliance the University of Wisconsin at Madison gave him a teaching job. That's right. This fall he will be freely expressing his opinions as facts in an introductory class on Islam. His name is Kevin Barrett and some of his students may be forced to ‘Grin-an'-bear-it' in order to survive. He is a suspicious fellow. He sees conspiracies everywhere. The dar al-Harb is full of them. Joe McCarthy had a list of 57 Communists working in the State Department. Barrett's secret list of Nazis working for George W. Bush must top that by a least ten Obergrupenfuhrers. As any fool would know if one totals up the number of verses in the Qur'an, the Sunnah, the hadiths and the various commentaries pertaining to 9/11 and divides by the estimated number of fleas in Osama bin Laden's beard, multiplied by the number of unrequited virgins in Allah's Great Whorehouse in the Sky one can only come to the conclusion that it was George W. Bush and company that brought down the World Trade Center on 9/11 and not that simpleminded dupe Mohammed Atta and his slack-jawed cretinous friends. One can't argue with that kind of logic—and that's the kind of logic the students in Barrett's class will be up against.
Not unexpectedly, Barrett has come under attack by a number of state legislators—most but not all of them Republicans. They want Barrett fired. Democrats say it is a free speech issue and they will defend it to the death, blah, blah and blah. Now if it was David Duke…well, some speech is not as free as others.
Pat Farrell, U.W.-Madison Provost, defended Barrett. He is a regular old Mr. Chips. "I still have every expectation this will be a very positive educational experience for our students,' said Farrell. "Some are upset about Mr. Barrett's viewpoints on 9/11 and don't want to pay much attention to what makes for a quality educational experience." If he really meant that he would have no objections to hiring a past-president of the John Birch Society to teach a class on McCarthyism—how Tail-Gunner Joe had been correct in his assessment of Communist infiltration into the Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower administrations. McCarthy had actually underestimated the number of fellow travelers serving in the US government but it scarcely matters now—there are more Communists teaching at U.W.-Madison these days than there are in the Kremlin. There is a lot of hypocrisy in a quality educational experience.
The question is why would someone with Barrett's incredible intellectual gifts espouse such an obviously ridiculous conspiracy theory? The late Eric Hoffer said it was intellectual hubris that led great minds to radicalism and eventually to mass murder. Like Noam Chomsky, Norman Finklestein, Eric Hobsbawm and other intellectuals, but not Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore, Barrett knows more about everything that counts than just about anybody else and he knows it. But nobody pays Barrett or Chomsky or Finklestein the mass deference their exceptional genius requires. They are not allowed to run anything; a good plumber and a reliable mailman receive more deference and get more invitations to parties where the hot babes are. And waitresses think they are cheap. This is humiliating!
In other times and other civilizations, intellectuals, like Hitler and Lenin and Mao, actually ran countries—big countries with marching Armies and fireworks every evening, not itty-bitty university departments with AWOL secretaries and bad plumbing. American intellectuals would like to try their hand at running a country. They would like to run America—Harry Truman ran America and if Harry Truman could, anyone could, but the vox populi are unaware of the unparalleled genius of its intellectual class, the good news being kept from then, and the political parties are run by crass opportunists who seem to think they know more about what is good for the people than the intellectual elite. Isn't that silly? It's easy for intellectuals to hate those kinds of countries. There aren't many of then. America is one. Intellectuals hate America. Chomsky hates America; Finklestein hates America.
Barrett has a second problem in addition to intellectual hubris—he knows too much for his own good. He has supposedly penetrated to the depths of every religion know to man and some unknown. Maybe he missed the Dukhobors. He knows Christianity inside out; he knows Zen; he is familiar with L. Ron Hubbard in a non-sexual way. He knows Freud and Jonge and he's lived in the woods. Quite frankly, taken altogether this is not a healthy lifestyle. If he had christened his shack in the pines Walden Pond instead of Zawiya (Islamic spiritual retreat) it might have helped. Barrett is a very confused fellow. Christianity, existentialism, the Kennedy assassination, a religion of peace and tolerance, and 9/11 would be enough to warp an ordinary mind, obliterate an exceptional one. It could explain why Barrett became a Muslim and why he believes in silly conspiracies but it doesn't explain why he was hired. To give students a quality educational experience is about as flimsiest an excuse as ‘the dog ate my homework.' If anybody should be fired, it should be Pat Farrell. That would give everybody a quality educational experience—including Farrell.