If you don't know who Kevin Barrett is I'm surprised that you bothered to pick up this paper. Most people in Wisconsin that have been paying attention have heard of the nutcase professor from UW-Madison.
Barrett first drew attention to his views by writing letters to the editor of the Madison Capital Times and Wisconsin State Journal, in which he claimed that Muslims had nothing to do with the 9-11 attacks. He said, "As a Ph.D. Islamologist and Arabist I really hate to say this, but I'll say it anyway: 9/11 had nothing to do with Islam. The war on terror is as phony as the latest Osama bin Laden tape." Barrett has also asserted that other purported terrorist attacks, including the July 7, 2005, London bombing, and the March 11, 2004, Madrid bombing, were the actions of a "special wing of, probably, U.S. or western military intelligence," and not Islamic terrorists.
On July 11, 2006, Barrett appeared on the television show "The O'Reilly Factor", and the show's host, Bill O'Reilly, had this to say about Barrett: "This guy would have been gone at Boston University, my alma mater, in a heartbeat. The Chancellor there, John Silber, would have-would have-this guy'd be in the Charles River floating down, you know, toward the harbor." In response, Barrett filed a complaint with the FCC.
In July of 2006, Assembly Representative Steve Nass of Whitewater convinced 61 members of the Wisconsin legislature to endorse a resolution condemning Barrett and calling on the UW System Administration to dismiss him. Barrett's course syllabus and teaching methods were then reviewed by UW Madison officials, politicians, and the press. No action was taken following the investigation.
Barrett is currently teaching a class at UW-Madison that focuses on Islam. Two weeks of the 16-week class are to concentrate on the events of 9-11. Included in the syllabus is a portion on conspiracy theories. Part of the material to be covered is a book that Barrett himself contributed to. The book is a required text for the class. Sections compare President Bush to Hitler and attack Israel. Barrett also publicizes a movie called "Loose Change 2", which promotes the notion of the Bush administration orchestrating the 9-11 attacks. The movie suggests that the World Trade Center's twin towers were not leveled by airplanes and jet fuel, but rather by explosives planted there by the order of our government and our President. The movie goes on to say that it's likely the Pentagon wasn't hit with a plane at all but instead by a missile.
Thanks to UW-Oshkosh's very own Campus Greens, the movie "Loose Change 2" will be played in the Reeve Memorial Union Theater Thursday October, 26th and will be followed by a speech from Professor Barrett. The announcement of this event brought a variety of responses from different people.
"We have invited Barrett because we believe the legislature overstepped its boundaries and violated his academic freedom," said UW-Oshkosh Campus Greens Chair Andrew Sabai.
UW-Oshkosh Chancellor Richard Wells released a statement before the start of this fall semester regarding the Barrett/Loose Change event. Part of his statement reads, "I do not in any way endorse the 9/11 ideas advocated by Mr. Barrett. In my opinion, his ideas are nonsensical. His visit, however, provides our students the opportunity to assess critically his views. Any analysis of the tragedy must conform to the most rigorous standards for scholarly analysis.
"Mr. Barrett's visit offers us a chance to reaffirm our belief that with freedom comes responsibility. Members of a university community do not have absolute freedom of speech in their official capacities. They are free to pursue academic, artistic and research agendas essential to the university mission, but they must also contribute to an open and collegial environment that promotes reasoned inquiry, intellectual honesty, scholarly competence and the pursuit of new knowledge."
In response to the Barrett visit, the university has planned a number of campus events such as "Why Do People Believe Weird Things?", "What Social and Psychological Conditions Predispose People to Develop and Accept Conspiracy 'Theories'?" and "What is the Responsible Exercise of Academic Freedom?" In November there is a tentatively scheduled public talk and classroom lectures by nationally renowned author Michael Shermer, who wrote Why People Believe Weird Things. His topics will include "How thinking goes wrong: 25 fallacies that lead us to believe weird things" and "Why smart people believe weird things."
In preparation for the Barrett event Life & Liberty has been unable to find anyone that supports his theories, but there are a great number of people who think he is dead wrong. The UWO College Republicans are planning a rally and prayer vigil between Reeve Union and Breese Hall beginning at 5 p.m. in response to Barrett's visit. The event has cleared all the necessary barriers to be recognized by the university, and should include students and guest speakers from across the state of Wisconsin.
College Republicans Vice-Chairman Ryan Winkel stated, "This rally is not to protest free speech or academic freedom, rather it is to demonstrate that academic freedom does not include academic irresponsibility. Any theory put forth, without any scientific or objective backing, should not be taken seriously or included in the academic realm."
While Conservative students in particular find Barrett's free use of the umbrella of Academic freedom to be repulsive, the issue is most certainly not a partisan one. The Facebook group dedicated to removing Kevin Barrett from the University system includes members from a variety of different political ideologies.
Many wonder if Barrett's speaking at UW Oshkosh is merely a self-serving endeavor. Could it be possible that he is simply speaking here to bring media attention and in turn promote his upcoming book? Barrett has written a largely autobiographical book covering the controversy, entitled "Truth Jihad: My Epic Struggle against the 9/11 Big Lie," scheduled for release by Progressive Press in early 2007.
No matter what side of the issue students take, it is vital to encourage discussion by voicing their opinion on October 26th.