Throughout American history, the population has periodically indulged in episodes of self abuse. The abuse usually entails one group of citizens attacking another with the charge of undermining American security and values. These outbursts are usually triggered by war or some imagined foreign threat. One of the more striking aspects of these episodes is their contradictory nature: the very attacks in the name of national values systematically violate the nation's values by undermining the rights and freedoms (such as the right of open dissent) of those subject to attack. These episodes, just a few historical examples of which are given below, occur with something approaching regularity, about once every other generation. They expose a dark aspect of the American culture, lying just beneath the surface and ever ready to erupt.
These episodes began as early as 1798 with the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts. Involved in an undeclared war with France, the U.S. government, then controlled by the Federalist party, passed laws that allowed officials to arrest, hold and deport aliens who were considered "dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States." It also allowed the imprisonment of those who published "false, scandalous and malicious writings" against the government and its officials. The legislation and subsequent government actions were used to shut down opposition to the government's policies and thus, in the name of protecting the values of American democracy, those values were systematically violated. This contradictory position was recognized at the time by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, both of whom prepared formal statements of protest and fought continuously against these unconstitutional acts. Nonetheless, it took a change of administration to successfully check the oppression, and by then much damage had been done. Many residents of French nationality or alleged French sympathizers had fled the country, and a significant number of newspaper editors and journalists, including Benjamin Franklin's grandson, had been arrested and imprisoned.
Today, parallels have been noted between the USA Patriot Act, rushed through Congress in October of 2001, and the acts passed hurriedly in 1798. In both cases, the government justified its actions by saying the country faced a war-related emergency. In 1798, the country was persuaded that the terror policy practiced in the French Revolution would be exported to the United States. Today, the fear is of infiltration of so-called radical Islamic terrorists who, according to George W. Bush, "hate our freedoms."1
With the coming of World War I, Woodrow Wilson encouraged the passage of the Espionage Act of 1917. It was designed to punish those who actively opposed the military draft or the execution of the war. Active opposition here included making anti-war speeches or publishing anti-war tracts. This legislation was initiated by a president who believed himself to be fighting for the promotion of American-style democracy and its accompanying rights. Early on, its opponents recognized the unconstitutional nature and anti-democratic consequences of the Espionage Act. It made no difference to Wilson and his Justice Department. Large numbers of socialists and pacifists were arrested and sentenced to jail for as long as 20 years. Today, conservative factions openly suggest that those who oppose the war in Iraq and criticize the government's "war on terror" are "un-American" and potential traitors to their country.
After World War I, the fear of subversion carried over into what is known as the First Red Scare (1917-20). At this time, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer and his "special assistant," J. Edgar Hoover, used the still-extant Espionage Act and another law, which once again went by the name of the Sedition Act, to wage a campaign against thousands of immigrants who allegedly held socialist or communist views. The background for this was postwar labor strife and a series of anarchist-inspired bombings that the government alleged were instigated by radical Bolshevik elements among the immigrant community. Up to 10,000 people were arrested during the First Red Scare period, many of them held without charge and then summarily deported. There were two sequels to this episode. The first, and longer lasting one, was that J. Edgar Hoover took command of the newly formed Federal Bureau of Investigation and began creating dossiers on citizens he and other government officials considered "subversive." It was the beginning of an ongoing history of American government "profiling." The other was that A. Mitchell Palmer showed his true colors when he was caught falsifying evidence and misappropriating government funds.
Today, both citizens and non-citizens of Middle Eastern origin are subject to extraordinary scrutiny, both at the borders and in their own communities. As was the case with Palmer and Hoover, the Bush administration has taken the position that "there can be no nice distinctions drawn between the theoretical ideals of the radicals and the actual violations of our national laws." Now, as in the early 1920s, those who hold the wrong ideals are subject to harassment by the Justice Department and its agents. Thought crime rears its ugly head once more.
Fear of "the Reds" never really went away because the two economic systems, capitalism and communism, were considered to be both incompatible and expansionist. The old saying, "This place isn't big enough for the both of us," seems apt to convey their worldviews. Nonetheless, the actual harassment of alleged communists was temporarily suspended by our World War II alliance with "Uncle Joe's" Soviet Union. However, with the commencement of the Cold War, the outbreak of hostilities in Korea in 1950, and the theft of America's nuclear secrets allegedly by communist spies, a Second Red Scare was all but inevitable. This episode of national self abuse lasted for the better part of a decade (roughly 1950-57) and was associated with the activities of the Republican senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy kicked off the Second Red Scare in 1950 by publicly claiming to have a list of over 200 communists working in the State Department. In the subsequent government and private investigations, followed by hearings carried on at the federal, state and local levels, thousands of individuals were accused of disloyalty, almost always without conclusive evidence or any effective way of defending themselves. It was an era of blacklists and blackmail. Thousands lost their jobs; hundreds went to jail. Men like J. Edgar Hoover made their careers largely by ruining the careers of others. The mania continued until McCarthy was foolish enough to make his unsubstantiated charges against the U.S. Army. Today, conservative elements in the United States, particularly those allied with the Zionist cause, seek to create a new de facto blacklist so as to threaten and intimidate those, mostly in higher education, who would stand against American policies in the Middle East.3
The phenomena of red scares and McCarthyism were directed against alleged socialists and communists but, as the episodes of national self-abuse that preceded them show, the target can be variable. It is the exaggerated and emotionally charged component of these outbursts that is a constant. This constant has been studied by many scholars and given a name by the historian Richard Hofstadter: the "paranoid style in American politics."
There has always been an element of the American population who view their social and political environment in terms of absolute good and evil, constantly seeing treachery in high places and fantastical conspiracies leading to imminent and apocalyptic destruction. Historically, this element has identified plots against established values and the well-being of the community as emanating from Free Masons, Jesuits (particularly of French origin at the end of the eighteenth century), international bankers, communists (the twentieth century's favorite), homosexuals, abortion-rights advocates and even pacifists (of great concern at the time of World War I). In each case, the accused group had allegedly managed to infiltrate key American institutions ranging from high government offices to universities. Given the imagined stakes — the very defense of Western civilization in its never-ending clash with degenerate non-Western societies — compromise with the enemy would never do. What is necessary is the will to conquer evil, to persist in a fight to the finish.
Today, Free Masons and Jesuits are quite passé. International bankers are back in favor. Pacifists are largely forgotten, and the communists have been vanquished. Homosexuals and abortion-rights advocates are still candidates for conspiracy theories for the likes of Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell (American tolerance of these groups supposedly motivated God to use the September 11 attackers to punish the United States). However, the real enemies of the moment for those practicing the paranoid style in American politics are so-called radical Muslims bent on using terrorism to defeat America and its steadfast ally Israel. This is also melded with Islam's supposed undying hatred of Western values and the institution of democracy. To this enemy, the adherents of Hofstadter's paranoid style add numerous American left-wing and liberal supporters of Islam who have infiltrated academia in order to call into question American policies and thereby spread disloyalty among the nation's youth. These "fellow travelers — the deluded liberals, the eggheads…"4 are seen as front men for the terrorists, and it is they and their influence that paranoid-style defenders of American civilization are intent on destroying.
ATTACKS ON MIDDLE EAST STUDIES
Here is a short list, in chronological order, of attacks on Middle East studies scholars, particularly those who have taken a stand against American foreign policy in that region as well as the "special relationship" with Israel. These are the alleged fellow travelers of the radical Islamists and terrorists — those who suggest that, on September 11, 2001, we were attacked because of what we do and not because of who we are. Again, there are many more cases than those listed below, and the attacks are ongoing. Keep in mind two things: the similarity of the rationalizations used by those launching today's attacks and those cited above, and the fact that almost all of those making the accusations of disloyalty and complicity with terrorism are neoconservatives or Zionists whose orientation toward the Middle East is close to or identical with that of the Bush administration.
(1) In the 1970s: Edward Said of Columbia University became the most visible American academic defending the rights of Palestinians. As such, he began to experience harassment and slander from conservative and Zionist quarters. Said was labeled anti-American (Ronald Radosh, March 8, 2002) and as responsible for creating a "thuggish environment" at Columbia University (Martin Peretz, October 16, 2006). Others accused him of supporting America's enemies and criticizing America's friends. This process of defamation persists to this very day, despite Said's death in 2003. Melded into this treatment of one of the country's leading Arab American intellectuals was a comprehensive program of surveillance by the FBI. Said's FBI file, which falls under the category of "Foreign Counterintelligence," runs to at least 238 pages. One of the most interesting things about the file, parts of which have become public through the Freedom of Information Act, is the revelation that, at least since the 1970s, the FBI was engaged in spying on academic conferences and meetings having to do with the Middle East.
(2) 1995: Lynne Cheney and Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) founded the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). It was designed to function as a conservative watchdog group monitoring American colleges and universities for liberal and left-wing bias. ACTA leaders say the organization is "defending civilization" and claim that American universities are being infiltrated by liberal and left-leaning professors who are undermining civilization by failing to support the neoconservative agenda, particularly as regards the Middle East.5
(3) October 2001: The USA Patriot Act was rushed through Congress in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Among other provisions, the Act greatly broadens the government's ability to acquire information about individuals without showing probable cause. At the same time, it allows the government to keep a broader range of information secret. Habeas corpus can be suspended under certain conditions, and the privacy once shared between lawyers and clients is drastically weakened. Foreign students are subject to invasive monitoring, and the hiring of foreign faculty, particularly from the Middle East, has become much more difficult. Surveillance of conferences and individual scholars, particularly Middle East specialists, has increased. Otherwise benign associations with Middle East charities have become potential criminal offenses. As James Madison said of the Alien Act in 1798, the USA Patriot Act is "a monster that must forever disgrace its parents."
(4) November 2001: The American Council of Trustees and Alumni responded to the September 11 terrorist attacks by issuing a report entitled "Defending Civilization: How Our Universities Are Failing America." It accuses 40 college professors and one college president of being "short on patriotism" and representing "the weak link" in America's response to the newly declared war on terror. One of those named in the report, Hugh Gusterson, an associate professor of anthropology at MIT, called the report "reminiscent of McCarthyism."6
(5) September 2002: Daniel Pipes created the website Campus Watch, on which he posted the names and positions of academics in the field of Middle East Studies whom he deemed hostile to Israel and "apologists for suicide bombing and militant Islam." He stated that Campus Watch is designed to "hover over the shoulders" of such professors "and remind them that their egregious statements" are being monitored and could "even cause them trouble when they try to win tenure or get a new job." The site also asked students to keep Campus Watch informed about professors who "reject the views of most Americans and the enduring policies of the U.S. government about the Middle East." 7 Pipes continues to claim that such individuals are not only anti-Israel but also anti-American.
(6) Summer 2002: The conservative Christian group, Family Policy Network, filed a lawsuit against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill over its decision to have incoming freshmen read the book Approaching the Quran, by Michael Sells. The Christian group claimed that assigning the book was the same as "advocating Islam." Subsequently, a second lawsuit was filed by the same group to prevent a conference on Islam at the university. The state legislature also sought to punish the university for its attempts to educate its students about Islam. Both the Family Policy Network and the North Carolina state legislature painted Islam and Muslims as enemies of America and the action of the University of North Carolina as tantamount to aiding the enemy. Fox Network talk-show host Bill O'Reilly said that assigning Sells's book was the equivalent of assigning Mein Kampf in the year 1941. He felt it was forcing freshmen to study "our enemy's religion."8
(7) Summer/fall 2002: Colorado's legislature and governor urged both the University of Colorado and Colorado College to cancel an invitation to Hanan Ashrawi, a well-known and moderate Palestinian leader. They did so at the urging of an array of conservative Christian and Zionist groups who paint Ashrawi as an antisemite and an apologist for terrorism. Daniel Pipes spoke at a rally at Colorado Springs protesting Ashrawi's visit. The general message is that she, or anyone else who supports the Palestinian cause, is an enemy of both Israel and the United States.
(8) September 2002: Right-wing activist and author David Horowitz announced a "Campaign for Fairness and Inclusion in Higher Education." Horowitz claimed that American higher education has been taken over by politically biased left-wing faculty who only give their students "half the story" and "politically harass" conservative students in the classroom.9 He called for state-level government investigations of political bias in publicly funded universities and colleges. In short order, 17 state legislatures began such investigations. Subsequently, Horowitz established "Students for Academic Freedom" and issued the "Academic Bill of Rights." This document was designed to facilitate the establishment of administrative and legislative oversight and thus undermine the independence of faculty in the classroom. Horowitz claimed that his effort seeks to promote "intellectual diversity" and establish a "balance" of views in the classroom. However, others see this claim as a "Trojan horse" within which lies the man's true motivation: "to bring intellectual life under conservative control."10
(9) February 2003: Professor of computer science Sami Al-Arian of the University of South Florida was arrested and charged under the Patriot Act with 17 counts of aiding and abetting terrorist organizations. Attorney General John Ashcroft publicly described Al-Arian as "the leader of the North American branch of Islamic Jihad." Al-Arian was subsequently fired from his teaching post. In the trial that followed, he was found not guilty on eight counts while the jury deadlocked 10-2 in favor of acquittal on the remaining nine counts. Nonetheless, the government declared that it would retry him on the remaining counts. At the urging of his family, Al-Arian arranged a plea-bargain agreement. Soon thereafter, a pro-Zionist judge violated the spirit of the agreement and sentenced Al-Arian to 57 months in prison. This turned into an indefinite sentence when Al-Arian refused to testify before a grand jury in Virginia. Some see this persecution of Al-Arian as the result of the corruption of the Justice Department by neoconservative, Zionist and Christian Zionist elements within the Bush administration.
(10) Fall 2004: A Boston-based Zionist organization, the David Project, made a clandestine film titled Columbia Unbecoming, accusing the untenured Columbia University professor of modern Arab politics Joseph Massad and others of "harassing and abusing" students for their pro-Israel views. The president of the David Project said that the film was meant to "alert Columbia administrators to the issue of the antisemitism on Campus." The movie was initially shown to Columbia University administrators privately but then released to the public. The conservative newspaper New York Sun joined the campaign against Massad and called on the university to fire him. This was followed by a similar demand from U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY). Columbia created an ad hoc grievance committee to investigate the allegations. It concluded, in April 2005, that the allegations of harassment and abuse were false. The New York branch of the ACLU has concluded that what the David Project really sought to do was intimidate those professors whose "content of academic lectures and writings" they disagree with. In addition The New York Times has acknowledged that Massad and others at Columbia have had their classes "infiltrated by hecklers and surreptitious monitors, and they received hate mail and death threats."11
(11) June 2007: DePaul University in Chicago denied tenure to political-science professor Norman Finkelstein despite the fact that he had been approved by his department and the relevant university committee. Finkelstein is the author of a number of well researched though controversial books on Israel, Zionism and the Holocaust. One of his main faculty supporters, international studies professor Mehrene Larudee, was also denied tenure despite backing from her department and the relevant college committee. Influencing this case was outside pressure from Zionist American forces who are hostile toward Finkelstein because of his critical writing on Israel. Leading this attack on Finkelstein was the Zionist leader Alan Dershowitz, whose own apologetics for Israel had been critically analyzed by Finkelstein. Other scholars, such as Noam Chomsky of MIT, called Dershowitz's tactics an attempt to "vilify and defame" a critic. Essentially, the opponents of Finkelstein were reintroducing the technique of "red-baiting" and trial by innuendo so characteristic of the McCarthy era.
(12) Summer 2007: Debbie Almontaser, a Yemen-born Arab-American who wears hijab, was forced to resign as principal of a Brooklyn middle school, the Khalil Gibran Academy, emphasizing the Arabic language and culture. Opposition to her was led by Daniel Pipes, who joined a "Stop the Madrassa Campaign" of local New York conservatives and Zionists. Pipes stated that anything to do with the Arab-American community ought to be subject to "special scrutiny." He went on, "If you are looking for terrorism, you must give special scrutiny to this community."12
(13) September 2007: John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University published their book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. The book is based on an article about the Israel Lobby that Zionist pressure had blocked from publication in the United States (it was eventually published in the London Review of Books in spring 2007). Their thesis — that a strong pro-Israel lobby has great, and detrimental, influence over the formulation of U.S. Middle East policy — was labeled antisemitic, displaying an "obsessive and irrationally hostile belief about Jews," putting forth a classic conspiracy theory and little more than "pro-Arab propaganda." Jonathan Tobin, writing in The Jewish Exponent of March 29, 2007, likened the two authors to well credentialed neo-Nazis. The Zionist critic Josef Joffe, writing in Martin Peretz's New Republic, denounced the two authors as anti- American.13 It is to be added that much of this vilification mimicked the criticism received by former President Jimmy Carter upon the publication of his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid in 2006.14
(14) October 22-26, 2007: David Horowitz announced Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, which, in effect, translated the "red-baiting" technique of the 1950s into a nationwide effort to associate the religion of Islam with terrorism. Aided by such far-right spokesmen as ex-Senator Rick Santorum and Ann Coulter, Horowitz scheduled "teach-ins" at more than 100 campuses across the nation to discuss the dangers of radical Islam. According to the sponsoring organization, the Terrorism Awareness Project, an offshoot of Horowitz's Freedom Center, the week's activities were designed to "counteract the 'blame America first crowd' that dominates America's universities." Also, according to the Terrorism Awareness Project, the week's events were made necessary because the left-dominated universities were not giving students the vital information about the "deadly threat" they face from radical Islamists, thereby undermining the country's ability to "defeat our enemy."
(15) November 2007: Looking to repeat their victory in the case of Norman Finkelstein at DePaul University, outside right-wing groups, along with Zionist alumni and donors, sought to block the tenure of a professor of anthropology, Nadia Abu El-Haj, at Barnard College and Joseph Massad at Columbia University. El-Haj had written a well-researched book, Facts on the Ground, on the political uses of archaeology by the Israeli authorities. As noted above, Massad, also a well-known and credible scholar, already had been targeted by Zionist groups such as the David Project. Both were now accused of antisemitism and anti-American activities. Yehuda Reinharz, a professor of women's studies at Brandeis University, brought El-Haj's Palestinian ethnicity into the argument, claiming that "the word Palestinian is a contested term" because "there is no country yet called Palestine."15 Subsequently, Barnard College officials stood in defense of academic freedom and granted tenure to El-Haj. Joseph Massad's case is still pending.
In this struggle, those who stand in the defense of critical thought are largely on their own. Institutions, including colleges and universities, are ultimately susceptible to pressures that may often trump the principles of academic freedom, intellectual integrity and classroom independence. Most often, of course, the trump cards are money and influence. The pressure that can be brought on university and college administrators by alumni, donors, politicians and other influential individuals has often been shown sufficient to determine who gets to speak on campuses and who gets tenured. Those with money and power do not always get their way, however. Nadia El-Haj did ultimately get tenure at Columbia, and Jimmy Carter did get to speak on the campus of Brandeis University (an act that reportedly angered major donors of that school). But they get their way often enough as attested to by the fate of a cancelled 2002 conference on children in the Middle East at the State University of New York at New Paltz and the cases of Erwin Chermerinsky at the University of California-Irvine, Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Norman Finkelstein at DePaul, Rashid Khalidi in the New York City school system, and many others. In the face of financial blackmail and other threats, faculty cannot assume that their institutional administrators will always be willing to uphold academic standards and integrity.
Finally, the legal situation as regards academic freedom is not as clear as it should be. The Supreme Court has not defined the meaning or the extent of academic freedom, and thus it is left to lower courts to decide the issues in varying ways. Therefore, academic-freedom rights might differ in the eyes of the law depending on the state, whether one is employed at a private as against a public institution, what the faculty handbook or contract (if any) says, or whether the courts decide that academic freedom properly belongs to educational institutions rather than educators as individuals. As it turns out, your First Amendment rights — that is, one's right to free speech under the Bill of Rights — protect you (theoretically) from the federal government. As explained below, this is an important right that should be popularly understood and respected. However, it does not protect faculty from the wrath of a college president such as, hypothetically, Lawrence H. Summers, the former president of Harvard University, when he declares (as he did on September 17, 2002) petitions calling for divestiture from Israel are expressions of "anti-Semitism in their form if not their intent" — and you, as an untenured professor, just signed one.
How alarmed should we all be over this latest round of the paranoid style in American politics? While forcefully fighting for his principles, here is what Thomas Jefferson advised in the face of the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798:
A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles. It is true that in the mean time we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt....If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have the opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are the stake.
No doubt Jefferson would make the same statement if he were alive today. It bears repeating that the struggle against the paranoid style in American politics is not a one-time event, but a cyclical problem like a chronic disease. Jefferson's optimism is reassuring, but should we be as sanguine now? Perhaps. There is considerable opposition to the neoconservatives and Zionists who now seek to limit criticism of their policies within the academy. Many of us are actively fighting against this assault and for our principles. And, as in the past, the historical scenarios that bring the paranoid's rhetoric to such a fever pitch come and go. If nothing else, the policies of contemporary neoconservatives and Zionists are proving more and more disastrous, and resulting failures should help to eventually curb their influence.
On the other hand, there are factors that act against the ability of progressive and enlightened forces to truly defeat their paranoid-style foes and help make the struggle a recurring one, particularly in times of stress:
(1) Most citizens have short historical memories; (2) thinking critically about events of which you have little knowledge is difficult; (3) most people are not interested in foreign affairs; and (4) the Bill of Rights is not well-understood. All of these factors, particularly in times of stress, make the general population susceptible to the exaggerations and distortions put forth by those using the paranoid style. Let's take a look at each of these and see how they work toward this end.
(1) Most people have incredibly short historical memories. On average, the United States goes to war, on a major or minor scale, about once every 20 years. This suggests that most citizens have forgotten the essentially barbaric nature and consequences such behavior has had on some of their families, much less on those of the "enemy." If they remembered with any distinctness the trauma related to them by the survivors, they would not so readily allow their elected representatives to repeatedly lead them over a cliff. The paranoid style in American politics is most often connected to these episodes of war, and so our short historical memories contribute to their recurring nature.
(2) Thinking critically about events of which we have little knowledge is difficult. Under normal conditions, most people will naturally focus on their local environment, their arena of work and sustenance, where one finds family, friends and peer groups. To use a Darwinian formula, it is the local environment that supplies the majority with knowledge necessary to make useful predictions, and thus a concentration on this arena has survival value. Therefore, even in this day and age of international travel, satellite dishes and economic globalization, we are still, in terms of our daily practice, village oriented. As we look beyond our local environments, our level of knowledge of the world drops off precipitously. Thus, there is usually a lot of ignorance about what lies beyond the proverbial next hill. When confronted with a situation of which they know little or nothing, people must rely on others — government spokesmen, media pundits and the like — to provide allegedly accurate knowledge. These sources may or may not know what they are talking about and may very well have ulterior motives for slanting the story in a certain fashion. Nonetheless, most of the time, the general population takes this information as gospel and forms its opinions and reactions accordingly.
Thus, in the case of the Alien and Sedition Acts, the general public had little knowledge to contest the idea that the nation was being infiltrated by those who wished to overthrow the government and set up a guillotine in every public square. Based on the pseudo-knowledge supplied to them by the government and the Federalist press, many believed what they were told until too many moderate opponents had been jailed to make the claims believable any longer. Just so, during the Red Scare and the McCarthy era, the public had no way of critically assessing the government and media claims that the country was deluged with communist spies. Therefore, many believed this was so until the claims became so blown out of proportion (as when McCarthy attacked the U.S. military) that they reacted against them. Today, the general public has no independent knowledge base from which to judge the exaggerated claims that we are all in imminent danger from radical Muslim terrorists. Without that knowledge base, how is one to critically assess the claims (which in reality are quite nonsensical) that those who attacked on September 11, 2001, did so because they "hate our values" or because they "hate who we are and not what we do," or the claim that we face a civilizational war with "Islamo-fascism"? If history is any guide here, it is only when those using the paranoid style to stir up the population self-destruct due to their own excesses (such as the disastrous invasion of Iraq), that moderate voices offering critical analysis can make any real headway.
(3) The general public is not interested in foreign policy. The majority of historical episodes we have been looking at have to do with America's foreign relations. Natural localism assures that such relations are just that, foreign to the interests and knowledge base of most citizens. Thus, citizens are repeatedly susceptible to lies, distortions, fear mongering and the paranoid style in general when it comes to this dimension of national life.
(4) The general public is ignorant of or misunderstands the Bill of Rights. As a result of widespread distrust of government in the immediate post-Revolutionary War period, there arose the demand that the U.S. Constitution be amended to enumerate certain basic rights of citizens, residents and visitors on American soil. James Madison was the one who saw that this was done when, at the first session of the new Congress in 1789, he introduced the first ten amendments to the constitution. These guaranteed, among other freedoms, freedom of the press, peaceful assembly, speech and petition, freedom against unreasonable search and seizures, the right to a speedy trial by a jury of one's peers, the right to confront one's accusers, and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. The Bill of Rights was designed to protect the individual against the abuse of state power. No doubt, at some point in the life of most American citizens, they have been told or taught this. What doesn't get told or taught is that, within a democratic political environment, this protection implies an important corollary — the protection of the minority against the majority.
This corollary is particularly important when it comes to the paranoid style in American politics because those addicted to that style periodically end up in positions of power and almost always claim to speak for an allegedly endangered majority. Today, we are all allegedly in danger from radical Muslims and their terrorist intentions. When the majority comes under the influence of those using the paranoid style, their critics — those who would contest their exaggerated claims as well as the abuse of power that inevitably comes along with them — become a vocal minority in need of the protection of the Bill of Rights. Because the majority often does not understand the Bill's function as a guarantor of minority voices, those using the paranoid style have repeatedly been able to persuade the majority to support the selective suspension of rights. Sometimes the courts prevent this, but often they end up going along with this breach of the Constitution.
The effectiveness of the ongoing attack on academics associated with Middle East Studies, and specifically those who exercise critical thinking about American foreign policy, is directly related to the ignorance of the general population about matters of foreign relations. That ignorance deprives citizens of the necessary knowledge to think critically about what their leaders and media tell them. Both conditions are a reflection of natural localness compounded by short historical memories. This is not a situation that can be easily corrected, nor will it go away of its own accord. We seem to be stuck with it.
Those mounting the present attack appear to be oblivious to, or uninterested in, the inherently contradictory nature of their aggressive posture. As noted at the beginning of this essay, their actions might be carried on in the name of national values, but they simultaneously violate those values by seeking to undermine the rights and freedoms of those they subject to attack. They also have little problem with slander and defamation as everyday tactics. Under the circumstances, it is only by vigorously defending and using the right of free speech that space can be sustained for the critical voices that contend with the radical conservatives both within and outside of government and the media. We should do this both as teachers and writers, taking advantage of our free-speech rights in their professionalized form of academic freedom, and as "public intellectuals," using our right of free speech in its more general form as a civil liberty. Our foes will probably lend us unintended assistance for, ultimately, the increasingly barbaric nature and perhaps the outright failure of the policies of neoconservatives and Zionists should chasten the media and allow critical assessments to catch the attention of the general public.
Therefore, we might well take the words and actions of Thomas Jefferson as a model: have patience, take advantage of the opportunities that "luck" brings, and fight like hell for our principles. The last action is the most important one.
Dr. Davidson is professor of Middle East history at West Chester University.
1 Address to a joint session of Congress and the American people, September 29, 2001.
2 A. Mitchell Palmer, "The Case against the Reds," Forum Vol. 63 (1920), pp.173-185.
3 Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays (Harvard University Press, 1965).
4 Joseph McCarthy, found at www.quotes.ubr.com/quotes-alphabetical/l-quotes/liberal-quotes.aspx.
5 The report is posted at www.goacta.org/publications/Reports.defciv.pdf.
6 Quoted in Patrick Healy, "On Campus Conservatives Denounce Dissent," Boston Globe, November 13, 2001.
9 See USA Today, "Ex Liberal Navigates Right," May 3, 2006.
10 Joan W. Scott, "Middle East Studies under Siege," The Link, Vol. 39, No. 1, (January-March, 2006), p. 9.
11 The New York Times, "Intimidation at Columbia," April 7, 2005.
12 Larry Choler-Esses, "Jewish Shootout over Arab School," The Jewish Week, August 17, 2007.
13 Josef Joffee, "Mearsheimer and Walt: Anti-American," New Republic Online, April 6, 2006.
14 See Lisa Makson, "Islamo-Fascism Week Spotlights Terrorism," Newsmax.com, October 23, 2007.
15 "Truth, Lies and Tenure at Barnard," The Jewish Advocate, July 27, 2007.