The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Center for Near Eastern Studies hosted a roundtable discussion last month titled, "After a Decade of the 'War on Terror': The Middle East, Human Rights and American Muslims." Sponsored by the UCLA School of Law Critical Race Studies Program, the event featured UCLA law professor Asli Bali, University of California, Santa Barbara sociology professor Lisa Hajjar, and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Southern California attorney Ahilan Arulanantham. The audience of approximately twenty people was comprised mostly of law and graduate students, along with a few members of the community.
According to the introduction, the speakers were to "examine this decade on the war on terror in the broader context of the international community," but the two-hour event quickly descended into a forum for America-bashing. All three speakers called the existence of Islamic terrorism into question and, what's worse, behaved as if the attacks of September 11, 2001 never occurred.
Bali of UCLA Law began by framing the discussion around how "the war on terror has affected the international law community and American Muslims." She argued that the "war on terror has created a political entrepreneurial class that has benefited from the war" and called the Patriot Act a "violation of the Fourth Amendment" that has played out "quite viciously on the global stage." The U.S., Bali maintained, has been allotted extraordinary executive license and now has the "power to detain anyone, even U.S. citizens."
Presenting U.N. Resolution 1373—a counter-terrorism measure passed unanimously on September 28, 2001 to restrict the movement, organization, and fundraising activities of terrorist groups—as evidence of America's overarching power, Bali concluded that this "is a case in point of how the U.S. has sculpted and shifted the global community to do what they want." With no evidence, she then asserted that the American "and the Israeli government benefit economically from the resolution." In sum, Bali whitewashed the events of 9/11, bashed the U.S., and ignored countries that harbor Islamic terrorists.
ACLU attorney Ahilan Arulanantham followed and called America's detention program abroad into question. Urging the U.S. to have "some sort of accountability for abusing and torturing humans," Arulanantham limned a portrait of America as a dictatorial state that "secretly detains people abroad." Building on Bali's insinuation that the U.S. conducts secret and illegal missions worldwide, he called upon the audience to "look into worldwide cases of people being secretly detained and tortured, some of whom are U.S. citizens." Labeling the U.S. "a surveillance industrial complex," Arulanantham advised audience members to obtain a "freedom of information act form in order to acquire information from the government about what is happening on your own campus." Arulanatham's paranoid assertion that the U.S. government, with the assistance of local FBI cells, is secretly "monitoring the lives of students on college campuses" illustrated the level of fear mongering at this event.
Lisa Hajjar of UC Santa Barbara focused on what she called "a sociological approach to the war on terror." She never explained what this analysis would entail, but instead went on a diatribe about the U.S. and the Bush/Cheney administration. "Bush and Cheney used targeted killings to torture and kill Muslim Americans," she stated, as well as lamenting the Obama administration's continuance of the same counterterrorism policies. From that point on, her talk focused mostly on prisoners in Bagram, Afghanistan. "It is a human right not to be tortured," she stated, before adding, "The U.S. government and Israel constantly break this rule." Overlooking the human right violated by terrorists on 9/11, Hajjar and her cohorts presumed that Islamic terrorism is an imaginary monster created by the West—particularly the U.S. and Israel—in order to achieve world domination.
Presenting the audience with photographs of inmates allegedly being tortured and humiliated by American guards at the Bagram detention camp and Guantanamo Bay, Hajjar ranted:
Dick Cheney, who had neither military experience nor any experience in torture tactics, spearheaded this movement. The CIA has virtually zero experience in torture tactics, but was given great license under Cheney.
She next asserted, inexplicably, that "people only need to torture or kidnap people when they have no concrete evidence." Concluding her slideshow with a photograph of a sleep-deprived Khalil Sheikh Muhammed, the mastermind behind 9/11, Hajjar expressed alarm over how "badly we tortured him." More alarming was Hajjar's sympathy for a man who played a direct role in the slaughter of thousands of innocent people.
The evening concluded with a brief question and answer session wherein audience members echoed the worries of the speakers and asked how to "get involved in the fight against torture." Not one person challenged the speakers.
The event offered nothing new regarding the war on terror, but rather trite tropes such as America as a "military state," America as the voracious imperial state, and America as a "surveillance industrial complex." These analogies evince a far greater problem in academia, where dissent is only patriotic if aimed at the West. A truly courageous act in such a setting would examine the forbidden topic of Islamic terrorism and the apologetic stance of today's professors.
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