It is a bittersweet honor for a professor to be listed on Daniel Pipes's "Campus Watch" web site: sweet because it means that you have ruffled the feathers of the McCarthy of Middle East Studies, and bitter because doing so will single you out for personal attacks, hate mail, and death threats. Since the now-infamous March 26 teach in, Campus Watch--whose stated purpose is to "review and critique Middle East Studies in North America"--has gone interdisciplinary by inducting DeWitt Clinton Professor of History Eric Foner and anthropology professor Nicholas De Genova into its hall of fame in recognition of their "self-hating" and "anti-American" remarks.
But Pipes, usually a vanguardist when it comes to blacklisting, cannot receive sole credit for the wave of hate mail and death threats received by De Genova, as his New York Post op-ed piece "Columbia vs. America" was published almost a week after the national media (including more liberal outlets like CNN and The New York Times) made De Genova America's second favorite dart-board decoration (after Saddam).
In the month since the De Genova story broke, Columbia has been the site of increased media coverage and even national concern--including an absurd attempt made by a conservative Arizona politician to get De Genova fired. For weeks, the University's web site featured a very visible link to a personal statement made by President Bollinger condemning De Genova, and the Spectator web site received hundreds of similar, though less politic, condemnations. All over America, people were suddenly very interested in what Columbia students thought about the war--and oh yeah, by the way, about that anthropology professor's reference to that city in Somalia--while most Columbia students were asking themselves, "Who the hell is Nicholas De Genova?"
As weeks of tension ensued, Columbians found out the answer to that question, thanks to reductive, compromised, and unquestioning national media intent on demonizing anti-war protesters. Students who attended the teach-in shook their heads in dismay when media outlets reduced over six hours of speeches made by dozens of the nation's finest teachers to three words: "a million Mogadishus." To anti-war protesters, it was a perverse irony that the teach-in that did so much to expose the national media's unbalanced and uninformative coverage of the war in Iraq should be covered by the national media in precisely the same way.
Daniel Pipes, his Campus Watch cronies, and pro-war supporters all across the country refused to let the left forget about De Genova, jumping on the opprtunity the "Mogadishu" sound byte afforded to caricature the left as a fringe group of ivory-tower radicals. In doing so, they compromised not only a fair and honest representation of the anti-war left but also effectively silenced a wide range of alternative opinions that received little to no coverage from major media outlets.
Yet, in the final week of April, with affairs in Iraq transitioning from war to occupation, and President Bollinger's statement no longer on the university homepage, the specter of De Genova has been raised once again--this time by the left. Duct tape is back in fashion: flyers for Students Defend De Genova have gone up all over campus.
Calling for "a million De Genovas," the SDDG has done harm to an already-fragmented Columbia left. On the fine print, they are right: Columbians should be indignant in response those who call for free speech and then ostracize those who actually use it, those who send hate mail and death threats to their professors, and those who take statements out of context to further their own political ends. However, in their criticisms of the "Columbia anti-war and 'peace movement,'" they go too far.
In one poster, the SDDG criticizes the anti-war left for espousing a contradiction in that its members are against the war but support the troops who are fighting it. In another, they criticize the Bush administration for its "binary demonizations" and "irrational, simplistic rhetoric." It should be clear that something isn't holding together here. Between its posters, the SDDG has actually replicated Bush's binary logic--you're either with us or you're against us--with statements such as "if you endorse one you by default ... endorse destruction of the other." Another poster claims that "to ... support our troops is to be pro- Iraqi deaths."
Like Foner, who in his criticism of De Genova at the teach-in refused to cede his definition of patriotism to President Bush, we should disagree with SDDG by refusing to cede our logic to Bush as well. There is a nuanced position somewhere in between (or better yet, outside of) the rigid binary established by the imperialist apologists of Bush and the anti-imperialist apologists of De Genova.
The inability to establish that nuanced position is something with which the left has been struggling for half a century. Consider the example of Jean-Paul Sartre, who, even after Andre Gide's "Back From the USSR" unmasked Stalin's regime as totalitarian, continued to support Stalin in order to show his opposition to American imperialism. Like Satre, the SDDG now claims that the left can't have it both ways--that it's impossible to support U.S. troops without supporting the war. And while the group's purism is noble, it is ultimately dangerous because it puts the left exactly where Bush wants it: within his irrational binary. Leftists can have it both ways and should be skeptical of those who tell them otherwise, even those with whom they agree about the current administration's domestic and foreign policies.
Does the left need "a million De Genovas?" No, one was enough, thank you.
The author is a Columbia College sophomore majoring in philosophy