German philosopher Martin Heidegger in 1933 donned a Nazi uniform, marched onto campus and became rektor of the University of Freiburg. Among his first acts was to declare: "That much-sung 'academic freedom' will be thrust from the German University."
Seven decades later, Heidegger's intellectual descendants are intent on jettisoning academic freedom from American universities. Intellectual independence is threatened today over two volatile issues -- George Bush's disastrous foreign policy and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
At Emory University, a smear campaign was waged to ban a former president of Ireland as Emory's commencement speaker. At the national level, there's a likely-to-be-successful effort to deny federal funds to programs that don't meet a political litmus test. Some members of Congress go way over the top and want to mandate that only one point of view on the Middle East be taught.
Campus critics of American foreign policy are denounced as traitors. Some professors have found themselves targets of intellectual and physical intimidation.
On one side are radical supporters of the Israel right and of Bush's sputtering empire. One of their leading polemicists is Daniel Pipes, who runs an outfit called Campus Watch that seeks to intimidate professors who stray from lockstep adherence to pro-Israeli viewpoints. He was exposed during a speech about a year ago at Emory as having no proof for some of his most strident claims about the propensity of Muslims to commit violence. Still, he keeps yapping.
Pipes is renowned for wild and extremist ranting, but he nonetheless claims that "wild and extremist ideas ... have no place on campus." What he means, of course, are ideas that clash with his should be verboten. He has compared the literature of acclaimed MIT linguist Noam Chomsky to "Hitler's writings or Stalin's writings." People in the real, non-neo-conservative universe regard Chomsky as an indefatigable champion of human rights.
On the other side of the campus fracas are those whom Pipes and his confederates would muzzle. They include academics who oppose the Iraq war, support peace efforts in the Middle East, side with the Israeli left and refuse to buy into a Western crusade against the Arab world. Many ardently support Palestinian nationalism.
Caught in the middle is the broad mass of the academic community, which should be a citadel of free and full debate -- but which sees the campus under assault by right-wing thought police.
As in the world of suicide bombings and Apache gunship assassinations, academic debate is often won by the person with the power to place the 50-yard line. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon seeks (with the total capitulation last month of Bush) to draw the Palestinians almost entirely off the map. The bellicose American right, meanwhile, craves to win the contest of ideas by placing the midfield line so far in one direction that the left is pushed out of the academic arena.
Kristen Brustad, chairwoman of Middle East studies at Emory, says her colleagues represent a broad spectrum of ideas. There are Jewish and Israeli profs, Arabs and Muslims, and Christians. If there is a leftward list in the fund-strapped department, well, elsewhere on campus is a well-endowed institute dedicated to Israeli studies headed by history professor Ken Stein.
Stein says his program is politically neutral. "The criticism I hear," he says, "is that students say they wish I would let them know my political point of view."
Stein's colleagues don't dispute that, but they say he frames issues from the Israeli perspective. One student gave me a print from a website on which the professor participates called "Ways You Can Help Israel."
"We know one point of view [Stein's] is prominent," Brustad says, adding that she wants to provide a platform for "sides not otherwise heard." That mission is now in jeopardy. Her colleagues feel under attack. Indeed, one Jewish professor of Middle East studies, Shalom Goldman, has for months been victimized by hate mail and threatening phone calls -- not from Islamists but from militant Israeli advocates who despise the academic's moderation.
Well buried on page 412 of a textbook on the Arabic language by Brustad is a small map that Stein calls one of the "worst examples of the politicization of Middle East studies" on American campuses.
The offending map is less than 2 inches square, so tiny that it takes a good squint to follow the densely packed drawing and Arabic lettering demarking the borders of states at the eastern end of the Mediterranean.
According to Stein, the map denies the existence of Israel. Some Arab states' refusal to recognize Israel is a common flashpoint in debates on the Middle East.
"It's offensive. It's happening on this campus, and it's offensive," Stein says.
Noteworthy, Stein exhibits little similar disturbance over a parallel event -- Sharon's upending of the "roadmap" peace plan in favor of the permanent seizure of vast acreage on the West Bank. Sharon's action would effectively erase the nascent Palestinian state from the map, a far more tangible and inflammatory denial of political existence than the omission on the map that offended Stein. Sharon declared: "The Palestinians understand that this plan is ... the end of their dreams. ... There is no Palestinian state." Stein only allowed that Sharon's action merited further discussion.
Stein didn't actually show me the map as proof of his claim of anti-Semitism on campus. Indeed, he wouldn't even cite the textbook or name the author. "You can find out," he urged me. "Just look."
OK, I did. From the broad innuendo of Stein, I anticipated uncovering scurrilous propaganda from the most radical elements of Islam. Rather, what I found was so innocuous, I would have chuckled if the subject weren't so serious.
An emphasis in teaching languages is the use of "primary source" material from the culture or country being studied. And that's the tactic taken by Brustad and two co-authors.
One article in Brustad's book is from an Arab newspaper, and it discusses the emergence of Arab states since the days of the Ottoman Empire. Three accompanying maps show the post-colonial development of the Arab nations. In the final map -- which Stein confirmed is the source of his ire -- Israel is clearly shown, its existence obvious, but it is not labeled. Some other states aren't labeled, either -- the Sudan, Cyprus and Ethiopia.
The word "Palestine" floats in the Mediterranean, with a line running toward Israel proper. Brustad says the context of the map is that the West Bank is what's being called Palestine. In the article, no mention is made of Israel or Palestine.
Incomplete? Possibly. Offensive? Hardly.
Offensive events -- really stinky undertakings -- are taking place on America's campuses, however. A sampling:
- Emory invited as its May 10 commencement speaker Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and former U.N. high commissioner for human rights. Robinson has been an advocate for the world's downtrodden, from Gypsies to the impoverished masses in the Third World to victims of starvation and genocide in Africa.
Yet, because Robinson didn't act fast enough to protest Iran's exclusion of Israelis from a Tehran conference, and because other people made anti-Semitic statements at a U.N. conclave in Durban, South Africa, a minor firestorm erupted on the Emory campus. Some pro-Israeli students and faculty circulated a petition seeking to eject Robinson from the commencement agenda.
One of the organizers, Jared Green, eventually backed off, conceding that Robinson wasn't anti-Semitic, only that she hadn't forcefully spoken "on behalf of Israel." Ah, a new yardstick for political correctness. (Robinson, in fact, symbolically declared herself a Jew when she encountered anti-Semitic and racist propaganda. That's pretty forceful.)
The tempest settled down after Robinson flew from London to meet with Emory faculty and students. She's still the commencement speaker. The taint on Emory, caused by some of its community trying to exclude her, remains.
- In March, the Georgia Senate passed, 41-5, a doublethink-named resolution called the "Academic Bill of Rights." Citing a smoke-and-mirrors illusion of persecution of conservatives on campus, the resolution encourages spying by disgruntled students on professors. Its goal is political pogroms at colleges. Republican (no surprise) Congressmoron Jack Kingston from South Georgia has proposed a national version.
- Last October, the U.S. House passed an obscure bill, HR 3077, a missile aimed at the foundations of independent academic inquiry. Proponents, such as Pipes' fellow traveler, Stanley Kurtz, want Middle East studies departments that teach only pro-American (as in pro-neo-conservative) and pro-Likud spin.
The leverage is about $95 million granted by the federal government to 118 international studies centers, including 17 that, like Emory's and Georgia State's, focus on the Middle East. HR 3077 -- whose major organizational cheerleaders are pro-Israeli groups such as the Anti-Defamation League -- would establish a politically appointed oversight committee, including representatives of intelligence agencies. Colleges that don't bend to the committee's "counseling" could lose funding. The bill is pending in the Senate.
In reality, no respectable university would accept such an invasion into the educational process. Moreover, students taking grants to study in foreign lands would be suspected of CIA or military links -- endangering not only their research but their lives.
- If HR 3077 isn't outrageous enough, U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Penn., last year introduced legislation that would cut federal money to any institution where students or faculty criticize Israel. Such criticism, regardless of content, context, factual basis or even-handedness, would be decreed "anti-Semitism." Ostensibly, the law would defend Israel; in reality, it's a wedge to separate Jewish voters from the Democratic Party.
A thoroughly all-American character, Louisiana's Huey P. Long once commented that if fascism ever comes to this nation, it will be "wrapped in the American flag." There are flag-cloaked people polishing their jackboots on campus.