27 06 2006

Living in India I am shocked at how little the West believes in/understands the simple concept of “freedom of speech”.

To take just one recent example, an essayist named Ward Churchill has just been told to quit his teaching post at a university in the U.S. because he published an article on the 9-11 attack on the WTC – saying something to the effect that “America should have been expecting an attack like this to happen given their horrendous activities across the world for the last several decades.”

He went even further while trying to place the actions of the 9-11 attackers in the context of language used by Americans during the 1991 Gulf War.

Left leaning – Yes.

Controversial – Yes.

But does that mean that a person should be blacklisted and hounded out of a teaching job, not allowed to participate in public speaking and called a terrorist? Of course, calling someone a terrorist in the West now is the equivalent of saying that this person does not have and does not deserve any human rights; certainly not the right to free speech!.

A sorry few voices have been raised in protest. One is “The Sounds of Bigots”
By RICHARD OXMAN and can be read at And one awaits the details on the “plagiarism” charge that has been bandied about regarding the essayist.

On the whole, my impression is that free speech in America is tolerated if it is fascist in nature (e.g. Coulter) but free speech takes on a different definition for proponents of civil liberties and justice.

How Utterly Sad



4 responses

3 05 2007

Churchill was on the faculty at U of Colorado in Boulder, and his article about 9/11 became infamous while we were living there. I hadn’t heard the outcome, but I guess I am surprised that he was asked to resign. He’s a notoriously cantankerous fellow, plus as you point out he’d also been charged with plagiarism. He was chair of Ethnic Studies and a strong advocate of Native Americans, but the American Indian tribe to which he claimed membership said that he was not in fact a member of the tribe, that they didn’t think he was Indian at all. Boulder is very liberal politically, and most of the people we knew thought that Churchill’s freedom of speech was being curtailed. I suspect it came down to money: how many alumni would stop contributing if the university didn’t get rid of Churchill? Apparently the university upheld his right to state his opinion about 9/11, but found him guilty of various unethical research practices, including plagiarism, falsifying information, and misrepresenting himself as a member of a tribe.

None of this would have come to light had it not been for the 9/11 remarks, and it’s likely that other faculty members could be accused of similar irregularities. Nonetheless, given that he did falsify his research, it’s probably best that the committee decided to recommend his dismissal. The faculty committee I’m sure realized they would be accused of violating Churchill’s freedom of speech, so it would have been tempting for them to disregard the ethics violations just to avoid taking the political heat. That they didn’t I think speaks well for the process. That the process got initiated for the wrong reasons does not speak well for the university administration.

3 05 2007

The committee reported that Churchill was guilty of plagiarism and of not following publication norms. They also dis not like the timing of the charges and noted that in their report.

With you, I wonder how many tenured professors work would withstand this sort of scrutiny. One lazy grad assistant could create all sorts of havoc.

There’s little chance that the courts will side with Churchill, even if he does fight it that far, yet the issues that were raised especially about freedom of speech have had an impact and there has been some sympathy even for Churchill.

I think too that the ‘war on terror’ rhetoric generally is now thought to be overblown and along with that there may be some interest in reevaluating what 9/11 really means. Perhaps freedom of speech is not yet quite dead?

3 05 2007

You have to believe that somewhere in America there’s a punk rock band named The Little Eichmanns.

5 05 2007

I’m sure there is! There are certainly plenty of little hitlers running around in fascist circles!

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