by Gilles d'Aymery
(Swans - February 14, 2005) Here they go again, from the conservatives (O'Reilly, Rick Lowry, the WSJ editorial page, et al.) to the liberals à la Marc Cooper, Michael Bérubé and other cherubim of the bien-pensant left, they gathered the dogs and went hunting for the past week or so. Their game? A relatively obscure professor (for those of us little familiar with Indian Studies) at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Ward Churchill. His crime? A 9/11 essay written more than three years and five months ago...yes, that's how long it took to gather the dogs...almost three and one half year ago, no less. Why now? Dunno, maybe there was little to bloviate on, last week...
Anyway, like Peter N. Kirstein of Saint Xavier University, Chicago, Illinois in late 2002, Ward Churchill's crime of lese majesty was the form and substance of his essay (in Kirstein's case it was a flaming e-mail message to an Air Force Academy cadet). The august assembly of con-libs deemed Churchill's article repugnant, insensitive, anti-American, lost in the ethers of untruths, heralding, perhaps even welcoming the 9/11 attacks... So, the hunt began...and the howling got so close to the professor that he resigned his chair of the Department of Ethnic Studies. But that was not enough for the hunters. They were having fun. They could smell the blood; they wanted a trophy. High priests of the pundicracy and governors joined the chase... What they could not do to a Susan Sontag or a Norman Mailer, wild animals of a higher order, they felt this rather unknown radical scalp -- yes, of course, he must be a Raaaadical! -- would nicely adorn their collection. Calls for his firing from his university's post (he's tenured) echoed all over the forest...
But the professor, far from accepting his fate (or apologizing for that matter), turned against his attackers, writing a fiery response to the howling mob. Then, onlookers began whispering short stories related to something called the First Amendment of an old Constitution. One bystander even called upon John Stuart Mill's essay, On Liberty, citing the following excerpt:
We have now recognized the necessity to the mental well-being of mankind (on which all their other well-being depends) of freedom of opinion, and freedom of the expression of opinion, on four distinct grounds; which we will now briefly recapitulate.
First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.
Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any object is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.
Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds. And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience.
Before quitting the subject of freedom of opinion, it is fit to take notice of those who say, that the free expression of all opinions should be permitted, on condition that the manner be temperate, and do not pass the bounds of fair discussion... (see full text -- and go read Prof. Churchill's essay to judge for yourself whether it contains a "portion of truth.")
Uh oh, the cavalcade came to an abrupt halt, or rather a pause. After a short confabulation, it was agreed that his right to express his opinions would be granted, in exchange for which they would carry on with the hunt through two different tracks: First, it was rumored that the man was not who he represented himself to be -- that is, that he was somehow of Indian descent. He simply was not, the rumor went, not one-third, not one-sixth, not at all. Then obviously, he had to be a liar; and a liar, tenured or not, should be fired!
And if his alleged lies did not suffice, then other hunters came to the rescue. The man is a fraud, asserted another obscure professor of Lamar University (Thomas Brown). He's guilty of shoddy scholarship, historical falsifications and academic dishonesty... Then another one, this time a Swarthmore history professor (Timothy Burke), joined the hunt; and another from Colorado University Law School (Paul Campos); and a Hamilton College professor (Phillip Klinker), and, and, and...all nicely packaged by the likes of Marc Cooper...
As the saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat... Results of the hunt: a) The Board of Regents of the University of Colorado has launched a 30-day review of Ward Churchill's academic credentials. b) The hunters had a productive and fun week. c) Mission (almost) accomplished.
The mission, you'll ask... An ongoing McCarthyite campaign to silence dissenters and purge colleges and universities of the few radicals, contrariens, and contradicters, if any, that remain there (cf. JSM's "tyranny of the majority") and the slow but perceptible abolition of the right to speak freely and safely in the United States.
Perhaps should I add here that I am not defending the essay of Ward Churchill (I am not attacking it either for it does contain "a portion of truth"). I'm defending his right to speak without being calumniated, slandered, and see his livelihood put at risk and his career destroyed over opinions that do not please the usual hypocritical crowds or appease the powers that be.