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Scholarly Reprimands & Counter-Arguments vs. America’s New Paradigm

Posted by Rick · February 15th, 2005 · 8 Comments

I was going to post a comment to “Is This The New McCarthyism?” but decided against it when I realized that the way thatcoloredfella’s blog is built, comments don’t connect back to people. There are a few reasons I might give for why that’s not a Good Thing™, but it doesn’t matter.

It’s unclear what connection the title has to the article, but the topic of the article relates to one Ward Churchill, some bizarre comments he made about 9/11 and the “technocrats” of the World Trade Center, with meandering commentary on the subsequent fall-out.


Frankly, this section is just nitpicking; I can’t resist the “ad homonym” comment. You’ll lose nothing except possibly some quirky entertainment if you skip this part and go to “The Meat of the Matter” below. Here I just note a couple of stylistic or typographical quibbles with the article.

“Ad homonym” — unless this perhaps means it sounds like a commercial &#8212 should be spelled “ad hominem.” “Holocaust” is usually capitalized, when used to refer to the actions of the Third Reich against Jews; if one just means to use the ordinary word “holocaust,” it would not be.

Another minor point, regarding rhetoric: Why bother to say that Front Page “sounds eerily like” Storm Front ? [Editor’s Note: Front Page here is a Republican e-zine; Storm Front is a white supremacist group.] That’s just the sort of thing that gets people to thinking the writer is some kind of crackpot. Front Page also “sounds eerily like” a Microsoft product. Why not note this? Maybe it’s all part of a worldwide corporate conspiracy to steal Lakotan water by making Churchill look bad.

Seriously, Front Page sounds like a perfectly rational choice for the name of an e-zine. Important news is frequently referred to as “front page news” and it would not surprise me that a group publishing an e-zine thinks what they have to say is important.

The Meat of the Matter

On a more substantive note, I’m not sure I understand why the writer feels that “some sort of reprimand against Churchill is in order.” I mean, if Churchill really is equating WTC victims and, by extension, all Americans, with Nazis, I don’t like it either. As will be well-known to regular readers of my blog, I’m a Jew and my interactions with Holocaust deniers causes me to dislike people who misuse that history; the writer has given me reason to believe Churchill does both. (For the record, much of what’s contained in the linked Zundelsite article is false. The only part of it which is true is that I refused to supply resources for them to publish anti-semitic material. Oh, that, and they spelled my name right. Almost every other detail was made up by Bradley Smith.)

That said, I don’t see why a writer would believe that anyone should be reprimanded for publishing what the writer himself described as “solidly researched.” Until I read the article on thatcoloredfella’s blog, I’d never heard of Ward Churchill. I don’t know enough about him to assess Churchill’s work. And I’ll confess that I have doubts about the research of anyone who compares WTC “technocrats” — whatever Churchill means by that — to “little Eichmanns.”

Truth is, though, that the best response to “solidly researched” arguments we don’t like is counter-argument. There are exceptions. Some “arguments” — Holocaust denial comes to mind — should be ignored for the bigot-produced garbage that they are. Others, such as those promulgated by the Flat Earth Society, are so far into absurdity as to hardly ever be mentioned by the sane. But normally “the marketplace of ideas” serves us best when someone explains why another speaker is wrong.

In the academic environment, fraud, deceit and other deliberate scholarly abuses — and there’s reason to think Churchill may be guilty of some of these — justifiably call for reprimands. Otherwise, reprimands based on content and personal attacks upon a speaker’s heritage — Ralph seems to call for the former; others have engaged in the latter — “save” the “debate” either by distracting us from it, or by killing it.

This is America’s new paradigm, though. You don’t like something someone else is saying? Well, that person should be silenced! If we can’t just outright silence them, can we neutralize them? Does it matter how we do it? Should we spend millions on commercials that lie about them? Should we call them unpatriotic? Shall we accuse them of providing succor to the enemy? Maybe we could just accuse them of being “liberals”? (Personally, I like being called a liberal. The Founders of the United States were all liberals; the Tories who opposed them were conservatives. That’s why today, the destroyers of the Constitution are known as neo-cons; they’re the New Conservatives.)

For many Americans these days, it doesn’t seem that it does matter how it’s done. Just silence the bastards. You want to talk about why you think Bush’s stand on medical malpractice is wrong? Shut up! Tolerance concerning gays? Shut up! Criticize the President? Shut up! Criticize the war? We told you once already: Shut up!

Unfortunately, this paradigm is contributing to the downfall of the United States; one of the greatest experiments in human freedom on earth is coming to an end. A big part of freedom of speech is the freedom to hear. If we don’t listen to others once in awhile — even others with whom we disagree — we block off a significant avenue of learning. The scientific, political and social progression of our country depends upon learning from one another.

If the only thing anyone ever talked about was the bogus idea that the Earth was flat and the Universe revolved around us (sorry, Flat Earthers!), modern science might never have developed. The discoveries of multitudinous scientists, including such greats as Newton and Einstein, would never have been possible. As most intelligent people now understand, without science, you get George Bush.

Without healthy and vigorous political discussions, we cannot avoid error. Do we, as a nation, think the revival of imperialism being driven by large corporations today is a Good Thing™? Shouldn’t we talk about it?

Ultimately, our scholars should be judged on the quality of their work and should not be reprimanded merely for the content of what they say. If Churchill’s work is in the same category as that of the Flat Earthers and the Holocaust deniers, then perhaps he should be reprimanded, fired, or should resign. But if the only reason for wanting to punish him is that he says something others don’t like, that’s not only wrong, but hurts us all.

It’s time to toss this ignorance-inducing “Shut Up!” Paradigm.

And on that note, feel free to use the form below to chime in with your own arguments.

Categories: Freedom of Speech


8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ralph // Feb 15, 2005 at 1:23 pm


    Good critique and one I essentially agree with, except:

    I wouldn’t say that I disagree with Churchill on content, but style. It is important to treat each other with the respect due. Firefighters and police officers killed on 9/11 deserve more respect than comparisons with Nazis.

    Front Page, which actually more often gets confused with the Gay Publication Out Front than Storm Front, is not a mainstream publication, as you seem to suggest. It publicizes the far right, anti-intellectual agenda of Alan Keyes and David Horowitz. I have had colleagues run into the ground by these infantile reactionary idiots and they have not hidden their agenda to run Native American scholars off campus.

    Finally, “holocaust” is not capitalized intentionally. Churchill, in “A Little Matter of Genocide” says that there is nothing unique about the Jewish holocaust experience. He doesn’t deny that it happened, he merely makes a case that it is not a uniquely Jewish experience. Is that denial? I don’t think so.

    The title was TCF’s, not mine. Overall, I would agree with you and I am sorry that I couldn’t communicate that I did not so much disagree with the substance of Churchill’s essay, but rather the style. I’ll try harder next time.

  • 2 Rick Horowitz // Feb 15, 2005 at 1:50 pm

    Ralph, please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t disagree with your comments about how people should treat one another (e.g., with respect). Whether you want to call it a question of style, because he’s disrespectful, or content, because he used words like “nazi” or “little Eichmann,” it’s still my point that a scholar or other person who might be in a position where someone could reprimand him should be reprimanded only for fraud, misrepresentation, or other “content-neutral” misbehaviors. Otherwise, we should simply offer counterarguments.

    Some people feel comparisons to Nazis are appropriate at times. I can even imagine some times when they might be. But for the record, I totally agree with you that they aren’t appropriate as relates to WTC victims. That doesn’t change my argument. Unless we decide we don’t support the ideals upon which the First Amendment was based, I don’t think we can justify reprimanding someone just because they said something we don’t like.

    I see why you used the lower-case “h”; as I said, that wasn’t important. I wouldn’t, personally, have deigned to do that. But I won’t ask anyone to reprimand you for it. 😉

    Lastly, as to Front Page, I’ve never heard of them before reading about them in your article. I wouldn’t therefore think they’re a mainstream publication. All I meant to say was that your comment that Front Page “sounds eerily like” Storm Front seemed a little over-the-top. Mainstream or not, it seems just as likely that they picked the name because of it’s potential “front page news” subtext than for any desire to mimic white supremacists. Maybe I’m wrong.

    Again, don’t get me wrong: Overall I was glad to read your article. I learned something. I just disagreed with the idea that a reprimand was in order because a professor of Ethnic Studies said something that some of us didn’t like. That’s not what Freedom of Speech is about.

  • 3 Ralph // Feb 15, 2005 at 2:37 pm

    Agreed, it’s not what freedom of speech is about, but in an academic setting we must always be mindful that we are teachers.

    As to whether coments about Frontpage are over the top, people in their forums went as far as making death threats against a friend of mine. In Denver, we still remember Alan Berg (whose assassination by neo-Nazis took place less than a block from my friend’s office), so we take those threats very seriously. So maybe I’m a little emotional about the issue.

  • 4 Rick Horowitz // Feb 15, 2005 at 2:52 pm

    Regardless of who the American citizen is (e.g., teacher or not) who says things we don’t like, we should still honor the First Amendment. And, likely as not, the school is required to do so by law. (I assume it’s a state-run university from another article I read.)

    I can certainly understand being emotional over death threats. As a kid, I was beaten up more than once for being a Jew. And (unrelated to that), I was once nearly killed by a small gang of bikers in a bar where I played pool just because some biker chick wanted to use my pool cue. (For awhile, my black leather motorcycle jacket was a pretty red color; a few dozen stitches, however, fixed my head.) So I can understand being emotional about some things. That doesn’t change whether Front Page “sounds eerily like” Storm Front. Maybe it was chosen for that reason. You didn’t indicate that; you just said it “sounds eerily like.” That “sounds eerily like” jumping to conclusions. 😉

    Everything said, though, I don’t have any kind of major disagreement with you or what you’ve said, except for the free speech stuff.

  • 5 zencomix // Feb 15, 2005 at 3:18 pm

    It’s always nice to have a civilized debate, like this here….I lived in Boulder County for 10 years, so I know exactly what you are talking about regarding Gov. Owens and his attempts to dismantle the educational structure, his pet projects for transportation,etc…there IS more going on here than just some comments by a professor that many people find objectionable.

  • 6 Bob // Feb 16, 2005 at 8:11 am

    I see a number of issues here, all of them on a different slippery slope. Without benefit of reading many of Churchill’s words, here are my feelings.

    “But there’s a big difference between the right to speak your mind, and being right.”

    Churchill’s intent was to offend and enlighten readers that, in his opinion, being American (i.e. a member of the American economy even in the slightest of ways) makes you complicit in all of the government’s decisions and actions.

    That argument fails on one important point, that Americans voice their opinions through the voting booth. If I did not vote for this president and disagree with his policies, am I less guilty? Or innocent by reason of conscience?

    I am reminded (yet again) of words spoken by Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank. When asked if he hated the Germans for what they did to his family. He responded that he did not hate “all” Germans, just “which” Germans, those that had direct involvement in his family’s slaughter.

    Churchill appears to me to be trying to blame a country (or more likely a culture) for the sufferings of thousands of innocents. Based on that “logic”, I can now blame all of Colorado for Churchill’s book, Churchill’s opinions and Churchill’s teachings. In fact, all American Indians are now stained by Churchill’s words forever.

    Of course, none of this is logical or ethical. But that is the rub isn’t it? The First Amendment gives rights to any fool to voice any opinion. In my (First Amendment sanctioned) opinion, public debate is where a fool and his idea are seen for what they are. Rick’s point that public debate has been mortally wounded in the last few years by “spin doctors” is valid here.

    These voodoo spin doctors can now take a fool and his idea and make him president. Counter voices are cast in deep, dark shadows of guilt. Their ideas are never heard because their character is assassinated before the words reach your ears.

    Should Churchill’s words be heard? Yes.

    Should his opinions be seriously considered? In my opinion, no. He is grinding an ax on the innocent victims for crimes they had no involvement in.

    Should Churchill’s ethnicity and qualifications to teach be questioned? In my opinion, yes. Not to attempt to silence him but to attempt to see what his personal motives could be to inspire a book like this. No writer writes in a vacuum.

  • 7 thatcoloredfella // Feb 16, 2005 at 2:02 pm


    I will not quibble with your criticism of my supposed pedestrian reading of the situation, but just thank you for giving it due attention.

    Ironically, I was in the process of installing Haloscan on my blog, as a more functional trackback/comment system are now in place.

  • 8 Rick Horowitz // Feb 16, 2005 at 2:10 pm

    You have a good blog there. I would recommend to my readers that they pay you a visit. I’m going to be a reader of it myself.

    My only real quibble with anything was regarding whether a person who says something unacceptable should be targeted for reprimand, or whether we should pretend that the United States Constitution was written for a good reason. Even though we (those who have been in this discussion) are private citizens and not the government, I think we should still support freedom of speech.

    When people say things we don’t like, we should discuss it (as has been done here). No reprimands required.

    The worst I’d go for is that we can stick our tongues out at each other if we hear something we don’t like, but don’t want to respond to. 😉

    Anyway, I’ve enjoyed your blog and I’m glad you stopped by here.

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