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US academics who dare to discuss the Allied bombing face censure

By Lee Elliot Major


The Guardian Tuesday November 6, 2001
Centre for Research on Globalisation (CRG) at globalresearch.ca   9  November 2001



An academic uprising is brewing to defend the right to speak out against US government policy, amid growing concerns that government and university officials are disciplining lecturers who question the response to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Hundreds of academics have signed up to a statement advocating the right to hear critical and dissenting voices over US foreign policy and the Afghanistan bombing campaign, which the campaigners are planning to publish in the New York Times.

It follows a series of attacks on academics daring to question the Bush administration publicly. The US government is also planning to introduce new powers forcing universities to disclose confidential details about overseas students as part of a new computerised tracking system to prevent terrorists from entering the US on student visas.

The statement, which is circulating widely among academics in the US and UK, says: "In the crisis precipitated by the terrible events of September 11, members of academic communities across the US have participated in teach-ins, colloquia, demonstrations, and other events aimed at developing an informed critical understanding of what happened and why.

"Unfortunately, some participants in these events have been threatened and attacked for speaking out. Trustees of the City University of New York are planning formal denunciations of faculty members who criticised US foreign policy at a teach-in. There have been similar efforts to silence criticism at the University of Texas at Austin, MIT, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and elsewhere."

It concludes: "We call on all members of the the academic community to speak out strongly in defence of academic freedom and civil liberties, not just as an abstract principle but as a practical necessity. At a moment such as this we must make sure that all informed voices - especially those that are critical and dissenting - are heard."

The American Association of University Professors has not signed up to the statement, but its general secretary, Mary Burgan, has warned against an anti-intellectual backlash. "It is predictable that after we had passed through the initial phases of reaction to September 11, we should want more subtle analyses. And so the discourses of academics - passionate as well as cool - have commenced," she said. "And so have the voluble reactions of those who believe that thinking out loud in our colleges and universities is so subversive that it ought to be stopped, somehow. A distrust of intellectuals has always lurked beneath the surface of American popular opinion. Now it has begun to leak out again."

In one of several recent attacks, academics at City University of New York who suggested that US foreign policy was partly to blame for the terrorist attacks were publicly denounced by the university's chancellor for making "lame excuses" for the terrorists. A professor at the University of Texas at Austin, meanwhile, attracted the wrath of the university's president for publishing an article arguing that the US itself has perpertrated "massive acts of terrorism" in its dealings with other countries.

Students have also been calling for the heads of academics who questioned the US government's actions. A political science professor speaking at a vigil at California State University, Chico, was heckled by students, and has been bombarded with hate letters.

A survey by Harvard University's Institute of Politics has shown that nearly four out of five college students support the airstrikes in Afghanistan, and more than two-thirds back the use of US ground troops.

The US Senate has stepped back from initial proposals to ban new visas for overseas students after it was reported that one of the September 11 hijackers entered the US on a student visa. The government is, however, introducing a tracking system that will give police information about the names, universities, dates of attendance and degree subjects of some 500,000 overseas students.

Initial indications suggest that overseas student numbers to the UK could be boosted by the US moves. There is little sign that UK academics are being censured. In one incident, however, anti-war posters were taken down at the University of Keele.



Copyright , The Guardian 2001. Ffor fair use only.  

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