Steven Salaita: The Inhumanity of Academic Freedom

team-22

“The Inhumanity of Academic Freedom,” a lecture Steven Salaita gave the day before yesterday at the University of Cape Town, is so powerful and echoes so many of the depressing things I have gone through as an agitator and (former) academic in the past several years that I would like to quote it here in full, but I’ll limit myself to quoting a single passage. Please read the lecture from beginning to end: it’s more than worth it. Salaita is a rare truthteller in a fallen world that fancies itself chockablock with truthtellers but which is actually pullulating with hasbaristas of various stripes. Thanks to George Ciccariello-Maher for the heads-up. Thanks to the Imatra IPV Reds Finnish baseball club for the image. (If you think it has nothing to do with the lecture, it means you haven’t read the whole thing.) // TRR

_____________________________________

In the end, we have to apply value judgments (mediated by lawless forces) to balance speech rights with public safety. In societies like the USA and South Africa, steeped in the afterlives of colonization, this task is remarkably difficult. We know that racism is bad, but global economic systems are invested in its survival. We know that anti-Zionism isn’t racism, that, in fact, it is the just position.  Yet no agreement exists about what comprises appropriate speech, in large part because maintaining a community is at odds with corporate dominion. As a result, there’s no way to prioritize a set of beliefs without accusations of hypocrisy (or without actual hypocrisy). The easy answer is to protect speech equally and let a marketplace of ideas sort the winners and losers. 

There’s a catch, though. Value judgments don’t arise in a vacuum and discourses don’t exist in a free market. Structural forces, often unseen, always beneficial to the elite, determine which ideas are serious and which in turn get a hearing. If we conceptualize speech as a market-driven phenomenon, then we necessarily relinquish concern for the vulnerable. We’re left with competing narratives in a system designed to favor the needs of capital. It’s a highly lopsided competition. Those who humor the ruling class will always enjoy a strong advantage, which aspiring pundits and prospective academics are happy to exploit. Corporate and state-run media don’t exist to ratify disinterest, but to reproduce status quos. 

The political left is already restricted, on and beyond campus. The same notions of respectability or common sense that guide discussion of academic freedom also limit the imagination to the mechanical defense of abstractions. Sure, academic freedom is meant to protect insurgent politics, and often does, but the milieu in which it operates has plenty of ways to neutralize or quash insurgency.  

I focus on radical ideas because Palestine, one of my interests and the source of my persecution, belongs to the set of issues considered dangerous by polite society, at least in North America and much of Europe (and, for that matter, the Arab World). Others include Black liberation, Indigenous nationalism, open borders, decolonization, trans-inclusivity, labor militancy, communism, radical ecology, and anti-imperialism. Certain forms of speech reliably cause people trouble: condemning the police, questioning patriotism, disparaging whiteness, promoting economic redistribution, impeaching the military—anything, really, that conceptualizes racism or inequality as a systemic problem rather than an individual failing. More than anything, denouncing Israeli aggression has a long record of provoking recrimination. Anti-Zionism has always existed in dialogue with revolutionary politics around the globe, including the long struggle against Apartheid. 

Advertisements

White Riot

 

2014-10-23_white_riot-90cd7205

George Ciccariello-Maher
Facebook
August 4, 2019

Two and a half years ago, I sent a tweet mocking the white supremacist myth of “white genocide,” which posits that white people are being “replaced” by a combination of migration, birth rates, and racial mixing. Twitter and the media briefly lit up, with thousands discussing the absurdity of the white genocide myth—this was a good thing indeed.

But a great coalition of liberals, conservatives, and cowardly academics, hand-in-hand with white supremacists, found my words too controversial (more controversial, apparently, than the words of the Nazis themselves). Today, two and a half years later, I don’t have a job as a result.

Since then, the myth of “white genocide” and “the great replacement” has metastasized, fusing seamlessly with Trump’s demonization of Central American migrants among others. It has been the direct cause of—among other things—the mass slaughter of 51 in Christchurch, New Zealand, only a few months ago, and in just the past week, 4 deaths in Gilroy (targeting “hoards of mestizos”) and now at least 20 in El Paso (targeting the “invasion” of Texas by Mexicans—explain this to the people who were there before 1848).

Despite this roaring cognitive dissonance, too many Democratic Party hacks, handwringing liberals, and trash professors continue to make excuses for the Nazis in our midst. CNN headlines grant credence to the myth of a disappearing white America. They tell us that Antifa and the Nazis are the same things, that fighting white supremacy only makes it stronger. When liberalism coddles the right and legitimizes its theories, the deaths in El Paso and elsewhere are the only logical result.

But we know that material force defeats material force, that fascism and white supremacy will not go away until we make them go away. We know that white supremacist movements and ideas must be destroyed before they kill again.

Every Proud Boy, neo-Nazi, and Identity Europa member is a mass shooting waiting to happen. And every mealy-mouthed liberal is an accomplice.

Death to the Klan. Death to fascism. Death to white supremacy. Treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity.

Thanks to Nazir Khan for the heads-up. Comic strip courtesy of Keith Knight // TRR

“White Riot” by The Clash
SongFacts

In this song, Clash frontman Joe Strummer is expressing his view that young white people should be outraged over their oppressive government just as blacks were, and should demonstrate through direct action and protest. He made it clear that the song—and the group—in no way advocated violence, and that it was certainly not racist.

Strummer explained to NME: “The only thing we’re saying about the blacks is that they’ve got their problems and they’re prepared to deal with them. But white men, they just ain’t prepared to deal with them—everything’s too cozy. They’ve got stereos, drugs, hi-fis, cars. The poor blacks and the poor whites are in the same boat.”

This song was inspired by the Notting Hill riots in west London on August 30, 1976. The carnival was a celebration of Caribbean culture, but it turned violent when police were attacked after arresting a pickpocket. Over 100 police officers were hospitalized along with about 60 crowd members. A lot of the tension was along racial lines, with black youths clashing with white officers, although gangs of white youth were also involved. Clash members Joe Strummer, Paul Simonon, and their manager Bernie Rhodes were at the event and got caught up in the riots, which led to this song. They included a photo of the Notting Hill riots on the back cover of the album.

Released in the UK on CBS Records March 26, 1977, “White Riot” was The Clash’s first single. It became one of their signature songs and was an indication of things to come. The Clash spent the next eight years speaking out for the lower class and against the establishment. Targets of their scorn included the British government and their record company.

Predictably, this song caused some problems during Clash concerts at times when audience members—often political punks—would use it as an excuse to cause trouble. Whether they should play it or not was sometimes a source of tension in the band.

At a gig in 1979, Joe Strummer was determined to play the song as an encore but Mick Jones vehemently disagreed, saying he was sick of the song and wanted to leave it behind. The argument became heated and Strummer for the only time in the band’s career punched Jones, leading to an odd situation during the encore where Jones had a bandage around his eye and nose whilst playing on stage—he gave up playing it halfway through and left the rest of the band to play on. Other tales abound of promoters requesting the band not to play the song for fear of wrecking the venue. Naturally, The Clash, being the troublemakers that they were, would play it anyway.

Clash members Mick Jones and Joe Strummer played this together for the last time in November 2002. Jones was in the audience for one of Strummer’s solo shows and came onstage to join him. Strummer usually didn’t like to play this, but he turned to Jones and said, “This one’s in ‘A’, you know it.” Strummer died of a heart attack a month later.

The album wasn’t released in the US until 1979. Over 100,000 copies were sold there as an import in 1977.