Robert Jensen, a professor of Journalism at the university of Texas, is being bashed by a large number of people, including the members of his own community at Austin, in an effort to force him out of his teaching position in the university. Professor Jensen, an anti-war activist, is being accused of being anti-American due to his writings in the aftermath of September 11.
To draw a case against him, his opponents are too clever not to say that, since he is American he should be automatically supportive of any war effort to prove militarily that Islam is inferior to the West. Instead, they argue that, since he is so political in public, he cannot possibly teach in a fair and objective manner, thus he should be fired. Evidently, had he supported G. W. Bush’s decisions and endorsed a military strike, he would have never been bashed or threatened. A clear evidence is that many American academics have done that without any criticism.
Yet, professor Jensen has not supported terrorism or minimized the depth of the pain that Americans felt in the aftermath of the September 11. He simply suggested that: (i) it is important to understand why terrorists were willing to fly jets into tower buildings, (ii) collateral damage resulting in the murder of hundreds, if not thousands, of Afghani civilians is probably as bad as terrorism, and that (iii) people watching civilians die in Kabul, and other places in Afghanistan, on a daily basis, may lead them to align themselves with terrorists so that, eventually, there will be a vicious cycle of international terrorism that is actually caused by the failure of smart bombs.
Professor Jensen did not even question the so-called evidence against terrorists. For example, he did not say that, many people could not understand how, although it was proved that some people on the planes that crashed into the WTC (some of these were journalists) phoned their families, and these calls were recorded, they never described the terrorists, their accents or physical appearance.
Similarly, he did not question the latest revelation of ‘Nobody Move, PLEASE’, a voice which is said to have come out of the plane’s cockpit minutes before American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into the World Trade Center. One is struck by the fact that, although Arab terrorists are usually supposed to be of extreme cruelty, this one (with a Capital please) was actually a very gentle and polite one.
Professor Jensen did not even question the simplistic argument that, since people of a Muslim faith are more likely to commit suicide bombing, since they are more concerned with Heaven, the terrorist attack of Sept. 11 must have been of an Arab origin. Professor Jensen could have said that others with a strong Christian belief, like Timothy McVai, were more concerned about the Heavens.
Neither did he question the silly suggestion that, since there were many Arabs on the planes that crashed, the terror attack must have been of an Arab origin. Silly as it is, this, in fact, is a lot less silly than the other one: that since you are a pilot of an Arab origin who lived or trained in the US, you are deemed to be the one who committed that crime on September 11.
What did Professor Jensen say, however, is that, President Bush’s claim that ‘terrorists ”hate our freedoms” is embarrassingly simplistic, to the point of being childish’. Since he was completely right, it could be this that may have angered his opponents.
But the assault on Professor Jensen, hence on freedom of speech, is not the first and will not be the last. Well before him, when Sulman Rushdie, a British of an Indian heritage, mad at the way things went in Kashmir, wrote a novel insulting the prophet of more than a billion people, the international community depicted him as a nice practitioner of freedom of speech. On the contrary, when the Muslims argued that freedom of speech and insults are not synonymous, they were not only laughed at, but were also described as being haters of democracy. To some journalists, this proved the famous claim that authoritarianism and Islam are two faces for the same coin.
In an equally appealing fashion was the case of Mr. Robert Fisk, a British reporter for the famous Independent, who has been constantly bashed and harassed by the Moussad for telling the truth about Israel’s brutality against the Palestinians.
A similar case is that of Professor Edward Said, a brilliant scholar at Columbia University, who, himself, was harassed by the Jewish lobby in the US who asked for his immediate removal from the university.
Strange enough, a similar incident occurred to me. When I first suggested that the depressive economic situation in Algeria may have been largely responsible for the country’s civil conflict, a significant number of professors went nuts. As a case in point, one professor suggested to me that my brain was too small to understand the Algerian conflict. Another started to police academic journals on Middle East affairs in a furious attempt to block any of my articles from going to the press.
This global undemocratic assault on freedom of speech, if it continues, will only prove Khomeini’s claim: that there is no such a thing as democracy.