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The New McCarthyism: The assault on civil liberties and academic freedom

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Article/book #: 18581
Title: The New McCarthyism: The assault on civil liberties and academic freedom
By: Elizabeth Terzakis  
Published in: International Socialist Review
Date of issue: May 2005
Topic(s) addressed: People/entities mentioned in this item:
Commentary

Abstract:

»BOLSTERED BY the reelection of George W. Bush, right-wing pundits have joined forces with the mainstream media and politicians from “both sides of the aisle” to launch a series of attacks on academics across the United States—from the professors of Columbia University’s Middle Eastern and Asian Language and Cultures (MEALAC) department to Ethnic Studies professor Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The offensive against prominent scholars has been accompanied by a rise in right-wing student groups complaining that their views are being “suppressed” by “left-wing domination” of the nation’s colleges and universities.
The attackers are led by a who’s who list of experts in distortion and demagoguery—FOX “News” mouthpiece Bill O’Reilly, historical contortionist Daniel Pipes and his Campus Watch Web site, David Horowitz and his misnamed Students for Academic Freedom, and the pro-Israel David Project. Following close behind are a number of elected officials and government bodies—including members of the New York City Council and Department of Education, congressman and New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn and Queens), Colorado governor Bill Owens and the Colorado state legislature—and representatives of the mainstream press from the New York Daily News to the Village Voice to, most recently, the New York Times. Aiding and abetting the advance by not only failing to come to the defense of, but actively prosecuting targeted faculty, are Columbia president Lee Bollinger and his administration and the University of Colorado Board of Regents.«

»When seeking to explain the attacks, we should first emphasize that they are not a defensive response to “left-wing domination” of higher education: The claim that universities are citadels of radicalism is a full-fledged fantasy. As Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi points out, the right wing’s latest engagement in the war of ideas is being waged from a position of strength:

Now, what is the current environment in which the so-called crisis at Columbia has developed?. [T]his is an utterly artificial crisis created from without the university for purposes that are, in fact, much larger than the university. The first element of this larger environment is a campaign that is nationwide in scope, against the autonomy of the universities in the broadest sense. It’s a campaign taking place in state legislatures. It’s a campaign taking place in the columns of newspapers. It’s a campaign which argues that there must be balance in universities. It’s a campaign that is based on an utterly spurious argument that the universities are strongholds of radical and liberal ideas. Would that they were strongholds of radical and liberal ideas. Would that the medical schools and the pharmaceutical schools were challenging the stranglehold of industrial medicine, of the industrial pharmaceutical industry. Would that agriculture schoolsor business schools were challenging the reigning orthodoxies. Would that economics departments, would that engineering schools, would that schools of international affairs were vigorously challenging the reigning orthodoxies in their fields. Would—I could go on and on and on. We should challenge these ludicrous assertions, which are permeating not just the columns of the right wing press, but which we find before important state legislatures today.«

»The stakes are very high. The attacks on Arabs and Muslims and Left academics are part of the patriotic hysteria that has been whipped up to support a new phase of U.S. imperialism, and consequently we must organize against the right-wing offensive as if the very life of the Left depended on the outcome—because it does. The history of McCarthyism teaches us that we would do well to fight now and fight hard.«











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