Saturday, August 30, 2014

Steven Salaita: Free Speech for me but not for thee

Former Virginia Tech professor Steven Salaita accepted an offer of a tenure-track position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign earlier this month, yet his contract was never submitted to the University Board of trustees for approval. According to University of Illinois chancellor Phyllis Wise the application was stonewalled  because the University  "cannot tolerate “personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them.”

“We have a particular duty to our students to ensure that they live in a community of scholarship that challenges their assumptions about the world but that also respects their rights as individuals. A Jewish student, a Palestinian student, or any student of any faith or background must feel confident that personal views can be expressed and that philosophical disagreements with a faculty member can be debated in a civil, thoughtful and mutually respectful manner. Most important, every student must know that every instructor recognizes and values that student as a human being. If we have lost that, we have lost much more than our standing as a world-class institution of higher education,” Wise sent in a mass e-mail to the campus community Friday afternoon.

Steven Salaita is under fire  for a series of postings on social media.

You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not,” Salaita wrote shortly after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered by Hamas terrorists, “I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing.” Another tweet applied just as much nuance in declaring, “Zionists: transforming ‘anti-semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.” Subject that last utterance to a close reading—an exercise that passes for rigid and original thinking in most American universities these days—and you learn that the author approaches anti-Semitism with the one-two punch of unreality: It doesn’t exist—hence the quotation marks—and if it does exist then it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

There’s much more where that came from: fantasies about Benjamin Netanyahu wearing a necklace made of Palestinian children’s teeth or about Israel resurfacing Atlantis only to colonize it, categorical refusals to condemn Hamas, and the ever-nuanced statement that anyone supporting Israel during the war in Gaza was “an awful human being.”

Salaita has become the last cause celeb for anti-Israel activists, who have created a petition that erroneously accuses the administrative of "firing" him .

For all the talk of "academic freedom" and "free speech"  bantered about in this made-up controversy,  Salaita's defenders are his ideological compatriots, and the lofty principles they claim to uphold are a smokescreen.   Not a single one of the signators on the petition took a stand to protect the free speech or academic freedom of UC Santa Cruz lecturer Tammi Benjamin , who endured a campaign of character assassination, abuse and ostracism for simply speaking her mind.

If your stand  is "Free Speech for me, but not for thee", then don't evoke the principle of "academic freedom" to justify your actions. 

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