Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Obscuring your tracks 

The only difference between Ward Churchill and many of my colleagues in academia is that someone actually decided to write down what he said. I found myself mostly shrugging; "if they could get a microphone around a lunchtime conversation in HURL, oh what editorials they could write!" But this morning while waiting for the bathroom here at home I ran across Henry Farrell giving Robert Conquest and Glenn Reynolds the business.
On the one hand, Conquest�s language and claims are less inflammatory and offensive than Churchill�s. On the other, Conquest is one of the right�s most senior and respected figures, a fellow of the Hoover Institute, and a key player in the Anglo-American right�s intellectual network. Churchill, in comparison, is a relative nobody who represents no-one except himself. I�ve always had a fondness for Conquest; he was dead right on Stalinism, and he comes across as a very human figure ... But if he�s seriously trying to claim, on the basis of no apparent evidence, that leftwing professors in Western universities shoulder some of the blame for September 11, he should be deeply ashamed of himself. It�s a vicious, disgraceful slur, and it�s every bit as unacceptable as the claim that the West and the US had September 11 coming to them. Still, I don�t think that Reynolds or any of his cronies will be following their advice to the left and disassociating themselves from Conquest (indeed, judging by Reynolds� dishonest and hate-filled post, I wouldn�t be surprised if he agrees with Conquest�s claims).
What, you must wonder, set Farrell off? This:
And we are told that a number of members of the Middle Eastern terror groups had originally been in the local communist movements ... The members of [the Real IRA and the Shining Path], as with those in Italy or, for example, the Naxalities in India, were almost entirely recruited from student elements who had accepted the abstractions of fashionable academics. And the September 11 bombers were almost all comfortably off young men, some having been to Western universities and there adopted the extremely anti-Western mind-set.

The reviewer of Conquest's book, though not Farrell, makes the point that the attempt is to draw an analogy between Conquest's long-standing observation that the left in America had sympathies with the Soviet Union and that the 9/11 attackers specifically learned anti-Western attitudes in Western universities from folks like Churchill. The syllogism Conquest is arguing runs like this: Many Western university professors hold anti-American sympathies; some students of these professors adopt these sympathies; some act on them, occasionally in ways that lead to violence and tragedy (Rachel Corrie says hello*); some of the 9/11 attackers went to western universities where such faculty were. Yes, that's circumstantial, and I would not have been comfortable making the statement, but asking me to back away from Conquest as the left should back away from Churchill is hyperventilation.

And an attempt to obscure the tracks that lead from Churchill to the comfortable, tenured Left.

Reynolds links to Naomi Klein, who said in part (adding to what Glenn quoted):
I was talking to a journalist a few weeks ago and I was saying that I believe our responsibility is to hold Bush to his lie. They promised democracy, sovereignty and liberation. They haven't delivered, but our job should be to demand that these become realities. His response was, "So what you're saying is that something good could come from the war, right?" He was trying to trap me. I realized when he did this that this was a big reason why anti-war forces have refused to have positive demands � precisely because it will be used against us. It will seem as if something good could come from this war. My response to this is: Who the hell cares? Who cares about our anti-war egos?

If you hang around American universities, you know who cares. It's all about ego, because once you have a job for life at a decent but not hefty salary in the liberal arts, ego is coin of the realm.

*--I'm sure someone will now think I blame in part leftist professors for sending her to her death. Let me be explicit: I do.