Response to David Horowitz
By Matt Muchowski
The last issue of Academe printed my article about free speech at DePaul and right wing activist David Horowitz’s response. I was surprised David Horowitz actually responded to my article about free speech at DePaul. I thought he would be to busy as I had heard he might be involved with a burning at the stake happening in Colorado and a lynch-mob on the border with Mexico.
His response was typical of those used to getting their way through sheer force instead of reasoned arguments: school yard name calling and unsubstantiated claims. I repudiate the labels he attached to me and wish that he would do his research before spouting off falsehoods as fact.
Like all good apologists for Israel and the human rights abuses committed in it’s name, Horowitz felt he had to label me anti-Semitic. His evidence? That I used the word Zionist to describe Thomas Klocek, the adjunct professor at DePaul whose contract with the school was not renewed, partly because of his harassment of a pro-Palestine student group. Horowitz goes on to describe Klocek as “a defender of the right of Jews to exist in a state that is theirs.” In other words, the very definition of a Zionist. According to Dictionary.com, “Modern Zionism is concerned with the support and development of the state of Israel.” So I would be curious what the difference between a Zionist and a supporter of Israel is to David Horowitz and Klocek.
I can’t help but think of the gallons of ink and scores of trees wasted on calling people anti-Semitic who only want to defend the human dignity and rights of the Palestinians, Lebanese and other victims of Israeli policies, while real anti-Semites, like Jerry Falwell, get a pass, because they support Israel, even if they believe all Jews need to convert to Christianity or spend an eternity in hell. Maybe Mel Gibson got some bad press, but in the grand scheme of things, one idiotic and racist drunken rant, even from a celebrity, shouldn’t get the same level of media attention as bombing civilians in Lebanon.
Horowitz also referred to me as a latter-day totalitarian. I’m not sure what evidence he refers to. As it is, I’m not the one supporting warrantless wiretaps, indefinite detentions without charge, torture, and all the other wonderful erosions of civil liberties the Bush administration has brought us.
Horowitz goes on to call me anti-Catholic. His evidence? That I advocate that DePaul University, a Catholic school, take more progressive positions on certain issues. He tries to paint this as anti-Catholic in the sense that the school needed to preserve its identity. Well, if David had done his homework, he would know that DePaul University is not bound by strict doctrinal identity of the church.
From the beginning DePaul has been a separate legal entity, not run directly by the Church. In fact, DePaul’s 1907 charter, “did not identify DePaul as Catholic.” In the 1960s Fr. Cortelyou and Fr. Richardson asked that the school be relieved of its “canonical status as a pontifical university.” They rescinded that status voluntarily “because of the fear of losing federal funds, and out of concerns for academic freedom.”
I realize Horowitz isn’t Catholic but even he should know that the church has many debates within it as to what its identity was, is and should be. While the Pope certainly has a large voice in the matter, over time, many papal decrees have been overturned, for one reason or another. Consider Pope Nicholas V’s 1434 blessing of the slave trade, or the way the Church treated Galileo and Copernicus, certainly not Church dogma today. Compare Pope Benedict XVI to Catholic radicals like Dorothy day, the Berrigan brothers, Kathy Kelly, Fr. Roy Bourgeois and you will see pretty divergent views on important social and political issues. Consider feminist, pro-choice and pro-gay Catholic groups like Catholics for Free Choice. Sure they don’t represent the view of the current Church establishment, but who is to say that they aren’t possessed by the Holy Spirit and that one day the rest of the Church will accept their views?
So when Horowitz calls for DePaul to defend its Catholic nature and refuses to sign a letter defending the Vagina Monologues, I ask, does he mean to have students indoctrinated with Church dogma with no room for academic freedom? As there are competing views of what having Catholic nature means, which does he refer to? What qualifies someone who was never Catholic, and never attended DePaul, to make a judgment on which Catholic nature DePaul should adopt and preserve? As someone who poses as a defender of academic freedom and liberty, defending the Vagina Monologues seems like a no brainer–unless Horowitz isn’t concerned with defending free speech but only the narrow spectrum of right-wing correct speech which often crosses the line into harassment or libel.
Horowitz tried to specify and clarify his views regarding the abolition of slavery. According to him, “the idea that slavery as an institution was morally wrong was indeed an idea that originated with white Christian at the end of the 18th century.” There are a couple of odd things about Horowitz’s analysis regarding the end of slavery. Yes there were slave revolts that didn’t put an end to slavery as system, but only sought their own freedom. But Horowitz fails to recognize a couple of significant issues.
There were and are many different forms of slavery. In the Ottoman Empire for instance, there is much evidence to suggest that slaves were freed after being in bondage for a certain number of years, usually around 10. While in Nigeria, many upper echelon slaves and concubines in the Kano royal palace had power to influence public policy and other patronage like perks.
Some would argue that these different forms could be called better than the slavery practiced in the American South. I don’t like ranking oppression though, as I fight for the abolition of all class hierarchies. It is clear though that those material conditions created the responses of slaves in each setting. In Turkey they must have asked, “why rebel and risk death when I’ll be free in a few years?” In Nigeria, they were afraid of losing power. In the US today, under a system where prisoners are used as slave labor, and people in debt work as wage slaves, it’s a little bit of both and other issues.
It seems as though Horowitz asserts that it was anti-slavery ideas, specifically Christian ones, that inspired revolts, activism and eventually abolition. Certainly no one would dispute that many anti-slavery activists, whether free or slave, considered themselves Christian, and took much from such ideas. But Christianity was also the inspiration for slave owners. How can slavery be abolished by an idea, when that same idea is used in many different ways?
One of the points Horowitz evaded was the indoctrination which takes place in business schools and ROTC classes. This was a long time ago, but at the very first meeting of the DePaul Board of Trustees in 1907, they passed a resolution calling for a school of economics to be made as soon as possible to “inculcate” students against Socialism and Anarchism. Would David Horowitz support “alternative” economics classes, focusing on participatory economics, cooperatives and/or state socialism?
Horowitz also tries to qualify his position by referring to left-wing indoctrination in classrooms instead of what is done outside class. Which seems bizarre considering the number of cases which happen outside the classroom his group highlights, the Klocek case for instance, or most of his book, “The Professors.”
If I were to tackle the subject, I would want to do more than take quotes from ratemyprofessors.com, and have some sort of scientific way of determining indoctrination in class and what kind of indoctrination. But I think we can afford a brief glance at what one former student, who wished to remain anonymous, experienced.
The student “took a political science course with a professor whose specialty was in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Decidedly conservative, he was teaching a class called Revolution. He openly declared that this class might seem more like a CIA-training class on counter-terrorism, even though a normal professor anywhere from the right to the left would not teach a class on revolution equating it with terrorism. One day, after a mild disagreement over revolution, he asked to speak with me after class, and asked me to drop the class. He told me it was not what I thought it was going to be, and he didn’t think that I should remain in the class.”
Consider another experience they had, “In one case, I took the only Chinese history course available, and it was taught by a Chinese professor. No one should expect a completely objective class, and she told the class that her family generally supported Mao and that she did not. After class, I mentioned to her that while critical of him, I didn’t think he was the monster that he was so often made out to be. She told me that if I planned to stay in the class, she would change my mind one way or another.”
Perhaps I didn’t do a good enough job of explaining why the Finkelstein tenure case is an academic freedom issue. He was fired at Hunter College, City University of New York and New York University because of his politics. Alan Dershowitz tried to prevent publication of his book (and if Horowitz is so concerned with fraud & proper citation with Ward Churchill, what about someone like Dershowitz? Is it that Horowitz is not concerned about academic diversity, but pushing a partisan right-wing agenda?). Dershowitz has attempted to block his tenure, sending long documents full of quotes taken out of context to DePaul faculty, who have actually fully rebutted Dershowitz’s claims. Finkelstein should be able to have his scholarly efforts published without the kind of retaliations he has faced, and that is the core of why anyone who seriously cares about academic freedom would support Finkelstein.
Horowitz is correct about one thing—he is not qualified to pass judgment on Finkelstein’s tenure. Maybe he could convince some of his colleagues to come to the same conclusion and not interfere with DePaul’s internal tenure process.