Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Barrett and freedom on the 4th

It's the Fourth of July so why not blog about freedom while I put off cleaning the grill?

There is an interesting counterpoint to the Kevin Barrett controversy from Holland. Barrett, as most of my fourteen readers know, is the UW lecturer who is under fire because he thinks that the 9-11 attacks were actually carried out by the Bush administration to bring out about, of course, fascism. We're all debating whether he should be allowed to teach at UW.

In Holland, Pieter van der Horst, a retiring professor at Utrecht University, was about to deliver a valedictory lecture in which he argued that "the islamisation of European antisemitism is one of the most frightening developments of the past decades." According to van der Horst, a scholar of Early Christianity and Judaism, "the Nazis' irrational hatred of the Jews has been adopted in the contemporary Islamic world.""
Perhaps overstated, but not really implausible.

The lecture was censored. The university's chancellor said that it was "unscientific" and "incited different population groups against each other."
van der Horst was told the university could not protect him from Muslim students.

And there's the problem. I don't much trust officialdom to decide which opinions are beyond the pale. I am an affiliate attorney for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group that promotes free speech on campuses. They have spoken out in favor of Barrett. I can tell you that the vast majority of their cases involve suppression of conservative speech on campus. Firing people because those in power think their opinions are outrageous (even when, as in Barrett's case, they are)makes me uncomfortable. It is not an authority that I trust will be exercised wisely.

There are a few potentially complicating factors with Barrett. One wonders, for example, how he got hired in the first place. On Jessica McBride's radio show, Barrett said that he does not want to teach his students what to think, but how to think. I've said the same thing to students in classes that I have taught.

Based on what I heard on that show, I am not all persuaded that Barrett himself knows how to think. It seems to me to take a massive suspension of one's critical faculties to think that the 9-11 attacks were a put-up job. You have to disagree with about 99% of the scientists who have looked at the collapse of the towers. You have to believe that a conspiracy that would have had to involve a fair number of people doing unimaginable things could have gone undetected and unconfessed despite the most exacting scrutiny. You have to take facts out of context, twist language, and ignore everything that doesn't fit. You have to either be an idiot or under the impairment of some strong psychological need not to believe what is right before your eyes.

In Barrett's case, I suspect it's the latter. He doesn't want to believe that Islam could create such monsters. So he pretends that it didn't.

Is that enough to fire him? I don't know. He is teaching a course in the Introduction to Islam and he is going to discuss his special brand of lunacy with his students. I don't think it's wrong for a teacher to express his or her controversial point of view. I've done it many times. But you have to make clear that it is your point of view and you have to fully and accurately set forth the other side.

On Jessica's show, Barrett said that it would be obvious to anyone with a three digit IQ that al Qaeda (which he calls a CIA creation; did we blow up the trains in Madrid as well?)had nothing to do with 9-11. I hold certain views very strongly but I am not sure that I have any that I believe everyone with a three-digit IQ must adopt.

As John McAdams points out, there are some views that can only be held by the incompetent. Geologists who think that the earth is six thousand years old or lawyers who think that the Constitution mandates the supression of the Roman Catholic Church have a right to these views, but they are lousy geologists and lawyers.

I don't think I'd fire him, but I can't imagine that the quality of his teaching or scholarship would warrant keeping him.


John McAdams said...

Isn't the view that the Constitution mandates the supression of the Roman Catholic Church fairly widespread among liberals, and especially within the gay lobby?

Anonymous said...

If you think we should not fire him and his teaching doesn’t warrant keeping him, let’s assign him to cleaning toilets because he seems qualified to handle crap.

Rick Esenberg said...

Professor McAdams once again proves that satire has become very difficult.

Dad29 said...

...I think Prof. McA proves that "you can't make this stuff up" anymore.

Nice analysis of the situation; unlike someone such as Maguire, who advocates heretical positions (several orders of magnitude more important than merely denying the 9/11 reality) and SHOULD be fired, this poor cluck can simply be not rehired.