The War On University Campuses
By GS Don Morris, Ph.D.
October 21, 2005
Scholars for Peace Board Member
"I am a Palestinian"-the statement by an identified, respected historical scholar on an America university campus as he responded to a student question about bias. There was no mention of being an American or even a Palestinian American, rather a definitive response of Palestinian. The greatness of our country is that we are allowed freedom of expression and I have lived my entire life defending this basic premise and will continue to do so. However, his response does point to the nature of his presentation, it helps explain the tone and content of his message and speaks to the permission granted to such points of view by American academia today.
Given that we university types feel it our right and often our duty to offer our opinions on many issues, I shall now add my thoughts to this expanding list. I do so for the purposes of creating a discussion centered upon academics' role and responsibility when we make formal presentations to colleagues, students and the general public as opposed to criticizing one person's right to speak.
My academic training and over 25 years of experience representing academia is that we must hold ourselves to particular scholarly standards. These to include but not totally represented by such concepts as factual representation of events, people, situations and circumstances; proper referencing of stated facts to include valid and responsible sources; distillation of rumor and innuendo from substantiated facts and a willingness to enter scholarly debate with those holding opposing points of view. Academics are no different than the rest of humanity in that we too have opinions. However, as a scholar although we are entitled to our opinion we are not entitled to make up our own facts.
With respect to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (IPC) much has been written, many arguments have been heard and yet today the attention upon this issue looms large and continues to command our ongoing behavior. Allow me to say that I am not a Middle-East expert, rather I am an academic, educated in the principles of inquiry and I have become a keen and interested participant in this critical issue. I also have many years of personal life experience as a resident in Israel. I have studied, researched and analyzed multiple data sources from all sides (there are more than two sides to this issue) and have developed some analysis skills that have helped me better understand the complexity of the issues facing all who live in this region of the world.
It is this background that brings me to today's writing. Simply put, if individuals on all sides truly are committed to peace, then it is time to start behaving in such a manner. It is time for the PR war to turn in the true direction of peace. It seems to me that since the 1960's a new war for the hearts and minds of humankind has been a strategic operation and many battles have been waged and will be waged in the near future. For me, the strategy is one that is attempting to "socially engineer" peoples' beliefs so that international governments will make particular decisions that result in policy all the while promoting a very specific agenda.
How does this "engineering" manifest itself? It is delivered in many forms across different venues-I will offer only one venue, academia in American universities. Let us be brave enough to acknowledge that our universities are being viewed as a vehicle for creating one or more generations of future leaders who have a particular mind set with respect to the IPC. Further, let us be willing to examine the degree to which we in academia support this so as to further our own agenda, be it academic, professional, political or personal. Finally, let us be brave enough to admit that many of us have abused, misused, or bruised the concept of academic freedom-to deny this is to lack courage of introspection. This becomes the war I suggested exists upon our campuses today.
I am asked, justly so, for examples of these preceding remarks and so the remainder of this piece is part of my response. When it comes to the IPC all sides are competing for the hearts and minds of people. The "social engineering" begins with the leadership of the universities at many different levels. For example, those individuals given the freedom to organize and manage lecture series often put forward their own platform and agenda via topics and speakers selected to deliver the message. This can either be done overtly or covertly and by simply reviewing the topics and lecturer list you discover which tactic is being employed. Also, simply listen to the introduction of the speaker and you discover the degree to which the organizer's platform is about to be shared. The end result is that the audiences typically hear a slanted point of view. There is no intention of balance even though it is politically useful to speak of balance. This slanted point of view repeated often and frequently enough taints the truth and thus a generation of people develop opinions and beliefs based upon faulty information-it is the world that reaps the dividends of this strategy. I must say that I have had more than one such "leader" says to me "How dare you impugn my integrity or the integrity of this university, I/we would never ..." Some university faculty believe that they are the only ones with the knowledge, the scholarship and the ability to sift through all points of view and then share only the truth. Anyone else who dares to challenge them are immediately invalidated, tossed aside, dismissed or demeaned using subtle or direct language-this unto itself is fascinating to observe. Still others by virtue of their ethnicity, education, research or position in academia hold themselves and their views above reproach – the unfortunate result is dialogue that separates people persists in today's academia. This is contrary to the position that says "but I really am for peace among and between peoples".
The "social engineering" continues when presenters are less than scholarly with their lectures. Most notable of the tactics used are the following: incomplete data, lack of data sources, name calling, ridicule of the opposition's people and/or religion and sometimes outright mistruths –yes, academics do lie.
Some suggest that these are strong charges leveled at an institution created to present dialogue, truth and to raise critical questions. I am only sharing what I have observed and recently once again had confirmed. Perhaps some examples would help clarify my meaning. A respected academic spoke recently on one of the "hot button" topics within the IPC. I listened intently to the messages delivered and here are some examples of experts putting forward their own agenda under the auspices of clarifying the topic.
On multiple occasions, we were told that the territories are occupied and that this occupation is illegal. It is an age-old statement that has been replayed more often than "Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer". It was stated by the expert thus it must be true. The ongoing difficulty is that it is a false statement; at worst they remain disputed territories. He indicated, again multiple times that Israel unilaterally withdrew from the territory. He did not share with the audience the number of times that the Israeli government did negotiate with the PA and was rejected nor did he offer the nature of the rejection. He thus with held pertinent facts leading the audience to believe something that was not true. He made some "interesting" associations such as it was Israel's unilateral withdrawal that caused the "resistance" fighters response. One man's resistance fighter is another man's terrorist-the audience was left to pick the term that best suited its political position. He offered a rather naïve audience (only my view of the audience) misinformation regarding Israel's response to documents, meetings, presentations since Oslo-this truly bends the rules of scholarship. One may believe such a thing, however, make sure the data supports your position and of course no data was forthcoming in this particular lecture. Another strategy employed was a rather standard one-rather than stay on topic use this as an opportunity to denigrate Israel the country, Israelis the people and the Jewish religion. I suggest that this is also not scholarly. This was done by presenting questionable data, numbers and "facts" that I knew to be inaccurate. Further, use demeaning words that attack the character of those being accused. Introduce one or two new terms that are meant to direct the audience's attention away from the stated lecture topic. Introduce a term that is volatile and complete with racist indicators-apartheid. Confirm the new PR mantra, Israel is such a state. Provide "evidence" that is absolutely out of context to substantiate your claim. Count on the audience not being familiar with the geography and/or the actual history or facts and you have a winning argument. I say this is the height of scholarly arrogance.
Finally, a tactic commonly used by such speakers is to ultimately link at the hip Israel and America's partnership of collusion against the Palestinians. Ensure that the Palestinians continue to show up as victims, void of any responsibility. The bulk of this lecture was designed to promulgate the myth of Palestinian "victim-hood", however, if asked if this were true, complete denial would ensue along with attacks upon the accuser. Also never shared with the audience are the following: the PA receives annually the most amount of aide money per capita of any group on earth, Gaza is not the most densely populated community on earth, many others are much more densely populated, the entries and exits to Gaza are not controlled by the Israelis since the "withdrawal", the IDF would not "pick off a Palestinian sitting on a rooftop in protest, Gaza residents destroyed the green houses (Jews gifted them to Gaza at a price of 14 million dollars), more Palestinians have been killed by fellow Palestinians than by the IDF this year, so goes the misrepresentation of facts by a scholar to paint a less than accurate portrait of the situation.
We either have academic standards or we don't. To honor only those standards that support one's personal cause is not scholarship. To hide behind the cloak of academia and mislead a current and a future generation is demonstrative of "out of integrity" behavior and I for one, am no longer going to let "it slide". Our students, our colleagues, our institutions and the people of this planet deserve better from all of us.