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By Gustavo Arellano
Reporter: Mr. Gandhi, what do you think of Western civilization?Mohandas K. Gandhi: I think it would be a good idea.
Defending Civilization, a report from Lynne V. Cheney's whimsical Defense of Civilization Fund of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), is not a book, but it does have a cover blurb: "College and university faculty have been the weak link in America's response to the [Sept. 11] attack." The evidence: 117 "campus responses" that are not only insufficiently pro-war but also dare invoke "tolerance and diversity as antidotes to evil."
How scary is this? The report names names, criticizing professors and others for statements "short on patriotism and long on self-flagellation." (The report is also apparently evolving: at press time, a factchecker discovered that my copy of it no longer matched the online version.)
While not an elected official, Cheney is married to one, the vice president of the United States (lately residing in what a Los Angeles Times writer called a cave), and she was a loudmouth for conservative intellectuals as chief of the National Endowment of the Humanities under Bush I.
Any smart-ass reviewer might elegantly skewer this scholarly equivalent of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, but as team teacher of sociology at Santa Monica College, lecturer at UC Irvine, campus union activist, and somebody whose classroom has been visited by teenage brownshirts with note pads, I've certainly got a funny take on it. For one, the insult of not being mentioned. For another, my commitment, generally, to self-flagellation.
My fellow sociology team teacher, a civil-rights attorney, has written Ms. Second Lady, demanding inclusion on her shit list and forwarding his bona fides: a syllabus from our class, which considers the sociological dimensions of nonviolence. This should secure us a spot on the blacklist. Meanwhile, Paul H. Rosenberg of the Los Angeles Independent Media Center (www.la.indymedia.org) analyzes Defending Civilization, carefully organizing his refutation in a critique of methodology (there is none) and its hearty embrace of demonization, false claims and illogic.
Thanks to Rosenberg's work, I'm spared taking apart Defending Civilization, recommending instead books by writers who have got Lynne Cheney's panties in a bunch: Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, Noam Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent and Mohandas K. Gandhi's My Experiments in Nonviolence.
Yes, the mahatma is twice paraphrased in Defending Civilization—and twice uncredited. Long dead and cremated, Gandhi is by implication damned for his failure to sufficiently support "Enduring Freedom" or whatever Bush/Cheney are calling it this week. One of those uncredited citations appears as item No. 52 in the report:An eye for an eye makes the world blind.
Sign? At a college? If ACTA wants treason, they should visit UC Irvine. Last week, I saw signs there that didn't address the war at all: Roommate wanted. No parking. Go Anteaters.
Scariest of all, Defending Civilization considers what people have said (often in public speeches and out of context) and what its authors observed on posters carried by Americans marching publicly against war or even (gasp!) for peace.
For scholars eager to advance the study of Westernism, notable not least for its covenant with the written word, the faculty at University of Cheney seems not to have done its homework. Strong criticisms of the "war" have been articulate, even poetic. The ACTA crowd ignores robust written contributions by Barbara Kingsolver, George Lakoff, Todd Gitlin and Arundati Roy, author of The God of Small Thingsand editorials printed everywhere but this country. (You can read them online in The Guardian.Don't tell anybody I sent you.)
Sadly, organized campus opposition to Bush's "war" has been timid. That the ACTA report is based on only 117 "incidents" speaks to the co-optation of academia as much as its own sketchy research.
(All of which reminds me of a story: as a university teaching assistant, I was once visited by members of a distant cousin organization of Cheney's, Accuracy in Academia. One knucklehead wore his "Buchanan Is Right" button, sat in the front row, and tried to bait the "liberal" teacher (me) into confessing that I'd recently eaten a human child or voted for Ralph Nader. (No, I had not, and yes, I had.) At first confused and intimidated, students were eventually goosed by our goosestepper into joining the mini-crucible, and class got pretty darn exciting.)
"We learn from history," argues Defending Civilization, "that when a nation's intellectuals are unwilling to defend its civilization, they give aid and comfort to its adversaries."
What do I think of the Defending Civilizationblacklist? I wish it were longer.
Defending Civilization: How Our Universities Are Failing America and What Can Be Done About It by American Council of Trustees and Alumni, November 2001. Available at www.goacta.org.
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