The David Horowitz Center Posters Brooklyn College With Libelous Hate Speech

On Wednesday morning, shortly after I had finished discussing Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes‘ ‘Path of the Law‘ with my Philosophy of Law students and returned to my office for a quick break (before I headed out again to discuss Hannah Arendt‘s The Human Condition with my Social Philosophy students), I found a rather unwelcome message waiting for me: the David Horowitz Center had put up posters at several sites over Brooklyn College, describing several students and two faculty members (political theorist Corey Robin (Political Science) and myself) as ‘terrorist supporters.’ Similar posters, naming other faculty members and students have appeared at other universities this past week. The posters have been designed to mimic ‘Wanted’ posters; here is one of them (the names of students have been blurred out to protect their identity):

The David Horowitz Center, which was named as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, imagines that by indulging in this kind of libelous hate speech, it will cow down those who dare to express political opinions contrary to its chosen line; in this case, speaking up on any matter related to the Israel-Palestine dispute. The Horowitz Center, which is apparently manned by intellectual pipsqueaks incapable of constructing a coherent thought or sentence, has taken its cues from the McCartheyesque Canary Mission–which in turn maintains a ‘blacklist’ of professors at American universities it does not like. (In a post earlier this year, I had made note of their risible attempts at intimidation; that includes tweeting out my photo and their blacklist page on me every few months, which then exposes me to abuse on Twitter from right-wing nutjobs.)

There is much to object to in this latest Goebbelsian attempt to introduce a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech and academic freedom on campuses–of faculty and students alike:

  1. As usual, the ‘third rail’ of political discourse on American campuses is disclosed: speaking on matters related to Israel-Palestine–no matter how tangentially–remains verboten. (Corey Robin has often been abused–in anti-Semitic language!–for his writings in the past, thus showing that what is really operative here is hate.)
  2. Students of color have been named, thus exposing them to potential employment and legal problems with skittish employers and overzealous law enforcement officers.
  3. Faculty members who seek future employment will almost certainly fail to do so because of skittish donors and university administration.
  4. Finally, in the current political atmosphere, such charges, if repeated time and again, will almost certainly stick, with incalculable damage to all thus slandered and libeled.

Here are links to the posts on this blog that have so irked the moral reprobates at the David Horowitz Center and the Canary Mission:

Defenses of the academic freedom and employment rights of Steven Salaita, an American-Palestinian professor, who has now been hounded out of academia.

Defenses of the academic freedom of the Political Science Department to invite Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti to speak on campus.

Defenses of the due process rights of student activists from the Students for Justice in Palestine.

Perhaps the folks at these sites were also offended by the fact that I dared protest the Israeli bombing of Gaza in 2014–for which I spent a few hours in a prison cell along with Corey Robin.

I stand by these posts and by my actions.

Note: I have written to Brooklyn College administration suggesting that legal action be taken against the David Horowitz Center for indulging in libel and defamation.

Kill All The Cartoonists; God Will Sort Them Out

You read or view a satirical piece or a cartoon in a newspaper or a magazine. It offends you; you are enraged; your deepest sensibilities–personal, religious–have been ravaged and injured. Unable to assuage your feelings by acknowledging the abstract free speech rights of those who have so insulted you, and still caught up in a maelstrom of rage, you fantasize about doing terrible injury to them.

For some folks, matters end right here. Revenge remains at the level of fantasy; resentment smolders but then fades away, to be replaced by some other pressing concern. Perhaps a dull smart remains, one that occasionally flares up if a similar offense is committed in the future.

But some folks resolve to teach their offenders a lesson. Perhaps by causing them material damage, perhaps by doing them injury.  And then, after being initially fueled by an inchoate rage, they act deliberately and cold-bloodedly to bring about these effects.

The gap between these two sensibilities can seem, varying upon your particular sympathies and inclinations, either very large or very small. Perhaps the former demographic can turn into the latter if injury and insult are repeated, or if social, economic, and personal circumstances change; perhaps the latter are so pathologically unsound in the intellectual and ethical dimensions that such mergers need not be feared.

I do not doubt that if a dedicated cartoonist or poison-pen wielder were to get to work, they could produce a cartoon or an essay that would eviscerate all I hold near and dear, for after all, at the fringes of humor lurk its darker precincts: humiliation and ridicule. Perhaps they could draw cruel, offensive, grotesque, hurtful, caricatures of my long-dead parents, perhaps of my beloved wife and daughter, perhaps they could write a long stand-up routine that took accurate aim at my many, many shortcomings and vulnerabilities and evoked howls of laughter from strangers who were not invested in my being protective of my sensibilities.

I wonder how I would react. I could, and would, rage and rage, and dream and fantasize about punching the crap out of the offenders, but I suspect ultimately, I would back down and slink away to smolder, hoping time and new experiences would assuage this shame. Perhaps, because I write myself, I would compose a long screed in response–trying to return fire with fire. I have often been insulted and abused in online exchanges and have sometimes retaliated, but these, if they undergo repeat iterations, very quickly tire me out and leave me feeling worse than when I started.

I wonder what, if anything, would make me seek out a violent solution to my crisis, a violent release to my angst. Perhaps if I was a psychopath or sociopath–poorly understood terms, I know–that found some dispassionate pleasure in the act of killing. Or perhaps, more plausibly,  perhaps if I could be persuaded that it would bring about a larger, more dramatic, desired change–political or economic–elsewhere; perhaps if I could be persuaded that such an action would set wheels rolling that would bring me closer to some destination much more important than a relief station for anger. Perhaps then, I might consider such an option a little more seriously. Perhaps then, I might not rest content with mere figurative retaliation.