Campus Watch in the Media
Campus Watch an eye-opener for those who care about debate
by Sue Montgomery
For those who thought Concordia University has a franchise on putting a lid on campus debate, there's a new Web site out there that should be sending a chill through anyone who believes in freedom of expression and academic freedom.
Campus Watch, set up by the right-wing American think-tank Middle East Forum, calls on students and faculty to snitch on anyone whose lectures could be interpreted as anti-American or anti-Israel.
Launched last month, it lists the names and "dossiers" of eight professors of Middle Eastern studies, six of them Arabs. All were deluged with vicious E-mail as a result.
Now the site includes another list of 108 academics, including Zalman Amit, a retired Concordia psychology professor. He got there by pledging his solidarity with the above black list, known on the site as "apologists for suicide bombing and militant Islam."
When notified by Campus Watch that his name was among the 108, Amit responded with: "Thank you for the inclusion, you make me feel proud.
"By the way, do you have on your Web page a list of supporters of apologists of Israeli atrocities and war crimes, just to balance the picture?"
He has yet to hear from them.
York University professor Jamie Scott, who teaches world religions, also had his name added to the list after writing a letter criticizing Campus Watch.
"It is a pity that your organization seems wilfully to look at only half of this picture, and worse, tries actively to blinker and blind others," he wrote.
"Your views are part of the discussion; your efforts to intimidate others are not."
The goal of the site, launched last month, is chilling.
It will "henceforth monitor and gather information on professors who fan the flames of disinformation, incitement and ignorance."
We should be worried that "American scholars of the Middle East, to varying degrees, reject the views of most Americans and the enduring policies of the U.S. government about the Middle East."
It "seeks to reverse the damage already caused by the activist/scholars on American campuses."
But is it not the role of a university to teach students to question and challenge?
Campus Watch's view is that universities should be simply lining up behind the U.S. and helping in its war against terror.
In an interview with Salon, Daniel Pipes, the man behind the site, said: "I want Noam Chomsky to be taught at universities about as much as I want Hitler's or Stalin's writing.
"These are wild and extremist ideas that I believe have no place in a university."
Not surprisingly, the Canadian Association of University Teachers came out against the Web site in its bulletin this month.
"A university is the last place in a democratic society where things can be debated without fear of retribution," its executive director, James Turk, said in an interview from Ottawa.
"If people at universities can't criticize American policy, we're in big trouble."
Pipes, who is director of Middle East Forum, admits the response to the site was more than they expected, with several thousand E-mails pouring in at a rate of about 100 a day. By his own estimates, two-thirds have been negative, and one-third positive.
Which confirms his conviction that such a site is needed.
"Why are academics in such a privileged position that they can't get criticized?" he asked me.
"If we don't criticize them, who will?
"So...we're saying, 'We don't like what you're doing.' And they're crying foul, and I'm saying, 'Tough, it comes with the terrain.' "
One of their "apologists" is John Esposito of Georgetown University, who condemns President George Bush's description of the terrorists.
He claims: "The use of 'evil' all the time ... in religious terms translates into, 'You're a believer or you're a non-believer.'
"It is us and them, forces of good against forces of evil, and what this does is it leaves no middle ground for anyone, whether it is countries or people.
"In effect, that is either the explicit or the subtle message that this administration has been giving out."
Not exactly a radical stance.
But Campus Watch's comment?
"One wonders, how would Professor Esposito have Mr. Bush characterize Al-Qa'ida? As misguided?"
This gleaning of sound bites from the university campus into black and white, editing and reducing a complicated, emotional debate into simplistic zingers is what is so dangerous.
What teacher wouldn't be worried about a lecture being taped, edited and submitted to the Web site when it might lead to being labeled anti-American or anti-Semitic?
Aside from CAUT's stand, there's been a disturbing silence on Canadian campuses over what essentially smacks of McCarthyism.
Canadian professors blame it on untenured teachers worried about keeping their jobs, people being too busy to object and a general sense of apathy.
That's almost more frightening than the actual Web site.Note: Postings in "Campus Watch in the Media" do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch.
Campus Watch contact e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org