Paul L. Caron

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Inazu: The Lack Of Clarity And Courage In Higher Education On Hamas And Israel

Following up on last month's post, Personal Statements On Hamas And Israel:  John Inazu (Washington University; Google Scholar), The Lack of Clarity and Courage in Higher Education:

InazuStatements and silence about events in Israel and Gaza.

The day after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill penned an essay in which he referred to the victims of the attack as “little Eichmanns.” Churchill believed that the attacks were a “natural and inevitable” response to longstanding American foreign policy. As reported in The Guardian, he intended “to make the case that even those with innocent roles in a system bear collective responsibility for perpetuating it.” The essay initially went unnoticed but resurfaced in 2005, setting off a firestorm.

Churchill’s claim was offensive and absurd. As a public university employee, his speech was protected under the First Amendment. But outside of a tiny number of progressive voices in higher education, his claim was met with overwhelming critique. Most people recognized its patent moral failure.

One might have thought that last month’s Hamas terrorist attack on Israel would have registered similarly to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Instead, far more voices from progressive corners of higher education mirrored the tone and substance of Churchill’s essay, and fewer institutional leaders forthrightly denounced those voices. ...

University of Florida President Ben Sasse wrote an email to the Jewish community noting, among other things:

I will not tiptoe around this simple fact: What Hamas did is evil and there is no defense for terrorism. This shouldn’t be hard. Sadly, too many people in elite academia have been so weakened by their moral confusion that, when they see videos of raped women, hear of a beheaded baby, or learn of a grandmother murdered in her home, the first reaction of some is to ‘provide context’ and try to blame the raped women, beheaded baby, or the murdered grandmother. In other grotesque cases, they express simple support for the terrorists.

This thinking isn’t just wrong, it’s sickening. It’s dehumanizing. It is beneath people called to educate our next generation of Americans.

Despite statements from leaders like Sasse, the muted tone throughout much of higher education regarding the Hamas attack has differed markedly from past statements about other national and international events. ...

[I]f an institution is going to weigh in on a national or global event, it should speak clearly. In the current context, it should condemn the Hamas attack without qualification. To be sure, such a statement should also express concern for civilians in Gaza and might urge caution in Israel’s military response. But nothing about Israel’s response should change the moral clarity of condemning the original attack. After September 11, 2001, the United States engaged in substantial military action that led to enormous loss of life, including numerous instances of civilian deaths from coalition airstrikes. Those actions can be criticized, but they do not make the original terrorist attacks any less evil. ...

[T]he difference between the Hamas attack and the Israeli response to it matters. The reality of our world is that some actions are unambiguously evil and others are more complex. That doesn’t insulate actors in morally complex situations from blame or accountability, but it does require making distinctions between evil and moral complexity.I 

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Other posts by John Inazu:

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