Saturday, April 09, 2005

An Extremist In My Own Backyard - Fisking Robert Jensen

Actually, since I live in Austin, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of extremists in my backyard, but I'm posting about one in particular today. When I started school at the University of Texas almost twenty years ago, in the fall of 1986, Robert Jensen was already regarded by a good chunk of the student body as a complete lunatic. Apparently, nothing's changed.

Jensen has written an article in favor, not just of Ward Churchill's right to be a jerk, but in favor of his conclusions about 9/11, as well. It's no surprise that it's posted at Alexander Cockburn's hateful, vile CounterPunch. (This article is a couple of months old, but it's new to me, having just discovered it thanks to PirateBallerina.) Here's a few of the lowlights:
...The main thesis Churchill put forward in "'Some People Push Back': On the Justice of Roosting Chickens" is an accurate account of the depravity of U.S. foreign policy and its relationship to terrorism...

...Malcolm X was correct, and it was appropriate for Churchill to quote him: Chickens do, indeed, come home to roost. And whether U.S. citizens want to acknowledge it or not, there likely will be chickens heading our way for years to come...
Remember, folks, that was Malcom X's tasteless, hateful response when questioned about the Kennedy Assassination. One might be excused for wondering what chicken it was that would shortly come home to roost on Malcolm's doorstep.
I also take a core assertion of Churchill's essay to be that we citizens of the U.S. empire bear some collective responsibility for those crimes, depending on our level of power and privilege, and our capacity for resistance. As Churchill explained recently, he includes himself in that category, not as a perpetrator but as a member of movements that have failed to stop the crimes (just as I would include myself). Further, those people at the top of the power pyramid must accept their responsibility for those crimes, even if they are not directly involved in the planning and execution of specific criminal acts. The technocrats "at the very heart of America's global financial empire" which U.S. policy serves, he wrote, are not innocent.
Notice how Jensen and Churchill accept 'guilt' for 9/11, but at a lower level than ordinary, non-activist folks like you and I, who are perpetrators by our own inaction (this is the kind of sloppy, lazy reasoning that comprises academic Leftism these days, folks - as bad as it is, it's not unusual in the least). If you are involved in the world of finance in America, or just have some degree of power (interesting how Jensen doesn't consider himself powerful - I ask you, can you have an editorial printed whenever and wherever you like? I can't...), Jensen accuses you of, in essence, flying those jets into the buildings. And despite Jensen's later attempts to distance himself, this is, in fact, Churchill's 'little Eichmanns' argument all dressed up in its Sunday Best.
All of those claims are supported by evidence, law, and basic moral principles widely shared across philosophical and spiritual/religious traditions. Churchill is correct in refusing to retract those claims.
Right, then; that settles it, everyone agrees we're barbaric monsters. Didn't you hear? Jensen said so, and that's that...

I am fortunate to remain employed at my university and engaged in the larger intellectual and political world.
The only true statement in the article (oh, I know there's no context - read the article, I'm making a point here...).
I also owe a larger intellectual and political debt to Churchill. His books were influential on my thinking and were one gateway to my exploration of issues involving the U.S. attacks on indigenous people. It was by reading Churchill's work, particularly A Little Matter of Genocide, that I finally acknowledged the obvious: The European holocaust against indigenous people constitutes genocide and should lead us to confront the barbarism at the heart of the United States.
So, Robert, do you owe a debt to Churchill himself, or to whomover he happened to rip off? Just curious...'The European holocaust' does one live with the self-loathing creeps like Jensen have? How do they sleep at night?
To right-wing forces: Feel free to take passages from this essay out of context to "prove" that I am anti-American, support terrorism, and use the classroom to indoctrinate helpless students in my demonic left-wing ideology designed to destroy our country.
With the exception of my little joke, clearly labelled as out of context, I have provided context for every other excerpt. There's no need to take things out of context when the context itself is so damning.
To Ward Churchill: There are points in the essay that I think missed the mark, perhaps mostly out of a lack of sufficient time and space for detail in argument.
This is, without question, the most bizarre excuse ever for hate speech: you see, Churchill just didn't have the space or time, so naturally, he used 'little Eichmanns' as a kind of shorthand. Wow...but wait, Jensen has more on this...
Perhaps better than labeling them Eichmanns would be to talk about the degree of Eichmann-ness in various positions. Maybe stock traders aren't directly analogous to Eichmann, but simply have more to answer for morally than many others. Maybe a university professor who by uncritically teaching the mythology of a benevolent U.S. empire provides support for imperial crimes has more Eichmann-ness than a secretary at the Pentagon.
Do me a favor. Read that paragraph slowly, three times, and think about it. Really. Just do this one thing for me...because that excerpt is perhaps the most ridiculous argument in the history of mankind. I really believe that, and if you read it closely, I think you'll agree. 'Degree of Eichmann-ness', indeed...'Dude, I had to break up with Julie...her dad's like, a state trooper, and that's just too high a degree of Eichmann-ness for me...' Holy moly...
All are, in some sense, part of the system, but all have different levels of privilege, power, and culpability. Some directly contribute to the maintenance of the system but are well below the level of responsibilities of an Eichmann. By using the comparison so loosely, the term loses meaning. Ironically, if so many people can be Eichmanns in some sense, then the actual Eichmanns in our system -- the people in the military, government, and corporations in charge of the actual institutions of war and economic domination, the Pentagon planners and the bank officials who squeeze crippling debt payments out of Third World countries -- are off the hook.
I know this is a long post, folks, but stay with me...this is amazing. 'Actual Eichmanns' - remember, Eichmann was in charge of transporting Jews to death camps in Nazi Germany - include people in the military, government, corporations engaged in 'economic domination' (well, that's everyone at Microsoft), Pentagon planners, bank officials...jeez, Rob, why stop there?

There's more, depressingly, and it doesn't improve. Read the whole sorry article, if you can stomach it...Jensen goes on to seriously ponder whether the 9/11 attacks constitute justified violence (he concludes they do not - but to even consider it shows an incredible degree of moral bankruptcy), then of course, concludes in a rousing summation of what a bunch of arrogant murderers Americans are.

I am truly at a loss for words. Robert Jensen, you are despicable.
Makes you feel like you need to shower just reading it, doesn't it?

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