May 31, 2006

A commencement address actually worth reading.

This one was given by former Nation editor Victor Navasky on May 25 at the City University of New York Graduate Center. Navasky kept his address short, covering five topics quickly. Here's the fourth one:

I come before you in my capacity as an officially certified danger. I am pleased to report that when one David Horowitz, one-time lefty but now a hardcore neoconservative, recently published his book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, I made the cut. I really don't feel that I earned it, and I regret that he is not more of a scholar--he got most of his facts wrong, not just about me but about his 100 other subjects as well--but I will say that I was flattered to be included. I feel about it the way Lee Hayes, a member of that wonderful folk-singing group from the 1950s, The Weavers, felt about what happened during the McCarthy era. He said, "If it wasn't for the honor of the thing, I'd just as soon not have been blacklisted."

Getting blacklisted is not always something that is within your control, so I can't advise you on how to get on a blacklist. But I can remind you that there are two themes in American history: the theme of freedom, of liberty, of free speech, of Thomas Paine and Jefferson and the First Amendment, the Bill of Rights and all the other good things we were taught in civics and social studies classes. The other is the theme of repression and intolerance, and it goes all the way back to the Alien and Sedition Acts, to the raids on radicals during and after World War I, the internment of the Japanese in World War II, the so-called McCarthy era (I say so-called because it began before the senator from Wisconsin appeared on the scene and its legacy lasted long after he drowned in alcohol) and most recently to the suspension of the rights and liberties of Muslims and other suspected terrorists in the post-9/11 period; and the broad-brush attempt on the part of the Administration and its supporters to portray dissent as disloyalty, dissenters as traitors.

This latter development, part of the misnamed "war on terrorism," places an extra burden on you but an opportunity as well.

In my view, the "war on terrorism" is misnamed because real wars are won and lost. The so-called "war on terrorism"--which is held forth as the reason for the suspension of our rights and liberties--almost by definition can't be won. If Saddam Hussein is sentenced to death and executed and Osama bin Laden is picked up tomorrow, there will still be a car bombing the day after. What it means is that if the powers that be have their way, the suspension of our rights and liberties will be perpetual.

Yes, terrorists pose a serious problem, but it is important also to recognize that in the long history of counter-subversion, the counter-subversives invariably do more damage than the subversives they set out to disable. My advice: Use your prestige and where relevant your scholarship, your powers of analysis and persuasion to stand up to unjust authority.

Like I said at the top of the post, it's worth your time to read all of Navasky's address — it's a pretty good pep talk for all of us. You'll find it here.

Via The Nation.

Posted by Magpie at May 31, 2006 01:02 PM | Civil Liberties | Technorati links |