Several weeks ago, a university professor was fired. Ward Churchill, who taught for more than twenty years at the University of Colorado at Boulder, was dismissed for an essay he wrote, shortly after 9/11, which expressed controversial views about 9/11. University of Colorado Interim Chancellor, Phil DiStefano, decided to terminate him for what the chancellor termed "academic misconduct." Churchill is not the only academic to face dismissal, or suspension, for espousing a viewpoint that is considered heretical, or anathema. But, the larger issue here is not academic freedom; the larger issue is censorship, and the insidious practice of this government to outlaw ideas, and convert communication into contraband.
What's more, it's not just what educators write, or talk about that has come under increasing surveillance. If it were up to some conservative Christian groups in California, New York, Minnesota, and Michigan, Harry Potter would be banned, and removed from classrooms, and school libraries on the grounds that the books promote interest in "the occult." (NCAC) Some other titles that made the top ten 2006 banned books list include "The Bluest Eye," by Toni Morrison, for its sexual content, "And Tango Makes Three," by Justin Richardson, for homosexuality, "The Chocolate War," by Robert Cormier, for sexual content," and "Scary Stories," by Alvin Schwartz, for the occult, and satanism.
When they fire academics for essays they write which assert contrarian, and unorthodox views, university chancellors demonstrate the same mindset that prohibits modern classics from being read by students in our public schools. This is a disgrace just as it is a disgrace that we have so-called "free speech zones" in which demonstrators may protest this president, and citizens being arrested for wearing anti-Bush teeshirts. As far as the founding fathers were concerned, the United States of America was meant to be a free speech zone. Yet, an even bigger disgrace is the fact that Paris Hilton got more coverage than the controversy over Harry Potter, or Ward Churchill. Ostensibly, this administration has managed to put a silencer on the press.
Last weekend, when Pearl Jam performed one of its songs, AT & T chose to turn the volume down when lead singer, Eddie Vedder's lyrics included some disparaging statements about President Bush. This same telecommunications giant elected to hand over private telephone records to the government, and thanks to recent measures passed by Congress, they will be able to do so with impunity in perpetuity, or until Congress enacts measures to prevent them from doing so. It is flat out unacceptable for any lyric to be muted out during a concert because it is derogatory just as it is flat out unacceptable that a college educator face expulsion for expressing dissenting views of a national tragedy, however repugnant those views may be.
It is equally unconscionable that the F.C.C. be allowed to issue "public decency" fines to networks for so-called wardrobe malfunctions, and the use of obscenity when no fines are issued to administration officials, like the attorney-general and others, who have lied under oath about warrantless surveillance of civilians, as well as illusory, and elusive weapons of mass destruction.
In late July, members of the Senate launched a bipartisan campaign for "filtering, and monitoring technologies" on the Internet on the grounds that they wish to protect children from sexual predators, and child pornography. Conspicuously absent from these hearings were members of civil liberties' groups who were not invited. (Press Esc) While the measures under consideration are meant to target children, and increase parental controls, there is no doubt that these technologies will set an infrastructure in place which may be used to monitor and filter Internet users of all ages, in future. The potential ramifications to the First Amendment are staggering, and should these filtering measures, which are suppported by Democrats and Republicans alike, pass, they will make the tweaking of FISA laws look like a walk in the park by comparison.
At stake here is a complacent, and apathetic public that is allowing itself to be railroaded, and manipulated by a top-heavy, power-hungry, radical right wing, neo-conservative Christian government which has had phenomenal success in regulating what we see, hear, as well as discuss in our college, and public school, classrooms. And, by extension, in our movie theatres, bookstores, and T.V.s,, too. The fact that a professor was fired without much fanfare, or the kind of media focus given to six men trapped in a midwest mine, or the collapse of a bridge, speaks to the values, and lack of perspective, which enables the same kind of Salem Bay mentality which led to previous witchhunts, and cries of heresy. Had Cryonics existed at the time of Senator Joe McCarthy's demise, and had he requested to be defrosted in Washington, D.C., in the year 2007, rest assured that he would feel perfectly at home there.
There is a cancer in the body politic that has metastasized, and has now spread to our classrooms, book shelves, television screens, newspapers, and public libraries. As with racism, it is not the overt display of prejudice that poses the gravest threat, but the more subtle, and subliminal, often unseen, forms of prejudice. That we can live side by side with space travel, and instant communications with those who live 9,000 miles away and, at the same time, countenance the kind of mind policing that results in silencing dissenting writings as heretical, and occult smacks of ethical leprosy. How can we not be impacted by what we are not allowed to say, or see, as well as what we stop ourselves from saying, and seeing.
Passivity, and acceptance, will prove to be our undoing. In the words of great Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, we must not "go gentle into that night," but "rage, rage, against the dying of the light."