Skip to main content

Abstracts for Winter Theory Institute 2010

Akins, Caesar, Castagnera, Downing, Fairlamb, Goodman, McClennen, Moraru, Saltman,

Academic Freedom versus PC Taboos: Differences between Teaching Christian and Islamic Violence – Keith Akins (University of Houston-Victoria)

During the Cold War, federal agencies such as the Departments of State, Justice, and Defense relied on employees who had been prepared for their positions by studying Soviet history, political science, and Russian and related languages. Since the 9/11 attacks in 2001, these same agencies have found it difficult, if not impossible, to find similarly qualified applications to work in the area of counterintelligence.

One significant reason for this is that teaching about the relationship between either the Islamic religion or Arabic culture and violence is absolutely taboo in American academia. Within the field of criminology, for example, professors who would shriek aloud if anyone suggested a victim of rape or domestic violence may have contributed to their own victimization take it as axiomatic that the 9/11 and subsequent terror attacks resulted from US actions—that we “had it coming” to us. Inquiry in most fields is limited to “what did we do to make them hate us?” The question of “what is wrong with them that they could commit an act such as this?” is rarely asked, and when it is the questioner is branded racist, ethnocentric, or (worst of all) conservative for asking.

Even within the narrow specialty of counterterrorism studies, scholars who are encouraged to delve deeply into Christian history and theology when seeking to explain abortion clinic bombings and white supremacist violence are all but forbidden from applying the same methodology to explain Islamic violence. The consensus of the academic counterterrorism community is that Christian terrorism is a direct result of Christian beliefs, biases, and history; alternately, Islamist terrorism is explained as a reaction to Western imperialism, to local political issues, to poverty and lack of education, or to lack of democratic representation.

Several explanations have been offered for this discrepancy. One school of thought is that academia will not offer critiques of Islam out of fear, whether fear of direct violence or fear of the political ramifications of wealthy Muslims and their financial influence over representatives in government. Another is that academia today has an inherent anti-Western and pro-“exotic” culture bias and thus instinctively blames the West for any and all social problems. This bias is so entrenched that scholars do not bother researching reality, but seek only an activist position to expose Western flaws. Still others argue that academia is simply reporting reality—that Christianity is inherently violent and Islam is not.

Whatever the source of this bias in academia, American counterterrorism efforts are hampered by the inability of scholars to critically examine Islamic theology, history and religious establishment in their efforts to understand the global jihadist movement.

Universities, Terrorists, Narrative, Porcupines – Terry Caesar (San Antonio College)

Although in theory any site can be targeted by terrorists, in fact some are more favorable than others. In his Essentials of Terrorism, Gus Martin lists among these the following: embassies, international symbols, symbolic buildings and sites, symbolic people, and passenger carriers. Universities are not listed. Why not?

One reason is that universities seem to be–at least to date–insufficiently “symbolic.” John Updike’s Terrorist is almost alone of recent fictions about terrorism of any sort that are set in an educational institution. But in this novel it is a high school, not a college. Updike’s Central High sits “above the city like a castle, a palace of learning”’ but in fact its appearance is misleading; the institution is not at all so separate from its surroundings.

Yet if the university is famously self-enclosed in physical terms, it is just as famously open in ideological terms. Tempting as it would be to read the narrative of college (pluralistic, inclusive) in strict opposition to the narrative of terrorism (righteous, separatist), this would be too easy. In fact, the two narratives interact in troubling ways, and from a terrorist point of view, the university may not be so “target rich” because it necessarily must fail to assert its “symbolic” integrity and instead contemplate recreating itself in terms of terrorism–as we see from this conference or from Donald Barthelme’s little parable, “Porcupines at the University.”

Varieties of Homegrown Terrorism – James Castagnera (Rider University)

While the “War on Terror” typically is taken to designate the actions, foreign and domestic, directed at Al Qaeda and its allies (e.g., the Taliban), and although the attacks of September 11, 2001, were (and remain) unprecedented, America’s homegrown terrorists pose a far more serious threat to public safety and the commonweal. These native sons and daughters fall into three principal categories:

(1) Disgruntled individuals with an ax to grind. They are exemplified in this article by the government scientist who the FBI now believes perpetrated the Anthrax attacks, which followed close on the heals of Nine/Eleven, in 2001;

(2) The mentally disturbed, characterized in this study by those who have committed individual acts of murder and mayhem on college campuses, most notably the Virginia Tech massacre of 2007; and,

(3) The obsessed, represented here by the radical animal-rights activists.

It is this presenter's view that long after radical Islam has been eradicated or otherwise pacified, the threat posed by these homegrown terrorists will continue to plague our democracy, challenging our ability to remain a free and open society. If that is true, then understanding what, if anything, these three categories of terrorists have in common may be crucial to meeting this threat in an effective and efficient manner. Predicting terrorist potential may be critical to preventing it. And advanced profiling may be key to such predictive capabilities.

War on Terror and the Battle for the Global Commons – David B. Downing (Indiana University of Pennsylvania)

According to global data collected by the CIA and the United Nations, between 1968 and 2003, the number of deaths per day due to acts of terrorism was 1.25; the number of deaths per day due to starvation was 23,468. The discrepancy between these figures points to some of the most troubling consequences of the war on terror led by the United States and its allies. Under the banner of war, economic and military policies have consistently worked to defund human services and to enclose the public commons. Global economic policies orchestrated by the World Bank, IMF, WTO legitimate privatization and enclosure of commons goods and services ranging from sanitation, water supply, atmosphere and oceans, and including health care, child care, and education.

Indeed, the troubling circumstances many of us face at all levels of education is just one of the many consequences of the two main discourses of terror: global economic policy and imperial military power. It is a package deal: the defunding of education, the increasing job insecurity, the increasing class size and tuition, the increasing student debt, the vocationalizing of all education, the curtailments of academic freedom, and the commodification of teaching, learning, and scholarship. All of these contextually variable but locally experienced hardships have a great deal to do with global economic and military policies, especially as they have been dominated by the imperial efforts of the United States.

In this paper I will first try to outline the circumstances whereby we now spend 57% of taxes in the U.S. for military-related purposes, and how militarism is directly related to the orchestration of a massive debt finance system that instead of re-distributing resources to the debtor nations, has had for 65 years since the Bretton Words agreements exactly the opposite effect of increasing U.S. hegemony and the power of the other wealthy creditor nations. The “War on Terror” has rhetorically justified the interlocking military and financial policies at the global level that deeply impact all national, state, and local economies. Since the old frontiers for capital expansion into undeveloped regions of the world has collapsed, the rhetoric of terror has justified private capital and state military expansion into all sorts of public commons and basic human resources such as water supply, energy resources, health care, child care, and education. In short, the public commons all over the planet has been disappearing rapidly, exacerbating environmental degradation and grinding poverty for 1.2 billion people.

Our task as progressive educators must be to resist the enclosure of education by private powers of capital, especially when they are assisted by state-legitimated policy for deregulation of the educational commons. And we must link local resistance efforts to those peoples and groups around the world working in solidarity to preserve and redistribute in a more just way the resources of public commons, goods, and services. But how can we resist such massive forces?

The second part of this paper will try to sketch out the difficult but necessary work of creating solidarity amongst educators to resist the enclosure of the educational commons on many levels. As Howard Zinn and many others have argued, our best chance of working on this project is through direct action. We can no longer expect that traditional channels of state and national legislation, governing bodies, corporate management will solve these problems; at least, not by themselves. Direct action means that educators need to educate themselves and their student to the resources available through alternative and underground organizations such as faculty and labor unions, local activist groups, and global resistant movements such as the World Development Movement, the World Social Forum, Global Exchange, Code Pink, the International Labor Organization, the anti-sweat shop movement, the deglobalization movement, the Indigenous Environmental Network, and other environmentalist activist groups, women’s movements, to name a few. Direct action might involve teach ins, teacher/student strikes, demonstrations, protests, but also direct action to take education into the hands of the educators, such as happened at Antioch College.

Many teachers and students and citizens are now more ready than ever to contribute to these grass-roots movements to expand the global public commons and the restoration of human well-being. The current global economic collapse reveals the failures of deregulated, free-market fundamentalism. Protecting the educational commons is protecting the spaces for dissent. In these times, it is more important than ever for educators to create partial solidarities of purpose, linking their teaching, research, and public service to both local action as well as to the broad-based movements towards de-militarization and de-globalization that would enable us to restore basic human services, including the inalienable rights for food, shelter, and education for all citizens. As the great social democrat, Karl Polanyi put it in 1957, the economy must serve society, rather than society serve the economy. Deglobalization means not another centralized global free market, but a de-centralized, multi-lateral, pluralistic, sustainable, democratic system of agreements and understandings that respects local and national differences and allows for production to be localized as much as possible. The urgency we face as educators should lead us to make sure we no longer retreat to our disciplinary specialties, but become involved in the grass roots mobilization efforts that have begun to develop in many places around the country and the world. The real terror is genocide, starvation, malnutrition, and grinding poverty experienced by 1.2 billion people. There are many roles for educators to plan an active role in these struggles for social justice.

Company They Keep: How Apologists for Faith Rationalize Terrorism – Horace L. Fairlamb (University of Houston-Victoria)

The aftermath of 9/11 has seen an outpouring of high profile criticisms of faith. Not surprisingly, book length responses have appeared from such respected theologians as Richard Swinburne and Keith Ward. Unfortunately, both sides have devoted more attention to the goods and harms of religion than to its links to terrorism. On the one side, critics have failed to identify the particular liability of religion to terrorism, and on the other the defenders have failed to provide a criterion by which the faith of terrorists can be distinguished from the faith of non-violent benefactors. What is needed is an account of why some religions rather than others allow for fanaticism and terrorism. It is too imprecise to say that faith is the problem. That becomes obvious when one notes that any human project demands some degree of faith, a kind of extrapolation from the present.

Contrary to some atheist critics of faith, the problem of religious terrorism cannot be reduced to the dichotomy of faith and reason. Rather, it must be diagnosed through the way faith and reason support each other in a way that leads to terrorism. To do that, one must consider not only contemporary religious terrorism, but the historical legacy of violent religion. In other words, to diagnose the link between religion and terrorism one must avoid throwing one’s net too wide (faith in general) or too narrow (e.g., militant Islam).

Moreover, one must look more to the process of belief-formation than to beliefs themselves. Critics of faith often target specific beliefs that they find irrational. For instance, Richard Dawkins has recently argued at length that belief in God is an irrational belief. But here again, belief in God does not necessarily or even typically render one irrational, let alone violent (even if one were to grant that religion disposes most people to intolerance). To diagnose the relationship between faith and reason that leads to violence, one must look at the process of what Peirce called “the fixation of belief.” That is, one should consider the sort of epistemic practice that at least allows for, if not invites, religious terrorism.

Regarding epistemic practices, I submit that the relevant demarcation principle is the distinction between inquiry and apologetics, or inquiry and dogmatic belief. That distinction can be made in two ways. On the one hand, it involves a distinction between the intellect and the will. Knowledge involves a truly informed intellect whereas faith involves a commitment of the will to a belief assumed to be true. On the other hand, the distinction between inquiry and apologetics links that distinction between intellect and will to a contrast between two epistemic practices. Inquiry seeks the truth in such a way that all beliefs can be questioned in light of a more coherent whole. Apologetics, by contrast, puts certain beliefs beyond question and seeks only to defend them.

For a number of reasons, certain contemporary strains of religious apologetics found themselves in the curious position of rationalizing religious beliefs in ways that would seem to justify not only cultural relativism, but even religious terrorism.

Since the challenge of religious diversity in the 1980s, Western apologists have occasionally risked defending cultural relativism in the interest of defending their faith. Threatened by the rise of science, earlier generations of apologists assumed that defending the faith meant defending their faith. But with increased awareness of other faiths, Western apologists have come to realize that rationalizations of their faiths tend to apply as well to other faiths with which they are in conflict. Moreover, the traditional view that faith is required for true belief has led some apologists to conclude that one can only judge a faith from within, a point which would also appear to render religious truth culturally relative. These relativistic implications have been more or less recognized by apologists, and more or less accepted as necessary evils in the defense of faith.

Secondly, several contemporary defenses of religious exclusivism have attempted to defend the rationality of what might be called ignorant belief. These defenses intend to rationalize the beliefs of naïve and illiterate believers – no doubt with the best of intentions – although the effect is to imply a religious epistemology in which ignorance appears not to count against the rationality of belief. Typically, these defenses confuse the explanation of belief (referring to the circumstances in which beliefs arise) with the justification of belief, as the latter would require a higher standard of true belief than most apologists would wish to require of naïve believers for their beliefs to be truly rational.

One might assume that, in attempting to defend the rationality of naïve faith, these apologists fail to see that their rationalizations of naïve faith apply as well to fanatical faith and terrorism, especially if such arguments were put forward before 9/11. But in fact, at least one such apologist recognized the risk and embraced it. But to judge these arguments on the basis of their implications for terrorism would confuse the symptom with the cause. For the fact that such arguments rationalize terrorism is merely a symptom of the deeper irrationality of their views, whose exact nature most of today’s critics of religion have failed to identify. The problem is not faith as such, but rather a commitment to belief without reservation, which means commitment without the willingness to consider that one might be wrong. Unfortunately, a striking number of contemporary defenders of faith have chosen to widen the scope of religious rationality so far that even religious terrorists can find room in their big tent.

Shaherazad On-Line: Women's Work and Technologies of War – Robin Truth Goodman (Florida State University)

This article compares Donna Haraway's post-national, post-dialectical cyborg philosophy on technology with Herbert Marcuse's Marxist/Heideggerian ideas about technological dialectics. I apply the comparison to the Iraqi blog Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog from Iraq (2005, 2006) in order to discuss the relations of technology to transformations in women's work.

Neoliberalism as Terrorism; or State of Disaster Exceptionalism – Sophia A. McClennen (Penn State)

The post 9/11 US state requires attention to a new biopolitical era –one that links the state of exception with the free market state of neoliberalism. There is a symbiotic convergence between neoliberal free market capitalism, which understands citizens as consumers or as disposable waste, and an emergency state, which increasingly abrogates the rights of entire populations in the name of homeland security. Regardless of whether the punishing force is the market or the permanent state of war, the result is an onslaught on rights, both civic and human. These new identity formations created by the post 9/11 US state, though, also rely on earlier paradigms, most significantly that of US exceptionalism. “American” exceptionalism depends on the longstanding belief that the United States differs qualitatively from other developed nations -- a difference that makes it possible, for instance, for the US to be critical of British or Russian/Soviet imperialism but not its own.

Theories of neoliberalism (Harvey and Giroux) and of the state of exception (Agamben) have drawn attention to the intersections of bio-politics and free market capitalism. Naomi Klein brings some of these threads together in her study of disaster capitalism, arguing that neoliberalism thrives on disaster and shock to radically alter civic structures and state roles. Taking my cue from this line of critical work, this paper argues that the next challenge for those who study neoliberalism concerns the changed nature of the state and its representation. The post 9/11 US state incorporates two fundamental shifts: the permanent state of exception caused by the war on terror and the corporate state of neoliberalism. Both radically alter civic identities on US soil and abroad. The contemporary criminalizations of the immigrant, the refugee, and the disaster victim point to new ways that identities have been reconfigured as hostile to “freedom,” where “freedom” refers to the free market rather than to individual rights.

The first part of my paper traces this new US state, what I am describing as “The Neoliberal State of Disaster Exceptionalism.” I then examine this transformation in the particular context of US-Afghan relations, where I analyze the dialectics between sovereign states and “bare” states, ie states that are included in the geopolitical world system by virtue of their exclusion. Unlike the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan has from the outset been described as an effort to rescue a failed state from terrorist influences. Any disasters caused by the US invasion are always justified by the previously existing Afghan state of disaster. Reading both mainstream media accounts of the US attacks on Afghanistan post 9/11 and fictional efforts to narrate Afghanistan (particularly the films The Kite Runner and Charlie Wilson’s War), I argue that the representation of Afghanistan and of US-Afghan relations both reveals and conceals the intersections between neoliberalism, terrorism, and the state of exception.

Higher Education: 9/11, Cosmopolitan Literacy, and the New Pedagogical Imperative – Christian Moraru (The University of North Carolina at Greensboro)

“L’enfer, c’est les autres,” Garcin proclaims in Sartre’s 1944 play Huis clos. “Hell is others?” How come? For one thing, the pronouncement conveys the uneasiness the writer and modernity overall feel before “alterity.” For another, Sartre insisted that he had been “misunderstood.” What his character meant, he explained, was not that our “relations with others are tainted,” “infernal” by definition, but that if these relations are “twisted, vitiated, then the other can be to us nothing else than hell” because “the others are the most important thing within ourselves that we can draw from to know who we are.” “When we think about ourselves, when we try to find out who we are,” Sartre went on, we “use the knowledge others already have of us. We form an opinion of ourselves by means of tools others have given us. Whatever I say about myself, an other’s judgment is always contained in it. This means that if my relations with an other are bad, I am completely dependent on this other. And then I am truly in hell.”

If this is a problem—and this may well be the problem of the post-9/11 era—then what is the solution? How can we get out of the “infernal” situation the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 got us in? What my presentation acknowledges, first, is the cultural and geopolitical pre-history of this situation, if you will, which I describe also with help from Sartre: the attack itself and even more so the complex “reign of terror” that followed domestically and internationally have been fallout of “vitiated,” oversimplified, and radically adversarial relations between self and other, “us” and “them.” The 9/11 event and, on another level, the violent developments derived from or associated with it have laid bare with abundant clarity the highly fetishistic and abstract ways the members of these dyads have been seeing one another. These perceptions and meanings, these mis/understandings, what the self means to an other and vice versa, were, and are, dehumanizing. The terrorist, no matter who or what he, she, or it is—a person, a group, a party, or a state—posits and oftentimes proclaims explicitly the dehumanization of the victim. The terrorist act dehumanizes, radically devalues, deems its target less-than-human as a preamble to the latter’s physical destruction, but this devaluation/dehumanization rests on a very general or, as I say, abstract grasp of the other. The root problem, then, as philosopher after philosopher emphasizes, is the mind’s failure to conceive of others in their specific—if human—reality.

According to critics from Sylviane Agacinski to Slavoj Žižek, we should be suspicious of overt inhuman/subhuman definitions of the other as much as we should be of those that view this other’s humanity in too abstract-theoretical, “incontingent,” or universalist terms. One dehumanizes by animalizing and reifying no less than by generalizing, universalizing, and, I might add, idealizing. Either way, one conveniently allegorizes, explains away the others—állos is “other,” “different,” “strange,” and “foreign” in Greek—in terms of the same, thus refusing “to accept the other . . . in the real of his or her existence.” For that, “mankind” in general” and other reasonings and rationalizations of the similarly generalizing or universalizing type cannot serve as “veritable objections” to racism, chauvinism, and so forth.

What my talk ultimately suggests by drawing critically from thinkers and educators like Martha Nussbaum is that, now more than ever, our charge—and the main task of education in general at a time self and other have drawn closer in space to one another than ever in history—is cosmopolitan literacy, that is, a systematic, cross-curricular, and methodologically apposite effort to help our students “visualize” others in the latter’s material, particular humanness. This materiality, I further contend, is the very site of cultural-existential difference. Difference, then, is no longer a hurdle, an obstacle to communication, as classical humanism and cosmopolitanism—cosmopolites such as Nussbaum included—tend to think, but a bridge, a window into the other’s humanity and implicitly an apt instrument with which to handle and possibly mitigate the infernal potential of the post-Cold War era. As I stress in my conclusion, in responding to the new, post-9/11 pedagogical imperative, the humanities—as disciplines of the imaginary, of the human as object and subject of imaginary projections—and, within the humanities, comparative studies have a key role to play in this project.

Rise of Venture Philanthropy and the Ongoing Neoliberal Assault on Critical and Public Education – Kenneth J. Saltman (DePaul University)

This paper focuses on the rise of venture philanthropy in the United States. Venture philanthropy which is modelled on venture capital aims to use private foundation funding to influence pubilc spending towards a neoliberal agenda for managerialism, privatization, deregulation, standardization of knowledge, and anti-unionism. Venture philanthropy has been enormously influential in promoting its agenda across the political spectrum and stands to influence school reform globally. The paper illustrates how the major projects of the leading venture philanthropists including the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation, and the Broad Foundation aim to redistribute educational governance, create a national "market" in schooling, and work in conjunction with think tanks and government to frame knowledge, teaching, and learning through the lens of the private sector at the expense of public and critical forms of education. The paper considers how the new educational reforms express a project of capitalizing on human made and natural disasters and how the new reforms are part of a broader effort to remake the existing dual education system into a dual education system that more effectively commodifies poor youth of color while regulating youth of privilege in new ways. The paper concludes by considering the venture philanthropy agenda in relation to critical and public values and public governance as well as recent post-fordist theories of cognitive capitalism and immaterial labor.

The Society for Critical Exchange, Inc. Founded 1975; Incorporated 1976