Illustrations by Michael Gibbs
Eliot Cohen has made a career of analyzing U.S. military affairs. As a professor at Hopkins's Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), he directs the school's strategic studies program. A former faculty member at the U.S. Naval War College, he has served on the policy planning staff of the U.S. Secretary of Defense, and from 1991-93 directed the U.S. Air Force's Gulf War Air Power Survey, the official study of the 1991 war with Iraq. For that study he received the Air Force's decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service. He is a contributing editor to The New Republic and National Review.
A former president of Oberlin College and of the Aspen Institute, Frederick Starr is currently a SAIS research professor and chairman of SAIS' Central Asia-Caucasus Institute. A founding director of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies, he was the first non-Russian laureate of the Literary Gazette in Moscow, and has chaired the U.S. government's external advisory committee on research on Russia and the other newly independent states. The author or editor of 18 books, he also finds time to be a clarinetist and saxophonist with the New Orleans-based Louisiana Repertory Jazz Ensemble.
From: Eliot Cohen, email@example.com
To: Frederick Starr, firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: December 14, 2001
That the United States is at war, and successfully so, can scarcely be doubted. Although a number of people abroad and at home still talk about this conflict in terms of crime and punishment ("bringing Osama bin Laden to justice"), the truth is that war is a better name for it. It is a strange kind of war--a multifront conflict, primarily involving nongovernmental groups at this stage (although that may soon change), but it is indeed a contest driven by political and religious, not criminal, concerns. Al-Qaeda and its leaders do not seek to make money or simply inflict pain; they have political goals, beginning with the driving of the United States from the Persian Gulf.
The term "war on terrorism," though, misses something. The truth is that the United States cares a lot less about Basque separatists or the real IRA than it does about Islamic extremist groups. The war is, in fact, a war with militant Islam, which is, despite various public pronouncements, not an isolated or freakish offshoot, but rather a stream in a broader and otherwise more benign religious current.
What is it that American military power can do in these circumstances? As we have seen, it has been remarkably effective in attacking both al-Qaeda and ejecting from power the Taliban government that protected it. Both the direct results, and the demonstration effect-- showing the world that those who shelter and protect terrorist organizations attacking the United States will suffer for it--are welcome. But the story will not end there. It is likely that the United States will continue this war to other locations, and indeed in some measure already has.
Since the United States military will be only one part of the force brought to bear against militant Islam, it might be worthwhile discussing some of the other kinds of national power that this country has that it might bring to bear. Secondly, it seems to me that we think so much in terms of warding off threats or retaliating against those who have attacked us that we fail to think of the opportunities that exist to reshape politics in a critical part of the world.
From: Frederick Starr
To: Eliot Cohen
I agree that with the destruction of bin Laden and his 5,000 foreign supporters in Afghanistan and the decapitation of the Taliban, the U.S. will have completed the current military operation. The focus will then shift elsewhere, mainly to the Arab Middle East. We may well take action against one or more states that have supported terror as an instrument of policy. We may also act against several other Muslim states whose leaders are too weak or indecisive to face down terrorists in their midst. But in the end, the U.S. is up against something more serious than either cynical or incompetent rulers. The core problem is the existence of several militant and millennial forms of Islam that have identified the West as their enemy.
Two factors give this last struggle an entirely different character. On the one hand, these militant currents within Islam did not arise yesterday. They trace their origins to 18th-century Arabia and 19th-century India. Formed over generations, they will not be quickly or easily eradicated. On the other hand, in spite of September 11, Islamic radicalism represents above all a conflict within Islam itself, pitting the militants against mainstream Sunnis and Shiias, both modernists and traditionalists. A prominent Muslim leader, Sheikh Kabbani, addressing SAIS's Central Asia-Caucasus Institute in 1999, did not exaggerate when he spoke of a "civil war of Islam."
If this is primarily an intra-Muslim struggle over the nature of the faith, it follows that leadership in any campaign against "terrorism" must come not from the outside but from moderate Muslims themselves. It will involve matters as diverse as education, theological training, faith-state relations in Muslim lands, and fundamental social and economic realities in those same societies, as well as U.S. actions throughout the region. Such a struggle has no neat beginning or end. For the U.S. to play its part effectively it will have to call on knowledge, strategies, and overall subtlety that may not exist here at present.
From: Eliot Cohen
To: Frederick Starr
The larger question, which we agree on, is this: Can an outside power make a difference in what is essentially an internal conflict? It seems to me that there are three schools of thought on that score.
The first is that the United States cannot hope to have any real effect on the troubled states and societies of the Muslim world. Almost any intervention on our part is bound to be clumsy, misconceived, and counterproductive. Any conscious attempt to manipulate these societies will run afoul of the juggernaut of our low culture--Madonna, MTV, and McDonald's--that will simply drown out whatever more subtle messages we intend to convey.
The second, more optimistic by far, has the United States in the vanguard of a universal civilization, the proponent of values that appeal to peoples from Kandahar to Khartoum. The combination of personal freedom and material prosperity accounts for the insatiable desire of millions to come to this country, and indeed helps explain the appeal of the low culture that the first group deplores. The United States remade Germany and Japan after World War II; without destroying language, cultural values, or most traditional norms; it nonetheless transformed societies that had experienced radically different forms of government.
The third school is somewhere in between. The United States must, in this view, make its case in a variety of ways, and exercise a gentle pressure from the outside, while recognizing that it can do no more than support those who will bear the brunt of the fight. We can, and should, hold up a mirror to these societies, stand up for those who share our values in them (the imprisoned Egyptian academic Saad el-Ibrahim being one example), and, in a crisis, come to their aid--something that might be a live choice if, for instance, Iran were to experience an anti-clerical revolution.
Which of these views do you hold? I tend to the third school, although my hunch is that the first dominates governmental discourse.
From: Frederick Starr
To: Eliot Cohen
Please add my vote for the third option. But honestly, how could it be otherwise? Is it really likely that Americans will suddenly pull in their wings and declare to themselves and the world that they can have no influence on the outcome of anything taking place on our planet or nearby parts of the solar system?
Or, conversely, is it any more likely that the electorate of a democratic and open society will support for long a project to refashion the values and deepest beliefs of entire populations in countries with which it has not been at war--and with no reference to the wishes of those affected?
The problem with option three is not that it is wrong but that it enables us to view our actions as restrained and prudent and at the same time to carry on in ways that many people elsewhere will judge to be high-handed and arrogant. In other words, the choice is not really a choice, and the fact we think it is says more about our values than we are comfortable admitting. We vote for option three because it enables us to do, and not do, what we will do anyway.
Reverse the roles for a moment. Suppose we were all Muslims watching the radical phase of the Protestant Reformation unfold. It would be absurd to think that we could really affect the outcome, or to argue that we should line up solidly behind either the papacy, the emerging Protestant movement, or the Anabaptists. Surely, in our role as 16th-century Muslims, we would be well-advised to exercise a degree of modesty when dealing with such epochal forces. And so it is for Americans today. Yet real disengagement is no longer an option. The challenge, then, is not just to develop a grand strategy along the lines of one of your three options--but to have the subtlety to know when and how to push most effectively and when to sit out. This is hard enough, but we Americans suffer from chronic Attention Deficit Disorder, which causes us easily to forget both our strategic and tactical objectives the moment a given crisis passes. Will it be different this time?
Ronald Walters is a professor of history in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences; his work currently divides between his interest in radical and reform movements, and research on 19th- and 20th-century American commercial popular culture. A member of the Hopkins faculty since 1970, Walters served on the Provost's Committee on the Status of Women when it was first constituted and was the first chair of the universitywide Diversity Leadership Council (1997-99).
Sheldon Greenberg (MEd '73), director of the Police Executive Leadership Program in Hopkins's School of Professional Studies in Business and Education (SPSBE), has a long career in law enforcement. Greenberg, associate professor and chair of SPSBE's department of Public Sector Management, directed the team that established a municipal police operation in Panama immediately following the U.S. invasion, and served on U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno's Work Group on Police Stops, which dealt with issues surrounding racial profiling. He has also testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
From: Ron Walters, email@example.com
To: Sheldon Greenberg, firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: January 3, 2002
Before beginning, I want to raise an issue that will be in the background of just about everything I write. It is my concern about the implications of defining our actions as a "war." It's a term I've been using and no one seems to have come up with a more compelling alternative, but it's also a metaphor with dangerous implications. Among the most moving of the many eloquent statements made by our PhD, Woodrow Wilson, are ones musing on what a great and terrible thing it is to lead the American people into war. His concern, if I recall correctly, was in part for what would happen to our most cherished values. As things turned out, his own administration cracked down quite harshly on dissent and presided over a great Red Scare at the war's end, as a result of which a fair number of alien radicals were deported. He justified his own fears.
A related reason for concern is that wars typically suppress a lot of dissent that really isn't a threat to the war effort and might even be healthy for it (another undeclared war, the Cold War, had that effect). The attorney general pretty much tried to do that when he claimed that critics of administration policy aided the enemy. That--and the notion of being in a war more generally--reflects and produces a rigid kind of binary thinking: ally/enemy, good/evil, for us/against us. Logic often goes by the boards simply because criticism itself seems disloyal.
From: Sheldon Greenberg
To: Ron Walters
Ron, I share your concern about labeling "actions" as war. We have fought--or continue to fight--a "war on poverty," "war on crime," and "war on illicit drugs." The public has become desensitized to war and what it really means. The "enemy" (poverty, drugs, crime) is ill defined. The who, what, where, and why are not understood. This lack of understanding extends to those on the "front line of battle"--political leaders, teachers, police, social workers, and others.
The generations since World War II, Korea, and Vietnam see war simply in terms of social policy or quick action with relatively quick victories. Panama and Desert Storm happened so quickly and with so little pain or strain that the public perceived them as little more than military exercises about which to give a quick cheer and move on to other things. How can we expect the public to grasp and cope with the demands associated with war when it has been dealt with cavalierly for decades?
From: Ron Walters
To: Sheldon Greenberg
However libertarian we might be, the great majority of us accept willingly some restraints on our actions and the actions of others. Some are simply things we agree to as rules necessary for our health and safety, like stopping at red lights (bad example in Baltimore). The really tough cases are the ones such as curtailments of free speech and warrantless searches in time of war. Again, the questions to ask, I think, are: 1) How essential are these curtailments to law enforcement? and 2) Are they counterproductive--do we lose more than we gain? On point 1, you're better informed than I, but I am not persuaded that everything proposed is really necessary. How much evidence is likely to be generated by eavesdropping on conversations between an attorney and an accused terrorist client, especially if the former is court-appointed and probably as ignorant as the rest of us about the terrorist organization of which the client was a part?
On point 2, I think efforts to suppress dissent--back to my concern about the war analogy--are actually counterproductive at present. We need to be thinking about creative ways to address terrorism and weighing the costs and benefits of different approaches, not simply signing on to whatever the administration or Congress proposes. We've lost the democratic process, messy as it is, if we do that.
A final thought: We probably should consider how universal we think our rights and freedoms are, or ought to be. It can be something of a devil's choice. If we think of them as universal, we risk imagining that the rest of the world ought to be like America and is inferior or even the enemy if it isn't. If we don't think of them as extending to others, we open the possibility of having two standards of justice, an American one for Americans and a military one for those who aren't.
From: Sheldon Greenberg
To: Ron Walters
Freedom is personal, and people become self-centered when their freedom is challenged. As a result of September 11, many people perceive their freedom to be in jeopardy, but not in the traditional sense. People are concerned more about their "freedom from" than other people's "freedom to." They want some entity--politicians, the FBI, local police-- to secure their freedom from harm, freedom from attack in the workplace, and freedom from exposure to deadly disease when they open their mail. They want to go about their daily routine "free" from the grip of fear. If someone else's "right" or "freedom to" free speech or warrantless search must be violated to secure these "freedoms from," so be it. They do not want to know the intricacies, processes, or legalities. They trust that others will tend to these things.
The challenge to leaders is to balance the actions taken to secure people's "freedoms from" at the expense of others' "freedoms to."
From: Ron Walters
To: Sheldon Greenberg
We have pretty good evidence of a double standard in the case of the American Taliban, John Walker. It isn't clear what will happen to him as we write, and there appears to be an effort to duck the whole question by emphasizing his value to us in cooperating by giving information. Clearly the proposed military tribunals would be for non-Americans, although Walker poses the question of whether or not that really would end up being the case.
Maybe an even more interesting hypothetical case would go something like this. Suppose the person who sent the anthrax letters is an anti-government, anti-media American citizen (which seems probable to me). Let's further suppose that he is a member of a domestic anti-government organization--it could be on the left, the right, or just on the lunatic fringe. Let us further suppose that the FBI catches him because an informer penetrated the organization. The guilty person is an alleged terrorist and a conventional trial might well compromise the FBI's informant. Would we therefore want a military tribunal? I doubt it.
What we might want--and here I am back to my theme about needing creative thinking, not stifling dissent--is serious consideration of the rules of evidence, which aren't the same in every kind of trial-- witness the outcomes of the two O.J. Simpson cases. Might it be possible to redefine the rules of evidence in certain kinds of cases--terrorism and espionage, for example--that would provide reasonable protection both for secret sources and for defendants' rights to a fair trial and to appeal?
From: Sheldon Greenberg
To: Ron Walters
Money talks and, too often, the prosecutorial and judicial systems listen. Will terrorist dollars be spent to buy lawyers whose large staffs and courtroom antics gain "get out of jail" cards for perpetrators who clearly warrant long-term incarceration? Will lengthy trials, appeals, and legal maneuvers be bought? Given what we know about the advantages of wealth in the courts, military tribunals are an appealing alternative to the civil system.
Almost all responses to violations of civil liberties in the United States occur after a major wrongful act has been perpetrated. Is it reasonable to expect that, when faced with a new situation or new group associated with wrongful acts (the association of Arab nationalities with September 11), violation of civil liberties can be prevented?
From: Ron Walters
To: Sheldon Greenberg
I hope so, but it's hard not to think of enemies as "others" and it's easiest to do that when you can stereotype the enemy so starkly as an other, in this case as Arabs and/or Islamic extremists (not all of whom are Arab). An exceptional case helps prove the rule. One of the scary things about the Cold War was that the enemy sometimes looked and talked like us--it might be the person next door. That, I think, accounts for some of the claustrophobic feeling of the era. Even in World War II propaganda you can see that. A lot of the U.S. anti-fascist, European-front propaganda demonized the leaders, Hitler and Mussolini, not the German or Italian people. A lot of the anti-Japanese propaganda demonized the Japanese people.
On that score, I am once again frustrated by the way we think about things, which is primarily in terms of individuals, rather than about causes and solutions. In general, I am not a media-basher, but thanks to radio, film, and television, it is so ingrained in us to think of everything as stories with heroes, victims, and villains that it is hard for the public to engage in serious discussions of foreign policy, domestic rights and responsibilities, and how best to combat terrorism.
From: Sheldon Greenberg
To: Ron Walters
Let me then throw out another question. Do you think that we have criticized profiling to the point that law enforcement personnel are hesitant to apply "appropriate profiling" in an effort to prevent crime?
From: Ron Walters
To: Sheldon Greenberg
This is a hard question for me. I've known African American men who were pulled over by the police for no apparent reason in totally demeaning ways. That's either profiling or simple racism; in either case, it is insulting and indefensible. There are, however, other everyday ways in which we accept the use of social statistics (which is what profiling claims to be) as a good thing--to predict such things as which children are at risk for various things or when a child may have been abused. So, to turn your question around: When is it fair and in the public or individual interest to use statistical predictors and when isn't it? The answer probably depends on how good the predictors are and how compelling the public or individual interest might be. To put it back to you: How significant a law enforcement tool is profiling and in what situations does it work best?
From: Sheldon Greenberg
To: Ron Walters
Without profiling, the prevention and resolution of crime, prevention of terrorist acts, and securing public safety become evermore daunting. There is a need to change the dialogue from condemning all profiling to understanding the difference between appropriate profiling and inappropriate profiling.
When profiling by police for the purpose of drug interdiction began, it was researched, funded, embraced, and lauded. Supported by the media, people pressed the police to do more to get illicit drugs off the street. As profiling proved successful, police were rewarded with public and media praise and seized assets that could be used to further enforcement efforts. Leaders within police agencies, political offices, and community organizations failed to place limits or keep a watchful eye. For a small percentage of police officers, appropriate profiling quickly became inappropriate profiling. The end justified their means as "noble-cause justice" took hold. Where were their supervisors? Where were the community leaders? Where were the politicians? Had officials become so intoxicated by the dramatic increase in the amount of seized narcotics and other assets resulting from profiling that they lost sight of integrity, fairness, and professionalism? Have lessons been learned? Can law enforcement maintain integrity and appropriateness in profiling when applied to those who might commit terrorist acts?
In some jurisdictions, law enforcement officers have become so "gun shy" (no pun intended) that they no longer profile when it is appropriate to do so. This has to be changed quickly so that local and state police can realize their potential and assume a greater role in terrorist interdiction. Local and state police officers are professionals who play an integral role in national security. They are on the front line. The majority should not be or perceive that they are restricted from profiling due to the inappropriate behavior of a few. Leaders need to do their job. Quality and timely data needs to be made available so that an officer can profile effectively, fairly, and legally. Checks and balances need to be implemented to prevent inappropriate behavior. Appropriate profiling is needed.
When considering the millions of contacts that occur between police and the public every day, there are amazingly few incidents in which officers inappropriately violate civil liberties. The collective consciousness of the police profession has been raised regarding profiling and the pitfalls of inappropriately targeting groups of people. Had it not been for public outrage prior to September 11, the potential for inappropriate profiling by police in response to the current crisis may have been greater, regardless of the appearance of the targeted group.
NOTE: The e-mail exchange between Ron Walters and Sheldon Greenberg can be found in its entirety here.
Azar Nafisi knows what it's like to be fired for teaching ideas that violate cultural mores and administrative rules. During the 1980s in her native Iran, Nafisi was forced out of universities for refusing to wear a government-mandated veil, and later sanctioned for teaching Western literature and staging the potentially subversive trial scene from Alice in Wonderland. Today Nafisi is a visiting professor at Hopkins's Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), where she leads courses that explore the influence of culture on politics.
Charles Fairbanks Jr., the director of SAIS's Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, found himself on the wrong side of American academia after hosting a September 14 panel at SAIS titled "How to Think About the Islamic-Afghan Terrorist Threat." In discussing the Palestinian Authority as a possible state sponsor, Fairbanks said, "They certainly have a motive. Unfortunately, the Palestinians really hate us. That's a painful fact." Because of this and other comments deemed insensitive, as well as the "chaotic" nature of the forum, Fairbanks's position as institute director was eliminated. He was soon after reinstated.
From: Charles Fairbanks, CHFAIRBANKS@mail.jhuwash.jhu.edu
To: Azar Nafisi, email@example.com
Date: November 19, 2001
Although September 11 has affected the American public more deeply than I had expected, the country is very tolerant of the diversity of views that exist. Such tolerance, however, is not apparent on the campuses.
Thus, I arrive at the melancholy conclusion that the universities are the main citadels of intolerance in an otherwise tolerant society. In other words, the traditional relationship of the university to society is being weirdly reversed. I am not clear why this is so. I wonder whether the strongest reason for rebuking or punishing faculty members who have said the wrong thing since September 11 may simply be the fear of bad publicity, of any kind. "Political correctness," in the sense of not offending minorities, may serve as the trigger for some cases, but only some. Here there is another paradox: Manners become more important than substance in a country that always prided itself on its authenticity.
From: Azar Nafisi
To: Charles Fairbanks
I think the point you make about lack of substance is at the heart of our problem on the American campuses. In order to have a serious debate or concern about academic freedom, we need both substance and passion. Our campuses today seem to lack both. After September 11, for a while there was interest and students did flock to meetings, but it all seems to have petered out. There were very few talks with new and perhaps outrageous ideas. Most people seemed to be saying what was expected of them. And now, we go about our everyday business.... I just can't put my finger on what creates this lethargy about politics. Is it because over the past 20 years the campuses have become too politically correct and the kind of passion--right or wrong--or concern that dominated our campuses has just petered out under the burden of an establishment that also acts as anti-establishment?
What I mean is that those who in the 1960s and '70s were the anti-establishment on campuses have now come to be the establishment. Thus there is no real oppositional voice, there is no real questioning of dominant values (there is a lot of bickering and finger pointing, but that is not what I mean) to create new debates about academic freedom.
I had expected the September 11 assault to create genuine questions, to make us uncomfortable not just about foreign terrorists or the usual boring accusations directed against U.S. foreign policy, but questions about how cynical we have become about our own values, about democracy and human rights, and perhaps this is the time to overcome that cynicism. But everyone on American campuses seems too sane, too settled to create real questions....
From: Charles Fairbanks
To: Azar Nafisi
You are so, so right about the lack of passion on American campuses--so different from the 1960s, or 1930s. I have thought about this a lot, and have various answers.
The first is that universities have not been continuously the centers of intellectual life. I gather that they were in western Europe in the 12th through 15th centuries, as were the madrasas in many Muslim countries. They were made the center by religion, or by Greek philosophy, which seemed to some to destroy religion, to others to be its essential bulwark. Then the triumphant scholastic synthesis of philosophy and theology made the universities frozen and boring. In most European countries during the Renaissance and the early modern period, the real debates took place elsewhere. The academies of science were founded because the new natural science was exciting and universities were not receptive to it.
The German universities were founded, or re-founded--and became the model for Johns Hopkins. Their role was, in retrospect, to secularize learning, to create a new kind of scholarship that would encourage the growth of nations and national cultures. From the time of Kant to the death of Schelling, perhaps 60 years, some of the German universities were tremendously exciting places. But after 1840, it was quite obvious that the most interesting thinking was being done by novelists, not professors. The focus of interest now shifted from the campus to the salon and the cafˇ.
The emergence of ideological politics made ideas exciting again. In the United States, the mood of the 1950s was well-symbolized by those movies in which some teenagers are fooling around and begin to notice something odd, which turns out to be extraterrestrials, monsters, an enormous radioactive octopus created by nuclear testing, The Blob. It is hard to know whether the fears that appalled and titillated Americans were of communism, McCarthyism, the atomic bomb, or their own Unconscious. The Unconscious and totalitarianism alike seemed to be hiding a grave and decisive secret. Finding it out, and debating it, made universities interesting again.
The slow displacement of Freudianism as a focus of intellectual life is as striking in my lifetime as the changes connected with politics. Universities became more and more businesses, with enormous importance attached to grants, publicity, and patents. At the same time, the vast transformation of universities due to the importation of exiled European ideas and teachers ended, with the death of the ˇmigrˇs and, increasingly, of their students. After wandering in the Black Forest of German imagination for 50 years, we have seen a certain re-Americanization, a return to the practical and prosaic. (Among students, a return to drinking and sports.) The tight academic job market encourages hard work and specialization, the mortal enemies of conversation and reflection. Finally, there is the Internet, which I suspect will be a fatal blow to the university as now constituted, and to the present style of scholarship.
Finally, politics. After the failed revolutionary agenda of the 1960s, the Left took refuge in the universities, and changed from the bearer of a universal, saving message for all mankind to a subculture that leaves the larger society alone in order to be left alone.
Of course, there is a relationship between the universities and society. I was excited by what you wrote, that the establishment presents itself as anti-establishment. Contemporary establishments always enjoy their privileges in bad faith. They are always maneuvering and dodging to present themselves as the outsider and the critic. Therefore all debate is peculiarly elusive and muffled. Nowhere is this more true than in the area of international politics, which brings me to the impact of September 11.
Seen in any kind of grand historical perspective, the last decade has seen the emergence of an American empire, or hegemony. There are several very debatable aspects of this emergence, such as wars in which a technologically primitive enemy is devastated from the air with no American casualties. But there is also a very attractive side to American hegemony: Implicitly it also advances democracy, tolerance, freedom, human rights (particularly women's rights). I wish we had seen more demands that this be articulated during the anti-terrorism campaign, because it is its truest justification.
Why is this so little done? Because, it seems to me, the foreign policy elite is itself living with a bad conscience. A student of mine said to me that elites like multilateral initiatives proposed by the UN, NATO, the WTO, etc. because "they want to fine-tune the world without involving the American public." There is some truth to this. Members of this elite believe (perhaps wrongly) that the public is isolationist, and will support and fund only a modest, managerial role in handling clear national problems as they arise. In any case there is a crippling awareness that any open debate about the ultimate purposes of foreign policy would properly occur in a very public arena, where the whole of the public has a proper voice, and not in the Council on Foreign Relations.
It reminds me somewhat of the way post-modern thinking is used within universities to keep at bay the idea of liberal education. One sometimes gets the feeling that what is really at issue is the defense of academic specialization. Real debate about the burning issues, the ideas that are veiling women, or dropping bombs in the world, is deflected and muffled by privileged groups. The privileges of the groups are always based on ideas, as the whole world now is. The ideas at their basis cannot be openly affirmed and debated because it is sensed that they can no longer be defended.
From: Azar Nafisi
To: Charles Fairbanks
I wish that this sort of debate went on in big halls with full participation of the student body and not through e-mail correspondence between harassed! members of the faculty.... The most dangerous threat to academic health is loss of curiosity. I am reminded of Nabokov's statement that "curiosity is insubordination in its purest form." When academics lose desire for genuine knowledge that stems from curiosity about the unknown aspects of the world and of themselves, then they lose their reason for being. There is no insubordination in our universities, just a lot of jargon, a great deal of complaint (our leftist academics think complaint is revolutionary!), big salaries, big words, little content, little restlessness. What I mean by restlessness is that I think academic merit lies in both faculty and students questioning attitudes not just toward the world but toward themselves. What I see in us today is a kind of smugness, a self-centered assurance that mistakes nastiness toward others for genuine criticism....We have become politicized without being genuinely political, we have become shrill instead of becoming passionate.
Matters have taken precedence over vision and ideals. Why else would SAIS, a school of international relations, pay so little attention to humanities and to the study of cultures? For universities to matter again, they must entice the public to pay attention to issues that matter, and to that they must be genuinely enticed themselves....
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