Responsibility in Crisis: Knowledge Politics and Global Publics

Belligerence and Tolerance

29-Das: Writing from India right now after the disastrous experience of violence against the Muslim minority in Gujarat with the active connivance of the state government, I am led to ask, how does censorship become operative in a democratic society? Unlike the Emergency of 1977 when all fundamental rights were suspended, we are presumably living in a democratic setup with regular elections and a Constitution in place. While journalists, some NGOs and students and teachers from outside Gujarat have mobilized support to provide evidence/ testimonies of the atrocities, they have not been able to move the state government to institute cases against the guilty. Thus despite evidence provided by journalists and People's Commissions that police stations refused to accept First Information Reports in which the names of the guilty were mentioned, there has been no serious movement by universities or other institutions devoted to pursuit of truth to provide any theoretical reflection on the meaning of such silence. Thus how has the everyday become "the state of exception"?

I believe that if we are to understand the way in which a self-imposed censorship comes to be instituted within democracies we need to understand the everyday life of universities in countries such as India. On the assumption that the state is an unfinished project and that national security is always in danger—the state of exception becomes like an ever present potential standing on the door of reality, as it were. The state then positions itself as always in the job of "educating" the university on its responsibilities and subjects it to a plethora of regulations that are instituted through administrative injunctions. For instance, even in premier institutes devoted to research, scholars cannot invite foreign scholars to speak without prior clearance from the Education Ministry. In some places this rule is followed—in others it is consistently flouted. There are similarly other rules about clearances for organizing seminars, or for foreign visits. The rationale behind all this is that the national interest needs to be protected and that the bureaucrats are the natural actors for the protection of these interests. The result is a strange balance of power so that asPage  82 one professor recently put it, to have academically survived in India is to have broken some rule or the other so that in the eyes of the state you are already, always culpable. I can take an example from my own work—I wrote on the militant movement in the Punjab in the eighties and nineties on the basis of the militant literature in Punjabi and audiocassettes of speeches by militant leaders. This literature is banned in India although it circulates freely and my publisher had to take the decision to be ready to face legal impediments in publishing my book. So the point is not that one is put into prison for the crime of possessing banned literature but that your culpability in the eyes of the state is always a resource that can be activated to punish you. Hence the shadow of being an officer/offender of the state and in relation to the state is always falling on academic life.

It is not my contention that there is ecology of fear comparable to the fear in campuses in societies in which governance is in the hands of dictatorial authorities. Clearly the complicity of ordinary citizens in which crimes as those perpetrated against Muslim minorities are seen as somehow justified, needs a more comprehensive review. I am not going to provide that review here but I do wish to focus attention on how the processes of mobilization in democratic societies could lead to the suspension of such goods as citizen rights, tolerance for diversity, or even the right to life. Agamben's idea that polities have become split between membership and inclusion needs to be seriously considered and the pathways by which democratic societies become implicated in non-democratic measures with popular support need to be understood. How do diasporic imaginations, global programming and the refashioning of institutions in accordance with notions of global public goods available as constraints or resources? It is interesting that activists in India have tried to find international openings in which the crimes of Narendra Modi—the Chief Minister who is seen to be complicit with what is in effect a pogrom against the Muslim minority—may be tried. The visits of Labor MPs from the U.K. and Amnesty International seem to be important resources in this struggle to have the truth recognized and acted upon.

30-Erazo: While I believe that the position paper makes an important point in saying that invisible acts of accepting and allowing difference are critical components of true tolerance, we must not forget that grave acts of intolerance such as persecution, arrest, or even torture occur regularly inPage  83 spaces where freedoms such as those of speech, religion, and assembly are not protected. Specifically because attention to tolerance is "situational and short-term," national and trans-national laws and dictates are necessary forms and tools for protection, although not sufficient for true tolerance.

31-Kennedy: Colleagues from abroad may have difficulty appreciating the degree to which the attacks of September 11, 2001 have changed American sensibilities and practices.

Security, not openness, now threatens to dominate discourses of how the U.S. university relates to the world beyond its nation. The introduction of new measures to assure security, or demonstrate the concern for security, have overwhelmed most sectors, most obviously at airports. But universities have also been directly affected. The University is working with federal officials to implement a new and more integrated tracking system called SEVIS [25] that would provide better data to the federal government on student whereabouts. This is one part of a much larger enterprise that is transforming the ways in which those within the United States from abroad are treated.

To a considerable extent, of course, that treatment depends on the nation's vision of that larger world. For example, FBI interviews with young men from countries associated with terrorism, and new stricter guidelines for issuing visas have been established with the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act signed into law by President Bush on May 14, 2002. [26] These measures are complicated, for they introduce new and serious questions into our discussion of American identity, civil liberties [27] and effective intelligence, and its effect on human rights, [28] none of which can be elaborated here. [29] It is, nonetheless, directly relevant for it affects quite immediately certain categories of actors more than others. For example, Iranian students, faculties and staff at the University of Michigan wrote to President White on May 17, 2002 expressing their concern about how section 306 of the newly approved HR 3525 Bill will lead to a categorical ban on Iranian students' receiving visas; it also makes it very difficult for Iranian students or scholars to go abroad for any reason. Globalizing knowledge clearly has a new element of inequality built into the system.

32-Sanneh: For all his effusions about an enlightened education coming like the dawn to banish all that kept human beings in the dark in mind, body, and spirit, for example, Jefferson flinched at the thought of diversity. ThePage  84 issue of diversity came to a head on the matter of slavery, and, as such, was perceived as a threat that had to be overcome. "Nothing," Jefferson urged, "is more certainly written in the book of fate, than that these people [the blacks] are to be free; nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government. Nature, habit, opinion have drawn indelible lines of distinction between them." In other words, slavery no less than racial diversity conflicted with freedom and national harmony. We know better today, but such views suggest that the dogma of an enlightened secular education, free from religious association, was no safeguard against narrowness and intolerance. Nation building in America had taken a huge toll on diversity and pluralism. The American melting pot reduced difference to nothingness. Or, as Sinclair Lewis put it in Main Street, it was the process by which "the sound American customs absorbed without one trace of pollution another alien invasion."

33-Patterson: From the earliest possible moment, even before we knew precisely who to blame for the terrorist attacks, the U.S. response was professionally packaged by the White House administration in terms of its absolute predeterminancy. President Bush explicitly established the use of violence as the only imaginable reaction in his "Address to the Nation" on the evening of September 11. He stated, "A great people has been moved to defend a great nation...Our military is powerful, and it's prepared...The search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts." Then, casting the field of possible enemies as broadly as possible, Bush declared: "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them." Similarly, the president insisted that the attack was not just on "our people, but all freedom-loving people everywhere in the world." In what has proven to be an unfulfilled prophecy, he declared, "We will rally the world." The attacks were defined as the first act in a new war, and allies in this war were assumed: "America and our friends and allies join with all those who want peace and security in the world, and we stand together to win the war against terrorism." [30] In subsequent speeches, President Bush continued to impose a U.S. agenda onto the rest of the world (as when he stated, "This is not a war between our world and their world. It is a war to save the world. And people now understand that."), [31] and demanded allegiance with his often repeated mantra, "Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nationPage  85 that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime." [32]

Recent history provides a helpful reminder that there are always alternatives to war and the use of extensive state-sponsored force, even in the face of devastating tragedy in the form of mass murder. Consider, for instance, President Clinton's response to the Oklahoma City bombings in 1995. He too promised to "bring to justice those who committed this evil," but described the attack in terms of a criminal act, and assured the nation that "We are sending the world's finest investigators to solve these murders." In marked contrast to Bush's repeated refrain of "hunting down" the enemy, Clinton urged Americans to show restraint as they dealt with their understandable feelings of anger. Reading from a letter written by a young widow whose husband was murdered when Pan Am flight 103 was shot down, he urged, "The anger you feel is valid, but you must not allow yourselves to be consumed by it. The hurt you feel must not be allowed to turn into hate, but instead into the search for justice. The loss you feel must not paralyze your own lives." Clinton closed by revoking hatred and violence: "we will stand against the forces of fear. When there is talk of hatred, let us stand up and talk against it. When there is talk of violence, let us stand up and talk against it. In the face of death, let us honor life." [33]

34-Kennedy: The value of tolerance in the lexicon of North American academic keywords and public discussion has risen dramatically since September 11. While I share that appreciation, I am also reminded that tolerance wasn't so central during the 1960s, or at least its simple virtue was seriously doubted. One exemplar of this discussion was the assembly of three essays by Robert Paul Wolff, Barrington Moore, Jr. and Herbert Marcuse in A Critique of Pure Tolerance (Boston: Beacon Press, 1965).

Its strongest advocate, Wolff, found tolerance to be both the "virtue" and condition of modern pluralist democracy, but also dangerously close to being an ideology defending American society as it is. In particular, it focuses more on defending the plurality of groups already in existence rather than those in formation or those marginalized by the dominant axes of conflict and forces of recognition in society. It also attends poorly to those issues weakly identified with any particular group, but critical to the public good, for which a "new philosophy of community, beyond pluralism and beyond tolerance" is needed (52). That community, however, is no longer simply drawn within thePage  86 boundaries of a nation state.

In contrast to Wolff, Marcuse finds tolerance to be a means of domination in America, and by America and other dominant actors, across the world. Strangely enough, Marcuse's rhetoric sounds now more at home with those who seek to establish a militarily-assured Pax Americana: "Tolerance is extended to policies, conditions and modes of behavior which should not be tolerated because they are impeding, if not destroying the chances of creating an existence without fear and misery... Tolerance toward that which is radically evil now appears as good because it serves the cohesion of the whole on the road to affluence or more affluence..." (82-83). Of course Marcuse means something very different than the notions of those who seek to extend American unilateralism against the obstacles put up by the cumbrances of multilateral decision-making.

Marcuse's critique of tolerance is based on the distortions established by society's inequalities. He seeks with his theory and practice to demystify those claims of tolerance by marking their contribution to domination. But this is extraordinarily difficult:

with the concentration of economic and political power and the integration of opposites in a society which uses technology as an instrument of domination, effective dissent is blocked where it could freely emerge: in the formation of opinion, in information and communication, in speech and assembly. Under the rule of monopolistic media...that mentality is created for which right and wrong, true and false are predefined wherever they affect the vital interests of society..." (95).

One might debate fruitfully subsequent transformations of technology and its effect on the coherence and plurality of opinion formation, [34] but the more critical change that transforms Marcuse's point rests with the location of violence. With the attack of September 11, 2001 and the elevation of terrorism as real and perceived threat, the U.S. public is prepared to see the sources of violence to rest in the opposition to a virtuous American power, rather than lodged in the "advanced centers of civilization" themselves (102). Marcuse's ambition to distinguish progress and regression (105) is now more complicatedPage  87 than in the 1960s because this new kind of war makes the simple distinction between the forces of progress and regression difficult to identify with the confidence once accorded by the language of liberation.

Moore appears to offer a more conducive approach for these times. He argues that the "secular and scientific" outlook is critical, for when properly used, it can identify the conditions when tolerance is appropriate, and when it reflects cowardice. We should be prepared, he argues, to marshal evidence in support of our accounts, and alter them when evidence suggests otherwise. His commitment inspires:

The real task of the intellectual is not to be committed to any political doctrine or ideal, not to be an agitator or a fighter, but to find and speak the truth, whatever the political consequences may be. Even if, as we have said, political concerns help to determine what truths intellectuals look for, the truths they uncover may often be and actually are extremely damaging to exactly these concerns...if the intellectual finds that the current situation is one of sham debate and unnecessary repression, yet without any serious prospect for change, he has the task of relentless, critical exposure—destructive criticism of destructive reality. His commitment to politically significant truth carries with it the obligation to point out the illusions, equivocations, ambiguities and hypocrisies of those who raise the banner of freedom in order to perpetuate brutality, be they Communist or anti-Communist (78).

The contest between communism and capitalism animated all of these authors' principal concerns. The social question and the struggle against imperialism shaped their critique of pure tolerance. Moore has provided inspiration throughout my own intellectual career, but the critical intellectuality informed by the contest between capitalism and its counterculture in socialism is now at least complicated, if not profoundly altered, but terrorism's threat and the civilizational contest brought to life by the conduct of U.S. policy in terrorism's aftermath.

While I still find hope in the scientific and secular worldview, I find it especially important that this viewpoint be tempered by a humility that seeksPage  88 from religious traditions the limits of its own critical authority. Moore again provides great inspiration, but this time in the negative. Rather than identify the Koran as the opposite of science and reason, as he does in the final paragraph of his essay (79), I find in those religious sensibilities seeking dialogue across religious traditions and with science one of the greatest hopes for the production of a new kind of tolerance that might itself alter the questions we pose about destructive realities.

35-Sanneh: On another level, and especially when times are not normal and it is no longer fashionable, the University must maintain open borders and insist on the unfinished task of nation and school. Before 9/11 the University, for example, could indulge a certain entitlement to national or global exemption. (The Thatcher era of the 1980s shattered that illusion for British Universities long before 9/11, though seemingly to little purpose beyond penny pinching.) Since 9/11, however, a new urgency has gripped the public about turning the University into a national security enterprise, a gated community with identity checks for international students and reporting mandates for administrators and faculty, this while an economic and political crisis has engulfed much of the world. It is inconceivable for the University at this juncture to refuse any share in the unfinished task of national and social development. Threat and danger have encroached on the research agenda of the University. Once more, difference, diversity and pluralism are seen as a threat to be overcome. Yet the temptation must be resisted.

If we look to the recent past of World War II, for instance, we find the University gripped by the same emergency mentality of imminent peril and chauvinistic patriotism. Yet there were voices then calling us to robust engagement with the challenges of the time. That was how Wendell Willkie (1892-1944), for example, called for America to rise to its global responsibility by responding to the new fact of "One World," the title of his influential book on the subject. Echoing Woodrow Wilson and his vision of the League of Nations, Willkie, a Presidential candidate in 1940, cautioned that isolationism would only breed national neurosis about difference and distance and be disastrous for America and for the world. The historian Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) made much the same point in his Civilization on Trial (New York: Oxford University Press, 1948) where he warned his Western compatriots about the need to outgrow their pre-de Gaman worldview. [The reference was to VascoPage  89 de Gama (1460?-1524), the Portuguese explorer who opened the sea lanes to India, and thus opened the world to Europe, and vice versa.] The remote and the unfamiliar, according to Toynbee, were merely symbols of Western shortsightedness.