Responsibility in Crisis: Knowledge Politics and Global Publics


This position paper, "Sacred Spaces and Heretical Knowledge," is a tough paper to comment on. It is a paper full of multiple meanings and intentions. The very first word in the paper, the word "sacred" in the title, is a good example. The use of this word implies that the university is an honored realm in which we are privileged to pursue truth. It also implies a place of tolerance where many sacred—religious—ideas can be studied, even in the increasingly hostile environment after September 11. It also underscores—and I get this from the intervention made by Michael Kennedy [1]—the need to think anew about the place of religion in our lives, including the university, as well.

Fortunately not all is so complicated. The main idea does come through fairly clearly, and it is that the university, understood as the sacred space for all the reasons cited above, has come under attack over the past year. The authors don't mince their words: "In the aftermath of 9/11, the university's commitment to academic freedom and global learning has come under assault," and that "the paradigm of aggressiveness, of power made more raw and visible, almost instantly displaced the frame of reference based in conversation, negotiation, and open sharing of information and knowledge across the globe."

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said in the days after September 11 that we were likely to experience more restrictions on our personal freedom thanPage  122 has ever been the case in our country, and she was most certainly right. On campus, too, we see evidence of restriction on civil liberties, starting with but not limited to, foreign students and exchange scholars. Foreign students find that new bureaucratic hassles are suddenly added to their lives, from the length of time need to obtain and renew visa to obtaining work when they graduate. Exchange scholars, especially from areas like the Middle East, are watched with Gorgon eyes. Even more worrisome, academic freedom has been compromised in the new environment after the terrorist attack on the United States. Let me give an example.

Some scholars of the Middle Eastern studies, here on the University of Michigan campus and elsewhere, have been spied on or "monitored" in their classroom, suspected of harboring "anti-Semitic" sentiments. For those of you who are familiar with these cases, these scholars had been blacklisted on a website maintained by Daniel Pipes, as "anti-Semitic." I am told that Pipes did not himself handpick the scholars to be blacklisted, but he did not prevent his faithful vigilantes from doing compiling such a list, either. A friend of mine, Professor Rashid Khalidi at the University of Chicago, was one victim of this academic vigilantism. He suffered the terror of having his words recorded by the vigilantes who had infiltrated his lecture halls, whose sole intent it was to slander him by misquoting or quoting him out of context. He has also had his Internet identity stolen, meaning that people were sending out false and unmistakably anti-Semitic messages under his name. This is a crime that prompted police investigation, and whoever is responsible for stealing his identity can be punished. But the damage has been done. Once false messages go out under your name to thousands and thousands of people, who would forward them to thousands and thousands of other people, how do you reach all of them and let them know that the anti-Semitic messages they had received did not come from him, and that he was a victim of an identity theft?

Now, I have heard people laugh at this, saying, "Nobody takes Daniel Pipes and his vigilantes seriously!" But I have to take what they have done seriously, as would the authors of the position paper. Rashid Khalidi is not only a fine scholar of the Middle Eastern history, but he is one of the most knowledgeable and articulate voices commenting on the Middle Eastern conundrum today. When I used to teach at Northwestern, I was able sometimes to catch Rashid Khalidi on Jerome MacDonald's "Worldview" on Chicago's NPR station, andPage  123 marvel at his immense knowledge and clarity of logic—and his unfailing sense of fairness. I always learned a lot from listening to him, and learned also about the art of sticking to one's beliefs while being fair, and giving one's intellectual adversaries the benefit of the doubt.

Now, what are the causes of this kind of intolerance on campus, this "paradigm of aggressiveness," that has replaced the "frame of reference based in conversation...and open sharing of information and knowledge across the globe"? Is this a new phenomenon that is likely to endure? These are some of the questions I would like to explore today. But to do so, we need a coherent understanding of the larger meaning of the terrorist attack on the United States. The position paper does not discuss September 11 directly—only its putative impact on campus. But unless we have a more coherent understanding of September 11, we won't be able to prepare ourselves adequately for the changes that will be forthcoming.

"September 11," Norman Mailer said, "was the 'open sesame' to the path to world empire." [2] He is right, of course. It is in the context of the United States becoming a world empire—or a very different kind of an empire than one we were used to, since the end of the Second World War—that we have to understand the changes being wrought on campus. James Kurth put it more dramatically, in the December issue of Current History:

The United States today is not just an empire on which the sun never sets (the British Empire), and it is not just an empire that radiates like the sun in its own universe (the Roman Empire). It is something new under the sun, something that has never before existed in history: a sole empire global in scope that seeks to reinvent the nations of the globe in its image. [3]

The security rationale for this new empire under the sun was laid down in the days after the terrorist attacks, and spelled out in the so-called National Security Strategy of the United States. [4] This strategy argued that we face two kinds of enemies: one consists of terrorist networks with global reach, and the other consists ofPage  124 the rogue states with weapons of mass destruction—Iraq, Iran, and North Korea of the infamous Axis of Evil trio. Furthermore, these two enemies of the United States are linked through the network of arms sales, with the rogue states providing arms to the terrorists. Just as this situation is utterly unprecedented, the Strategy argues, so must the means to stop the enemies. Instead of the former strategy of containment and deterrence, our new strategy would be preemption and unilateralism.

Similar arguments were advanced in a document entitled National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction. [5] It calls for the use of nuclear weapons against any chemical or biological attack risks. In blurring the distinction between chemical/biological weapons with nuclear weapons, the new doctrine further undermines in effect the logic of nuclear deterrence, namely that the sole role for nuclear weapons, as long as they are part of the U.S. arsenal, should be for dissuading, or responding to their use by others. Now, the most immediate response to the new doctrine was not enhancement of our national security, but an effort by the states, designated as "rogue," or "evil," to accelerate efforts to obtain nuclear weapons, thus to thwart the possibility of being "pre-empted." North Korea is one such state. In other words, our new doctrine undercut the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), and almost surely invited other states to go nuclear—and North Korea responded in a predictably manner.

In displacing the half-century policy of deterrence and containment, the new National Security Strategy of the United States invokes an analogy, in term of importance, with the influential National Security Council document, known as NSC-68. [6] Just as NSC-68 formulated the strategy of deterrence, the National Security Strategy would formulate a new strategy for the new empire under the sun. This analogy is well worth exploring.

The promulgation of NSC-68 had a profound impact on the university and on the intellectual environment in the United States. In recommending a massive military buildup, including hydrogen bombs, it also emphasized the need for mobilizing American society, including a government-created "consensus" on the necessity of "sacrifice" and "unity" by Americans.

A half-century later, as a new doctrine to combat terrorism comes into place, it is, as Yogi Berra said, déjà vu all over again. In the name of sacrifice and unity, civil liberties are increasingly violated. In the days after September 11, scores of suspects were arrested and detained in solitary confinements as "material witnesses," legal proceedings go on in secrecy, laws governing wiretapping, immigration, asylum, and extradition are being rewritten. There are new restrictions on religious groups, as new leeway and freedom are grantedPage  125 intelligence agencies.

The authors of the position paper argue that throughout the 1990s, "the American university represented the global future of innovation, openness, and the capacity for improvement through academic freedom." The Ford Foundation projects like "Crossing Borders" were good examples of this. Giddy in the confidence that the future of electronically wired globalization heralded a new age of international studies, grant-giving organizations and research institutions eschewed area studies of the navel-contemplating type that thrived on exclusivity of esoteric knowledge. Instead, the focus became one of "openness" and "border crossing," that sought to reorganize area studies along thematic lines. The mandate of the International Institute, aptly described as "grounding, expertise, and translation" is a perfect illustration.

How will the focus of the 1990s change, as the result of September 11, and as the result of the new doctrines of unilateralism and pre-emption? We have already said that civil liberties are the first casualty, and we have also discussed the kind of hysteria of academic vigilantism that has saddened us. But at the end of the day, I remain hopeful. I do not think that the fundamental character of the American university, as the place of open exchange of ideas, especially with the rest of the world, is under as much of an assault as the authors of the position paper argue. Even if it were, higher education's commitment to academic freedom is fundamentally strong enough to withstand the assault.

The main reason for my thinking—and this is where I differ from the authors—is that the kind of admirable openness and freedom of the American university that the authors ascribe to the atmosphere of the 1990s is not fundamentally about the 1990s. The same could have been said, I think, about the American university one hundred years ago, as fifty years ago, as in the days after September 11, and as today. In spite of so much irritation we feel about the growing constriction on the academe imposed by the government, the ideals of the American higher education remain robust and, yes, sacred. This is main reason why American educational institutions is so revered, even as American government and policies have come under attack around the world, and its flag burned by anti-American crowds.

There is another reason why the kind of national security concerns, as spelled out in the "Bush Doctrine," are limited in its ability to compromise the campus. The Bush administration policy of "go it alone" is not supportedPage  126 by the rest of the world, and it is not supported by the American public. After the brief period after the terrorist attack, when the United States enjoyed the outpouring of sympathy and support, with the European allies rushing to send more troops to Afghanistan than we were ready to accept, all hell broke loose. The rhetoric of violence against Iraq has quickly dissipated the good will, and the simmering resentment against the American refusal to accept binding constraints on its sovereignty within multilateral institutions—the US rejection of the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Protocol, the global ban on land mines, verification measures for the Biological Weapons Convention—all came to the fore. Anti-Americanism is on the rise just about everywhere in the world—in the Arab world (fundamentally because of the Israeli-Palestine conflict), in Europe (because of the reasons cited above), and also in East Asia (because of the belligerent and not helpful policies toward North Korea). If the United States attacks Iraq (at the moment of this writing, there were some 130,000 US troops being amassed in the Gulf), this anti-American resentment will reach its new peak.

There is also little sign that the American public supports the Bush administration's foreign and national security policy—quite the contrary. According to the recent Chicago Council of Foreign Relations/German Marshall Fund of the United States survey of public opinion—and this was by far the best and most comprehensive of this highly reputable CCFR series—Americans do not support the "go it alone" unilateralism; in fact, the survey reveals strong multilateralism of the U.S. public. [7] The survey found that there was a very strong support for the United Nation, and for paying dues in full, contributing troops to a permanent rapid-deployment force, etc. A majority even supports direct taxing authority for the UN. There was also strong support for treaties, like Kyoto, International Criminal Court, land mines, and comprehensive test ban. The New York Times poll published in late January supports the conclusions of the CCFR survey.

So, this is why I am not worried, at the end of the day, about a new McCarthyism on campus.

I wonder what would have happened had Al Gore polled a few more votes in Florida two years ago or had the Supreme Court taken a different view of the Florida count. There would still be real differences over the Middle East, the environment, and Iraq, as there were during the Clinton years, but theyPage  127 would not be as severe as they are today. In other words, there was nothing inexorable in the after September 11th that pushed us in the direction of the sabre-rattling imperialism—except for the cast of characters who got put into place, with the help of the Supreme Court.

Even if the fundamental character of the university will stay the same, International Studies, however, will not. And I think this is where the comparison with the period after the start of the Cold War comes in handy. Area studies, somewhat reviled during the heady days of "border-crossing," is being revived, and just like it was a half century ago, with the help of the government. Studies of foreign languages, like Arabic, Pashto, Uzbek and other esoteric languages, are being encouraged, harkening back to the early stages of area studies when massive Ford Foundation—yes, the same Ford Foundation—funding created one area center after another, and a whole generation of scholars of areas, culture, and language came into being. This went hand in hand with the surge of classified research in the sciences and then in the social sciences.

In one sense the government sponsorship of area studies was a problem, in that scholars were expected to supply the government with information, whether through consultation with government agencies or through their published work. But in the end I don't think the problem was as severe as could have been. Because of the reasonably well-established sense of what is and is not proper in an academic setting, I think most scholars were able to situate intelligence and security concern where it belonged. Some area scholars, I know, routinely consulted with intelligence agencies, afraid that they would not have access to some coveted, classified information if they did not. But most did not.

Now, the U.S. government is gearing up to create area expertise that will be needed in the new century that is always looking like a very difficult one. The University of Michigan as the repository of various area expertise should be called upon to exercise leadership among the institutions of higher education. As we do so, however, we should always keep in our mind, as the authors of the position paper do, to maintain the academic and intellectual integrity of any projects that we undertake.

Let me close this talk with a couple of observations that relate to the "border-crossing" agenda of the International Institute. The border-crossing agenda was created during the heady days when promises of technology seemedPage  128 boundless, nations were—by and large—not at war with each other, and funding for globalization initiatives was abundant, thanks to the stock markets here and in Europe going through the roof. It is not surprising, therefore, that the agenda was long on the spatial and mechanical aspect of globalization, and not on the substantive aspect. The border-crossing agenda places a great deal of emphasis on communication, transference and translation of knowledge, and less on what is being communicated, transferred, and being grounded.

This century has opened on a note of stark danger, signaling terrific difficulties ahead. It is not just that the United States was subjected to terrorist attacks, but that the economic program that it has pushed around the world—the program of so-called "neoliberalism"—has failed to improve the living conditions of the world around the world. This economic program of the global era, just like the political program espoused by the current administration, had a "moral clarity." Every country should have, or aspire to have, the same kind of socio-economic institutions as the United States: institutions of free trade and free capital movement, flexible labor market, strong central bank, no industrial policy. The United States also sought to create in developing countries something that we lack: transparency in accounting, rule of law, and corporate reform to reduce moral hazards.

It would be safe to say that this agenda has failed around the world—in East Asia, in Latin America, and in Africa—because the fundamental problems that beset these countries have not been solved through "neoliberalism": economic inequality, lack of growth, absence of social welfare, terrible educational system.

The border-crossing agenda, as it stands, is about the promises of globalization, which is all very well. But it should also recognize the problems of globalization, and bring the resources of the University to understand, and contribute to solving, the problems that persist and/or increase in the course of globalization.

The last point I want to raise relates to the identity of the International Institute. When I read the mission statement of the International Institute and about its activities, my reaction is one of admiration. But I also ask myself whether, if we had blotted out the identity of the University, one could tell that these activities were unique to the International Institute at the University of Michigan. This institute could have existed in the East Coast or West Coast, orPage  129 it could have been in the Midwest. This may or may not be a problem. After all the University of Michigan is one of the few truly great American universities, and where it happens to be located may be immaterial.

Except it would be a pity not to capitalize on the advantage of being in the Midwest.

Living in Washington or Cambridge means never having to apologize for your parochial views; living somewhere in the netherworld of the famous New Yorker poster that begins the Westward optical perspective in New Jersey and ends it as quickly as possible in California, means always having to apologize, or to demonstrate one's bona fides in a manner satisfying to denizens of the Beltway, New York, or Cambridge—and never representing in any way the middle part of the country.

This is historically understandable in that when the Midwest did stand for something, it was limited government and isolationism; Roosevelt's New Deal vanquished both, and no substitute—no serious regional perspective—has surfaced since that victory half a century ago.

A key difference between the United States as the leading world power and former hegemonic powers (like England), is that it has a continental economy that historically was essentially self-sufficient, one that is not export-driven even today, and that is open and involved on both continental coasts. If the discourse of the 1940s to 1970s was Atlanticist (NATO, the "special relationship" with the U.K., a unifying Europe) and that of the 1970s-1990s expanded to include the Pacific Rim (always presented as an addition to or an alternative to the Atlanticist perspective), the truth of the next century is that the U.S. is both an Atlantic and a Pacific power: and in many ways this is its great and unmatched strength. We believe that the International Institute at the University of Michigan is uniquely positioned to bring the Atlantic and Pacific perspectives together in a coherent, unified understanding of America's role in the world.

What does it mean for the International Institute to be connected to both the Atlantic and Pacific perspectives, to be a truly global center in a region still characterized by its long-term parochialism? What difference does it make that we experience internationalization in Ann Arbor and not in Cambridge or Berkeley? Is there still a residue of isolationism, or was Midwestern isolationism misconstrued by the dominant paradigm of Atlanticism? Perhaps in an agePage  130 of homogenization there is nothing particularly different about living and working in Middle America. But these are some of the questions that I wish for the International Institute to consider.