Deepa Kumar’s immoral lies on women and Islam

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Deepa Kumar

Yesterday we met Deepa Kumar, a Rutgers professor who, four years after 9/11, two years after the massive terrorist attack on the Atocha train station in Madrid, and just months after the July 2005 bombings in London, published a long, ardent essay in Monthly Review because she was irate. Not at the terrorists, mind you, but at the people in the West who were – among other unspeakable things – drawing cartoons of Muhammed.

For academics like Kumar, pretty much everything that happens in the world is simple to understand because it all fits into a single overarching paradigm: on the one hand there are Western imperialists and oppressors, and on the other hand there are their victims. Even the most violent acts of Islamic terrorism are by definition always a response – and perhaps even a defensible one – to Western imperialism and oppression; even acts by Westerners that might seem relatively innocuous acts, such as drawing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammed, are absolutely reprehensible because what’s going on is that a member of the oppressor class is spitting on the oppressed – celebrating his own privilege and cruelly reminding the oppressed of their subservience.

In a later piece responding to critics of her first article, Kumar largely repeated her argument, but she did add something new. A few of her critics had dared to suggest that a key difference between the West and the Islamic world is that the former has undergone an Enlightenment and the latter has not. But Kumar, as it turned out, was not so hot on the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment, she claimed, had “laid the basis for racism”; among its “legacies” were “slavery, colonialism, and racism.” While the premises for the English, French, and American revolutions “were no doubt progressive,” she added, the capitalist systems they ushered in were not “based on equality, justice, or liberty.” So much, then, for the Enlightenment, in the view of Deepa Kumar.

Kumar then turned to the subject of women – while, curiously enough, avoiding any explicit mention of the fact that women, in most of the Islamic world, are (at best) second-class citizens, are treated as the property of men, and can be raped, subjected to clitoridectomies, forced into marriages, and even killed with total impunity. Kumar dropped all that, then, down the memory hole. By way of demonstrating, however, that women have it bad in the West, she noted that the state legislature of South Dakota had recently banned abortion. (True – although the law, as it happens, was overturned a few months later.)

Her point: “the idea that the Enlightenment magically emancipated women in the West is nonsense.” But of course nobody says that the Enlightenment instantly freed Western women from servitude; the point is that it introduced ideas about freedom, justice, and equality that eventually, and inevitably, eventuated in women’s liberation. But Kumar had an addition claim in regard to this topic: she insisted that America’s “rulers…have never cared about the rights of women right here in the U.S.; they are not going to suddenly start caring about women’s rights elsewhere.” In other words, anyone in a position of authority in the Western world who actually professes to be disturbed by the treatment of women under Islam is just pretending. This is a standard assertion among academic leftists – because it’s pretty much the only position they can take in response to arguments that they don’t care about the brutal abuses of Islam.

Is there more? Of course there is. Tune in tomorrow.

The Rutgers prof who declares Islam off-limits for humorists

“I’ve just about had it,” she wrote in February 2006. Across Europe and the Islamic world, Muslims were rioting, committing acts of vandalism, and murdering innocent people in supposed outrage over the publication by a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, of a set of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammed.

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Deepa Kumar

What was it that Deepa Kumar, an Assistant Professor of Journalism, Media Studies, and Middle East Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey, had just about had enough of? No, not the utterly irrational violence on the part of all those Muslims. She was, she explained, “sick and tired” of people on the left and in the U.S. antiwar movement who failed, in her view, “to defend Muslims against all the attacks they have faced both domestically and internationally.” She was incensed by what she described as “the steady rightward drift among sections of the left since 9/11 on the question of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism.” While antiwar Europeans were rallying “in solidarity with Muslims outraged over the cartoons,” she complained, their American counterparts had “done little.”

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Sasha Abramsky

She cited some specifics. In October 2005, Sasha Abramsky, writing in The Progressive, had argued “that Al Qaeda, a ‘classically imperialist’ force, must be vanquished by the West because it hates the best points of the West, in particular ‘the pluralism, the rationalism, individual liberty, the emancipation of women, the openness and social dynamism that represent the strongest legacy of the Enlightenment.’” Kumar wasn’t buying it: “Never mind that the emancipation of women is far from a done deal, or that even small gains like universal suffrage had to be fought for by workers, women, and minorities, hardly the ‘legacy’ of Enlightenment.”

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Christopher Fons

Equally appalling to her was Christopher Fons’s February 2006 article in Counterpunch, in which he dared to suggest that when Scandinavian social democracies open their borders to millions of immigrants with “backward ideas, like sexism, religious superstition, belief in inequality, etc.,” it could mean the end of equality and social democracy.

And then there was a Sydney Morning Herald piece (republished in Counterpunch in February 2005) in which Richard Neville defended the Danish cartoons and wondered aloud why the “rampaging Muslims are so angry.” After all, Christians don’t riot over cartoons mocking their religion. A very irate Kumar had an answer to that: “making fun of Islam is not the same as making fun of Christianity.” Why? Because “Islam and Christianity do not occupy an equal position in a world dominated by US imperialism.” You can’t talk about “equal-opportunity” humor, she maintained, “when you are talking about oppressed and disempowered people, who do not have equal access to the mass media.” Bottom line: “Jokes are political. The jokes of the dominant poking fun at the marginalized, unlike those of the powerless satirizing the powerful, are a way of communicating to the world, first of all to the marginalized themselves: their oppression is acceptable…even funny.”

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Richard Neville

All this may sound ridiculous in the real world, but in much of the American academy it’s sheer common sense, the product of a postmodern academic ideology which sees all interactions in human society as boiling down to the relationship between groups – power vs. powerless, oppressor vs. oppressed. In today’s world, moreover, oppression only works one way. Europeans, people of European descent, Christians, the West, Israel: no matter what the facts on the ground may be, these folks are always the oppressors, the imperialists, the powerful. People of color, Muslims, Arabs, blacks, and so on: these are always the oppressed, the victims, the powerless. Even if the President of the U.S. is black, in some sense he remains an oppressed individual, while an unemployed white coal miner in West Virginia is his oppressor. Similarly, Muslims in the Islamic world who, in reality, viciously oppress the Christians and Jews in their midst are viewed by Kumar and her ilk as being oppressed by those whom they beat, abuse, torture, and murder.

But Kumar had only just started down this road. More tomorrow.

Drexel’s hypocrisy on Ciccariello-Maher

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George Ciccariello-Maher

This week we’ve been looking at the tragic ordeal of Drexel University professor George Ciccariello-Maher. Taking to Twitter this past Christmas Eve, he made what he later defended as an innocent joke – to be specific, he said that all he wanted for Christmas is the genocide of whites (what could be funnier?) – and, inexplicably, all kinds of people actually got upset. For a minute there, it looked as if poor George might actually lose his job as a punishment for his charmingly humorous tweet. How could the students at Drexel survive without his wit?

As it turned out, however, Ciccariello-Maher had nothing to worry about. After all, as an incendiary far-left ideologue, he was – so far as his profession was concerned – on the side of the angels. We’ve already seen the vigorous defenses of him by writers at Slate and elsewhere. In addition, over 9,000 people signed a petition telling Drexel “that racist trolls deserve no platform in dictating academic discourse, let alone the off-duty tweets of academics.” Unsurprisingly, then, only four days after promising an investigation, Drexel backed down. University president John A. Fry and provost M. Brian Blake signed their names to a statement describing Ciccariello-Maher’s “joke” as an example of “protected speech” and declared that he was in the clear. Such episodes, affirmed Fry and Blake, “both test and strengthen Drexel’s fundamental dedication to the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression.”

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Lukas Mikelionis

We don’t disagree with Drexel’s decision. Freedom of speech is a paramount American value. What’s deplorable is the university’s utter lack of consistency – its absolute hypocrisy – on this question. As Lukas Mikelionis pointed out at Heat Street, “While Drexel insists on granting free speech privileges to its professors, the faculty has been applying a different set of rules for their students.” For example, Drexel students aren’t allowed to post items on campus that, in the university’s own words, “may be viewed as demeaning or degrading to a person or group of persons.” Among the kinds of student behavior that Drexel views as actionable harassment are the telling of “denigrating jokes” or “written or graphic material” that “shows hostility or aversion toward an individual or group.” Even “inappropriately directed laughter,” whatever that may be, is considered a kind of harassment. Mikelionis further noted that Drexel is “one of the few universities in the country that expects trigger warnings in classes. According to the policy, ‘It is expected that instructors will offer appropriate warning and accommodation regarding the introduction of explicit and triggering materials used.’”

So Ciccariello-Maher’s career is safe. Indeed, all this fuss will probably end up having been a plus. His name recognition in the academy has skyrocketed, and he’ll now be able to label himself as a victim of today’s McCarthyites. On January 3, his latest book, Building the Commune, received a glowing review at Venezuela Analysis, a website that claims to have been providing “continuous, nuanced, grassroots-based reporting analysis from the ground” in the Bolivarian Republic while “the international media” has been “projecting a hysterical narrative of Venezuela’s catastrophic collapse.” Venezuela may be going down the tubes, but for Ciccariello-Maher everything’s coming up  roses.  

Ciccariello-Maher: the comrades weigh in

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George Ciccariello-Maher

“All I want for Christmas is White Genocide.” With that Christmas Eve tweet, George Ciccariello-Maher, a Professor of Politics and Global Studies at Drexel University in Philadelphia, started a firestorm of controversy. Plenty of conservative, moderate, and libertarian professors have gotten themselves in hot water because of public statements that might have sounded eminently reasonable or commonsensical to the general public but that, in the eyes of their academic confreres, were crying out for censure. The difference with Ciccariello-Maher is that he earned his instant nationwide notoriety as the result of a statement that put him at the very extreme edge of the far left. For faculty members around the country, this made him not a pariah but a hero.

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Amber A’Lee Frost

At Current Affairs, a self-identified “left-wing policy journal,” Amber A’Lee Frost began her defense of Ciccariello-Maher with a simple confession: “I do not like George Ciccariello-Maher.” She met him, she recalled, “probably through some ridiculous ultra-leftist Facebook group,” and found him “very rude and condescending.” And she went on:

He felt the need to “warn” me about my more “problematic” friends, which I consider a sort of sexist paternalism. I didn’t like his politics, which I found shallow and histrionic, or his passive aggression, which I found cowardly.

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Drexel University

But Frost asserted that “none of this matters, because George is under attack.” She proceeded to join him in blaming the public outrage over his tweet on “right-wing media opportunists.” “The hysteria of reactionaries,” she wrote, “is nothing new.” Drexel’s criticism of Ciccariello-Maher constitute “a ridiculous breach of both academic freedom and free speech.” Bizarre statements in an era when the academy is famous for its hysterical readiness to crush faculty and students alike who have been accused of saying or doing things perceived as violating left-wing orthodoxy. It is a well-known fact that many university campuses – and Drexel is assuredly one of them – have long since ceased being free-speech zones. Has Ciccariello-Maher ever criticized that? Has Frost?

No matter. Frost went on about “solidarity” and the “shared struggle for dignity, liberation and rights” among those involved in “the work of left politics.” And she concluded: “We at Current Affairs stand with George Ciccariello-Maher without qualification or reservation, and we believe he would do the same for us. We’re with you, comrade. Don’t let the bastards get you down.”

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Mike King

At the wacky far-left rag Counterpunch, Mike King was even more supportive, describing Ciccariello-Maher as “a colleague, co-author and personal friend” who “has always excelled at exposing and challenging injustices in sharp, uncompromising terms that highlight hypocrisy with passionate and often blunt wit.” In a true Alice-through-the-looking-glass moment, King charged that we live in a time of “insidious” McCarthyite “Red-baiting” by purveyors of “overt racism” such as Fox News and Breitbart – bigots who were now seeking “to undermine a vibrant anti-racist voice and celebrated decolonial writer while further legitimating fantasies of institutionalized anti-white bias and persecution.” At Slate, Matthew Dessem blamed the dust-up over Ciccariello-Maher’s white-supremacist tweet on “the internet’s worst people.” As for Ciccariello-Maher’s statement that the massacre of whites during the Haitian Revolution was a good thing, Dessem sought to explain it this way: “In context, it seems clear that he was tweaking white supremacists for their repurposing of the term white genocide, which is disingenuously invoked nowadays to pretend that uncontroversial things like interracial dating are as threatening as the slaughter that took place in Haiti in 1804. But Ciccariello-Maher’s tweets were as good a reason for a witch hunt as any, and what better time to hunt witches than Christmas?”

So what happened to Ciccariello-Maher? We’ll wrap up tomorrow.

George Ciccariello-Maher: joking about genocide

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George Ciccariello-Maher

His name: George Ciccariello-Maher. Until recently, as we saw yesterday, he was climbing smoothly up the academic ladder, thanks to a canny habit of churning up precisely the right kind of politically correct hogwash – much, if not most, of it in praise of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela.

Then, this past Christmas Eve, he sent out the following tweet: “All I Want for Christmas is White Genocide.”

That would likely have been enough to win him the attention he ended up receiving. But that was just part of it. On Christmas Day, he also took to Twitter to praise the “massacre of whites.” Just in case you wondered which massacre of whites he was referring to, he offered the following: “To clarify: when the whites were massacred during the Haitian Revolution, that was a good thing indeed.” (Just to clarify further, the number of whites slaughtered in that revolt was somewhere in the range of 4,000.) All this, moreover, came only a couple of weeks after Cicariello-Maher had issued this confession, also via the same social network: “Sorry, I’m not ‘alt-left,’ just an actual communist.”

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A contemporary rendering of Toussiant L’Ouverture, leader of the Haitian Revolution

When challenged by one of his Twitter followers about his genocide tweet, Cicariello-Maher pretended he’d been kidding: “LOL I was hacked I swear.” But then the word spread. Others checked out his Twitter feed. The genocide tweet went viral. It got the criticism it deserved. He deleted it and blocked his account.

But it was too late. Reacting to the public outcry, his employers at Drexel University weighed in with a statement acknowledging faculty members’ “right…to freely express their thoughts and opinions in public debate,” but added that his comments were “utterly reprehensible, deeply disturbing, and [did] not in any way reflect the values of the University.” The press release added that Drexel was “taking this situation very seriously” and that it had already arranged a meeting with the good professor “to discuss this matter in detail.”

When contacted by Inside Higher Ed, Cicariello-Maher, not sounding remotely contrite, defended his tweet as a “satirical” commentary on “an imaginary concept, ‘white genocide.’” Climbing on his academic high horse, he sneered: “For those who haven’t bothered to do their research, ‘white genocide’ is an idea invented by white supremacists and used to denounce everything from interracial relationships to multicultural policies….It is a figment of the racist imagination, it should be mocked, and I’m glad to have mocked it.” (Presumably Inside Higher Ed didn’t ask him whether he also considers the massacre of whites during the Haitian Revolution imaginary.) Instead of being moved to apologize, he added insult to injury, attributing the widespread fury over his tweet to “white supremacists.” Because if you take offense at a tweet about white genocide you obviously must be a white supremacist.

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Another one of his books

He also shot back at his employers, calling their statement “worrying” because, by calling his tweets “reprehensible,” they had effectively caved in “to the truly reprehensible movements and organizations that I was critiquing.” Drexel’s press release, he added, had sent “a chilling message” and set “a frightening precedent” by suggesting that “untenured and temporary faculty” were subject “to internal disciplinary scrutiny” and allowing outside “harassment” to dictate university policy. Of course, colleges like Drexel routinely demonize, censor, and punish faculty and students who diverge from the lockstep PC line; for the likes of Ciccariello-Maher, however, such official condemnation is only “chilling” and “frightening” when the targets are extreme leftists such as himself. “White supremacy is on the rise,” he warned, “and we must fight it by any means. In that fight, universities will need to choose whether they are on the side of free expression and academic debate, or on the side of the racist mob.”

Fortunately for Ciccariello-Maher, many of his fellow academic leftists were eager to stand up for him. We’ll get to that tomorrow.

George Ciccariello-Maher, tenured radical

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George Ciccariello-Maher

Until just a few weeks ago, George Ciccariello-Maher had a dream career in the academy. In 2010, after studying government and political science at St. Lawrence University, Cambridge, and Berkeley, he had neatly settled into a sinecure at Philadelphia’s Drexel University, where he was Associate Professor of Politics and Global Studies.

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One of Ciccariello-Maher’s books

He’d published precisely the kind of stuff you need to produce in order to attain such an exalted position: in addition to articles for such far-left journals as Monthly Review and Radical Philosophy Review and for such equally “progressive” general-audience outlets as The Nation, Salon, and Counterpunch, he’d written a couple of book-length billets-doux to chavismo entitled We Created Chávez: A People’s History of the Venezuelan Revolution (2013) and Building the Commune: Radical Democracy in Venezuela (2016). He also had a third tome – ready to be published this year – with the delectably postmodern title of Decolonizing Dialectics. As if all this weren’t impressive enough, he was co-editor of a new book series called Radical Américas. And most of this stuff bore the colophon of the today’s top academic publisher, Duke University Press, which may well be responsible for the dissemination of more pretentious, politically radical gibberish than any other such establishment on the planet.

As indicated by his choice of book topics, Ciccariello-Maher was especially enamored of Venezuela – or, more specifically, of what Hugo Chávez did to it. His several articles on the subject in Jacobin Magazine (self-described as “a leading magazine of the American left”) have offered little in the way of original reporting, acute observation, or incisive analysis, but have made up for those failings by being fervently on the right – which is to say, the left.

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Frantz Fanon

His formula: one part glib mockery of hard-working, middle-class Venezuelans who were justifiably alarmed to see an economically illiterate socialist ideologue dragging their country’s economy into the toilet (and whom Ciccariello-Maher ridiculed, perversely, for their excellent, unaccented English); one part equally glib enthusiasm for working-class chavistas rooted not in any real concern for or understanding of their specific plight but, rather, in his own coldblooded ideological imperatives and in an inane romantic association of their role with that of the sans culottes in the French Revolution of 1789 (without a trace of irony, Ciccariello-Maher praised these revolutionaries as “proudly violent”); all tossed lightly and mixed in with plentiful admiring references to Frantz Fanon, whose 1961 book The Wretched of the Earth, with its sympathy for underclass violence and the wholesale destruction of bourgeois values and wealth (not to mention bourgeois men and women) influenced such heroes of the earth’s wretched influenced (among others) Che Guevara and Black Panthers leader Eldridge Cleaver and is one of the founding texts of today’s pernicious academic postmodernism.

In short, Ciccariello-Maher had made splendid use of his sympathy (faux or not) for the downtrodden peasants of Venezuela to make a lucrative career for himself in the academia norteamericana. But then he did something that put all of it at risk.

He sent out a tweet.

More tomorrow.

Will Samsung’s Lee be in handcuffs tomorrow?

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Samsung headquarters in Seoul

When we last left our South Korean friends in the Blue House and the chaebol boardrooms, the probe into Samsung’s cash transfers to foundations linked to presidential chum Choi Soon-sil – apparently in exchange for support for a merger between two Samsung subsidiaries – had entered a new phase. Documents had been confiscated at several locations, including the homes of several Samsung executives; the independent counsel had issued an arrest warrant for Choi’s daughter; and Samsung vice-chairman Lee Jae-yong, who is the firm’s de facto top dog and the son of its founder and chairman, Lee Kung-hee, had been barred from leaving the country.

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Lee Jae-yong

The latest update came on Monday in the Wall Street Journal. The special prosecutors, reported Eun-Young Jeong, Jonathan Cheng, and Timothy W. Martin, were seeking an arrest warrant for Lee on charges of bribery, embezzlement, and perjury. In order to be able to issue the warrant, they need to solicit approval from a South Korean court, which is scheduled to hold a hearing tomorrow to entertain that request. If approval is granted, Lee – who spent 22 hours last week being interrogated – will be taken into custody while the prosecutors continue to pursue their investigation. Samsung was quick to reply to the prosecutors’ request for an arrest warrant, repeating previous denials that it had made contributions in exchange for favors or made any “improper requests related to the merger of Samsung affiliates or the leadership transition.”

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Lee Kun-hee

The Journal noted that if Lee is indeed incarcerated for any length of time, the conglomerate “could face a leadership vacuum while smartphone maker Samsung Electronics Co. is also reeling from a massive recall of its Galaxy Note 7 device. It could also put on hold any further attempts to reorganize one of the world’s most complex business empires.” Indeed, it would almost certainly have a significant impact on the South Korean economy, given that Samsung alone, as the Journal pointed out, “accounts for nearly one-third of South Korea’s stock-market value.”

Meanwhile President Park Geun-hye’s fate also lies in the balance. Last month the National Assembly voted to impeach her, and the Constitutional Court is debating whether to unseat her from the office she has held since February 2013. If the evidence proves that Lee is guilty of the charges leveled against him, it is more likely that the same evidence will help convict Park as well.

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Park Geun-hye

It should be underscored that the current Samsung probe is far from the first to target one of the chaebol – the massive, family-run conglomerates that have formed the foundation of the postwar South Korean economy. Over the years, other chaebol executives – including Lee’s father, who reportedly pocketed $8.9 billion in Samsung funds – have been indicted and convicted on corruption charges. But almost all of them have received presidential pardons that kept them out of jail. The history of brazen, high-level corruption at the conglomerates has underscored the special privileges enjoyed by the clans that own and run them as well as the intimate, one-hand-washes-the-other relationship that has long existed between them and the office of the president.

This time, however, the story may take a fresh turn: the #1 man at the nation’s #1 company may end up going down for good, and when he does, he may very well take the president down with him. Stay tuned.