During the last two days we’ve been looking at sociology professor Johnny EricTrin Williams, who, in June, over two decades after earning his Ph.D., finally did something to attract notice beyond the Hartford, Connecticut, campus of Trinity College, where he teaches: he wrote a couple of tweets in which he basically called for race war.
One thing that’s interesting about working on this website is how you keep running into the same people. Googling away for clues to Williams’s past, we found very little – let’s just say he’s not exactly ambitious or prolific – but one thing we did run across was a document that linked Williams to a couple of our old pals on this site, namely world-class race hustler Cornel West, who is currently on the Harvard faculty, and Bob Avakian, head of the Communist Party USA. The document was a statement by an organization calling itself “Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal.”
Mumia, of course, is a former Black Panther and cop-killer who was sentenced to death in 1982, whereupon bien pensant types around the world rallied to his support, presenting his conviction as a symbol of American injustice and racism and campaigning to have his sentence commuted to life imprisonment. That effort eventually bore fruit in 2001; Mumia is now serving a life sentence in a Pennsylvania prison.
But on to the statement by the “Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal,” or EMAJ for short. The statement was critical of a November 15, 2014, event at New York’s Riverside Church, where Avakian and West discussed “Revolution and Religion: The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion.” EMAJ, which noted that it had “supported the event beforehand,” was nonetheless unhappy with the discussion because of its “singular focus on one predominating voice, of its disrespect for black radical leadership and all leaders of color, and of its failure to uphold the radical democratic values needed in revolutionary movements.”
In other words, West and Avakian, the latter of whom, at least, is an advocate of violent, murderous totalitarian revolution in the United States, were not radical enough for the members of EMAJ. The EMAJ statement went on to quote an essay by Mumia and Angela Davis, who, as we’ve seen on this site, was an accessory to murder. The essay envisioned “a socialist future” that would involve “the abolition of institutions that advance the dominance of any one group over any other”; in writing their essay, they drew on “Black, indigenous and other traditions.”
This, complained the EMAJ, was something that West and Avakian, but mainly Avakian, had failed to do at the Riverside event. In the view of EMAJ, Avakian, who is white, had taken up too much time, which “was disrespectful of Dr. West,” who is black. To EMAJ, this amounted to “an implicit racism” and a sense of “white privilege and white supremacy.” EMAJ condemned “what we witnessed at Riverside: one white revolutionary lecturing for more than two hours while a Black revolutionary sat on the stage. This is not what revolution looks like in the U.S.”
The EMAJ statement was signed by fifteen individuals, most of whose listed affiliations with academic institutions – among them Evergreen State College, Columbia University, and Union and Princeton theological seminaries. Williams was one of them. This, then, is the kind of nonsense in which he has been involved in recent years when he might have been engaged in serious sociological research.
Oh, well. The good news is that on June 26, the president of Trinity College put Williams on a leave of absence for his racist Facebook and Twitter posts. The bad news: the American Association of University Professors criticized Trinity for violating Williams’s “academic freedom” we suspect he’ll be back soon enough. Colleagues, too, rallied around Williams. From Inside HigherEd: “Matthew Hughey, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut and friend of Williams’s, said he ‘was merely the latest target of a campaign by the right-wing white supremacist outrage machine with the goal of silencing academics’ working to eliminate oppression.” (We’ve previously discussed Hughey on this site, by the way.) Our guess: Williams will be back in the classroom soon enough, likely doubling down on his hatred and infecting heaven knows how many students with it.
Yesterday we met Johnny Eric Williams, a sociology professor at Trinity College in Hartford who in June posted some virulently anti-white comments online.
Who is Johnny Eric Williams? His bio has been scrubbed from the Trinity College website, but according to a bio at the Springfield Institute, where he is a member of the board of directors, he received an B.A. from Ouachita Baptist University in 1984, an M.A. from the University of Arkansas in 1986, and another M.A. (1990) and a Ph.D. (in 1995) from Brandeis. Williams’s book African-American Religion and the Civil Rights Movement in Arkansas was published by the University Press of Mississippi in 2003, and he’s written for “media outlets such as Black Agenda Report, Racism Review, CounterPunch, Ctnewsjunkie.com and The Mark News (Toronto, Canada).”
Let’s just say that that’s a pretty unimpressive CV. Eleven years from B.A. to a Ph.D. in sociology? One book, published by a decidedly minor university press? A handful of articles posted at radical websites? Not a single publication in a serious scholarly journal?
Briefly put, Williams doesn’t seem to have left much of a mark on the world prior to the current controversy. We did manage to track down an account of a previous controversy in which he figured. In 2008, an anonymous blogger wrote about being a guest lecturer at Trinity “some years” earlier. During the time the blogger was at Trinity, a controversy erupted there over a racist remark that appeared on a campus-related website. The blogger recalled that Williams, an “oh-so-PC prof,” took the lead in organizing a protest. Williams claimed, according to the blogger,
that because he is black “I’m uncomfortable all the the time on this goddamned campus.” To prove how uncomfortable he feels he referred to a handful of minor incidents over a 13 year period. There was some racist graffiti left on a tennis court, rude messages written outside some dorm rooms and students in Halloween costume which Williams found offensive. None of this comes close to a real violation of rights. But apparently it is enough for Prof. Williams to feel uncomfortable “all the time.”
The blogger noted that Williams, at the time, was teaching a course entitled “Race, Racism & Democracy,” which examined “ethnicity and race as reactionary and revolutionary ideologies,” and another course, “Race and Ethnicity,” in which he discussed “persistent and perpetual forms of racial oppression” and illuminated how “the structure and process of politics govern…the everyday lives of oppressed racial groups in capitalist democracies.”
What emerged from the blogger’s recollections of Williams was a portrait of a classic race hustler. (Incidentally, the blogger noted that the online racist comment that had triggered the campus controversy turned out – as is so often the case in such situations – to have been the work of a black student – who claimed that she had posted the comment in order “to ‘test’ the real racial feelings on campus.”)
We’ve found out a bit more about Williams. We’ll get to that tomorrow.
Another day, another American professor who turns out to be consumed with a hate-filled ideology that threatens to poison the minds of his students.
On June 16, Johnny Eric Williams, who teaches sociology at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, shared on Facebook an article from the Medium website entitled “Let Them F***ing Die.” The article (written by someone styling himself “Son of Baldwin”) consisted of a set of reflections inspired by the attempted mass murder of those Republican Congressmen by a former Bernie Sanders volunteer. Noting that Steve Scalise, the wounded GOP whip, is an opponent of gay marriage and that one of the two cops who saved his life was a lesbian named Crystal Griner, “Son of Baldwin” pondered the question: “What does it mean, in general, when victims of bigotry save the lives of bigots?”
“Son of Baldwin,” who is apparently a gay black man, chided people like Griner who, despite being members of groups that are the objects of widespread bigotry, “think being the kind of thing that would sacrifice our lives for the very people who would reflexively slit our throats to create a fountain from which to drink our blood is noble.” Such minority-group members, he wrote, “imagine…that by becoming a shining example of this ‘righteous’ behavior, we might, somehow, guide these cannibals into becoming upright beings capable of following the very rules they enforce upon us.” This, “Son of Baldwin” asserted, is a misguided view. Instead of saving bigots, he wrote, people like Griner should let them die. He spelled out his point at length:
If you see them drowning.
If you see them in a burning building.
If they are teetering on the edge of a cliff….[and so on]
Let. Them. Fucking. Die.
And smile a bit when you do.
Sharing this article on Facebook, Williams used the hashtag “#LetThenF***ingDie.”
Two days after posting the link, Williams returned to his computer and banged out a couple of tweets in the same vein:
I’m fed the f*** up with self-identified ‘white’s’ daily violence directed at immigrants, Muslims, and sexual and racially oppressed people. The time is now to confront these inhuman assholes and end this now.
It is past time for the racially oppressed to do what people who believe themselves to be ‘white’ will not do, put end to the vectors of their destructive mythology of whiteness and their white supremacy system. #LetThenF***ingDie
Williams’s actions caused so much uproar that the powers that be at Trinity felt compelled to close the campus for the day on June 22.
Who is Johnny E. Williams? We’ll answer that tomorrow.
We recently covered the story of Olga Perez Stable Cox, a teacher of Human Sexuality at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California, who got her fifteen minutes of fame back in December when a videotape of one her classroom rants was posted online. The subject of the rant was Donald Trump, whom she called a “white supremacist,” whose election she described as an act of terrorism, and whose supporters, including some of her own students, she had done her best to try to humiliate, calling on Trump voters in the classroom “to stand up and show the rest of the class who to watch out for and protect yourself from.” Several of Cox’s students later told the media that such rants on her part were a frequent occurrence, and that her goal was plainly not to engage students in constructive dialogue but to “bash” and “belittle” Trump supporters and paint every one of them as “an LGBT community hating white supremacist.”
After the video went viral, the university administration and faculty snapped into action. No, they didn’t punish Cox – they went after freshman Caleb O’Neil, who had taken the video. The teacher’s union threatened to sue him; the school threatened to suspend him. (In fact, he was suspended, although, thanks probably to the international media attention, his suspension was later rescinded.) For her part, Cox, far from expressing any remorse or showing any sign of self-reflection, took her ranting public, insisting that she was the victim her, that she was the one who was being bullied, and that the students who were complaining about her classroom behavior were “part of a national campaign to intimidate liberal professors.”
Well, guess what? There’s more news from the Cox front. On March 28, Peter Holley reported in the Washington Post that Cox has now been named Orange Coast College’s Faculty Member of the Year.
Holley’s own account of the videotape episode was outrageously slanted, implicitly affirming Cox’s own view of herself as a victim of a conservative conspiracy. Cox, he wrote, “had come to embody everything that many conservatives despise about higher education”: she was “openly gay” and “pushed conventional boundaries” in her sexuality classes. Sorry, but in today’s academy there’s nothing surprising about an openly gay professor talking frankly about sexuality, especially when the subject of the class is Sexuality Studies. (To be sure, Holley also mentioned that Cox had called Trump’s election an “act of terrorism,” but this seemed a mere footnote: as Holley framed it, Cox had been a thorn in many reactionaries’ sides for a long time, simply because she was gay and talked about sex.)
Holley, who actually described Cox as a “beloved professor,” also accepted as factual her unsubstantiated claim that she had been “forced to flee her home in December after her provocative comments about Trump’s election went viral, unleashing a flood of hate-filled emails that included violent threats.” (Note that Holley doesn’t describe Cox’s own remarks about her Trump-supporting students as “hate-filled.”) Holley quoted some epithets from the emails Cox had received: they included “libtard,” “Marxist,” “nut case,” “vile leftist filth” and a “satanic cult member.” The implication here is that such language was out of line; it doesn’t seem to occur to Holley that when you call an election an “act of terrorism” and a president a “white supremacist” you have to expect to get as good as you give. Holley quotes Rob Schneiderman, head of the local teachers’ union (which is apparently largely responsible for her award), as calling Cox “a dynamic and inspirational professor” and echoing Cox’s line that she, not pro-Trump students, was the victim of “bullying and intolerance and scapegoating.” But although Holley mentions Caleb O’Neil in passing, he omits to recount the vicious effort by Cox’s union and the school administration to destroy the student’s academic career.
Wrote Holley toward the end of his article: “Schneiderman said the Faculty Member of the Year award is meant to highlight Cox’s dedicated approach to her students and their well-being.” The unintended irony would be funny if it weren’t so thoroughly appalling.
So far this week we’ve met a couple of college professors who, not realizing they were being videotaped, browbeat their students after Donald Trump’s election victory – and ended up going viral. Today we’ll pay a quick visit to an academic who went public himself with his reaction to the election results.
His name: Matthew Hughey. An Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut (he’s also on the Adjunct Faculty of the Africana Studies Institute and American Studies Program), he’s written several books with titles like The White Savior Film; Race and Ethnicity in Secret and Exclusive Social Orders; White Bound: Nationalists, Antiracists, and the Shared Meanings of Race; The Obamas and a (Post) Racial America?; and 12 Angry Men: True Stories of Being a Black Man in America Today.
Plainly, the red thread running through his work is race. According to him, all of his scholarship is guided by a single question: “What is the relationship between the heterogeneous interpretations of race and the long-term staying power of racism and racial inequality?” We’re not sure that we entirely understand this question, but let’s not allow that to distract us. In order to probe his guiding question, Hughey explains, he studies “race and ethnicity as a dynamic and ongoing practice with an emphasis on racism, meaning-making, and asymmetrical relations of power.” So race and ethnicity are practices? Or, rather, a practice? Welcome to academia. “A thorough scholastic comprehension of race,” Hughey maintains, “must move beyond views of static identities or ideologies. Rather, an understanding of the processes and contexts that produce race, how race is imbued with particular meanings, and how race constrains and enables pathways of human action and order, is necessary.”
Um, what? Hold on, his next paragraph is quite a bit clearer:
I situate my worldview against concepts of social life that are entirely individualistic and which analyze society only in terms of psychological make-up, skills, and atomistic behaviors. These assumptions gesture toward a belief that social structures will magically change via one’s hard work, good intentions, or education. History affords too many examples of participation by the “righteous,” “educated,” and “hard-working” in structures of oppression to allow any objective observer of social life to accept that notion that equitable or just social arrangements are based entirely on the redemption of the individual without direct attention to external social forces.
Simply put: black people are still held back by racism, no matter how skilled they are and how hard they work. There’s a degree of truth in this, of course. Prejudice has held back all kinds of people in every society throughout human history. The main point, however, should be that America today is less racist than virtually any country at any time, ever. Four years ago, as it happens, the World Values Survey found that the U.S. is one of the least racist countries on earth. Check out this map, which suggests that a serious, scrupulous scholar who was genuinely interested in exploring racism would do far better to study India, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Nigeria, Indonesia – in fact almost anywhere outside of the Americas, the Anglosphere, and Scandinavia – than to focus on the U.S.
But to the likes of Hughey, racism in the above-named countries – racism everywhere other than in the West – is invisible. Or irrelevant. Or, perhaps, attributable, via some contorted academic logic, to Western colonialism and/or American imperialism. For the whole point of the kind of “scholarship” that people like Hughey pursue is to prove, for the millionth time, that America is Ground Zero for all human iniquity. Again, yes, there is abundant iniquity in the U.S. But there’s more of it almost everywhere else on the planet. And to ignore that fact as systematically as Hughey and other academics in the social sciences do today is to give a pass to a great deal of outright evil.
Which brings us to Hughey’s take on Donald Trump’s election. He wasn’t happy with it, of course – and he blamed it on (what else?) white supremacism. When confronted on this assertion by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Hughey readily added that Trump’s ascendancy was also the fault of three other vices: sexism, heteronormativity, and capitalism. But the main cause of Trump’s win, he insisted, was race – because America is and has always been afflicted by white supremacy. There was, to be sure, one little detail Hughey didn’t explain: how had an electorate so thoroughly and permanently poisoned by a white supremacist mentality managed to elect a black man to the presidency twice in a row?
Yesterday we discussed David Parry, an obscure professor at an obscure Philadelphia university, who earned his 15 minutes of fame recently after one of his students posted on You Tube a covert video of him subjecting a class to an unhinged political rant.
Parry’s not alone. On the other side of the country, at Orange Coast College – a two-year institution in Costa Mesa, California – an instructor whom nobody has ever heard of made headlines for doing exactly the same thing. The only differences are that (a) her rant was even worse than his and (b) she’s perhaps even more obscure than he is. In fact, you could copy her “bio” page at the college’s website onto the back of your hand. “This is my 30th year at OCC! I love teaching!” it begins. (What is it about these mediocre community-college teachers and exclamation points?) “I was born in Habana Cuba and immigrated to the U.S. when I was 10 years old,” she writes. (Yes, she spells it “Habana” and doesn’t use commas around the word “Cuba.”) “I am the oldest of 4 children. I lived in Philadelphia, New York, and Idaho prior to moving to Southern California in 1967.” Her education: a 1973 B.A. in sociology from Cal State Fullerton and a 1975 M.A. in Marriage, Family, and Child Counseling from Chapman College (now Chapman University).
Her name is Olga Perez Stable Cox, and here’s what happened: in December, she took time out of a Human Sexuality class to tell her students that the then President-elect, Donald Trump, is a “white supremacist,” and that Mike Pence, the Vice President-elect, is “one of the most antigay humans in this country.” Cox called their election “an act of terrorism” – thereby providing a perfect example of the radical left’s readiness to excuse actual acts of violence and terrorism while describing mere statements or policies or election results that they don’t like as acts of violence and terrorism. “We have been assaulted,” she maintained, and it was clear who the “we” were and who had done the assaulting. It’s “frightening,” she went on to say, that Trump voters “are among us” – that they include “people in our families and our circle of friends.”
One of Cox’s students, freshman Caleb O’Neil, videotaped her rant, then took it to the College Republicans club, which posted it online. Cox’s rant made the local news. Joshua Recalde Martinez, the president of the club, told a reporter the obvious: this wasn’t education but indoctrination.
Did Cox apologize? No, she complained to her union – which called the video a “setup,” described O’Neil’s action as “unethical,” and threatened him with legal action. Shawn Steel, an attorney who volunteered to represent the College Republicans pro bono, told the local news that just as Cox had bullied her students, her union’s leaders, too, were “acting like bullies…like thugs.” So were the college administrators, who threatened O’Neil with suspension. The college president, Dennis Harkins, issued a feeble statement declaring that “the college encourages discourse” as long as it’s “in context.”
We’ve devoted this week to Mark Weisbrot, who for years has served as an economic advisor to and ardent defender of the most notorious, incompetent, and corrupt regimes in South America. Since he’s the founder and grand poobah of something called the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), it’s not unreasonable to ask a few questions. For example: who, exactly, is providing the funds to pay Weisbrot’s salary and keep his “center” afloat? And who are the other powerhouses who make up this “center,” which represents itself as a hotbed of serious economic analysis?
Well, as it turns out, most of CEPR’s staffers and directors have more of a background in organized left-wing activism on issues like global warming and women’s rights than in economics. No fewer than three members of CEPR’s small staff (John Schmitt, Deborah James, and Alexander Main) used to work for the “Information Office” of the Venezuelan government – which isn’t exactly famous for its world-class economic acumen. As for CEPR’s “board of directors,” it includes Filipino congressman Walden Bello, a critic of capitalism and globalization who’s written such books as Capitalism’s Last Stand?: Deglobalization in the Age of Austerity (2013). In a piece on free trade, Bello put the word “free” in scare quotes. In November 2010, Bello called Néstor Kirchner “remarkable,” “an exemplary figure in the Global South when it came to dealing with international financial institutions.” Pronounced Bello: “Along with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Lula of Brazil, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Kirchner was one of several remarkable leaders that the crisis of neoliberalism produced in Latin America.”
Also on the CEPR’s board is Julian Bond, an activist and former NAACP head who’s compared the Tea Party to the Taliban. Neither Bello nor Bond is a trained economist. The most familiar name on the list is Danny Glover – yes, that Danny Glover, of Lethal Weapon fame, whose love for Hugo Chávez, for Fidel Castro, and for Communism generally we’ve already discussed on this site. Needless to say, Glover isn’t an economist either.
Then there’s CEPR’s International Communications Director, Dan Beeton. In August 2014, he wrote a paean to Cristina Kirchner’s newly appointed Minister of the Economy that read less like the work of a sober economist than of an overly gushing publicist. Excerpt: “Alex Kicillof, the telegenic economy minister famous for his Elvis-style sideburns, has emerged on the international stage as a heroic figure championing the Argentine people. Kicillof is perhaps reminiscent of another bold, young economy minister in a different South American country: Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, whose public sparring with the World Bank in 2005 helped to launch his political career.”
Finally, check out CEPR staffer Robert Naiman, who, after Néstor Kirchner’s death, eulogized him at the Daily Kos website for “defying Washington and the International Monetary Fund.” Naiman also recommended Oliver Stone’s documentary South of the Border, which represented Kirchner as a hero – and which, as we’ve seen, was written by Weisbrot. Who’s Naiman? In addition to his work at CEPR and his writing for sites like Daily Kos and the Huffington Post, he’s served as Policy Director for a website called “Just Foreign Policy,” and as head of the board of the “progressive” news website Truthout, as a member of the steering committee of Gaza’s Ark (which is all about repeatedly violating Israel’s sea blockade of the Palestinian territories).
Let’s start with the highlights of her CV. Her books on globalization and urbanization have been translated into twenty-one languages. Born in the Netherlands, she grew up in Buenos Aires and studied in France, Italy, Argentina, and the U.S.; she’s taught sociology at Harvard and the University of Chicago, and now divides her time between Columbia University and the London School of Economics. She has a bushel full of impressive-sounding establishment affiliations – she’s a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, of a National Academy of Sciences panel on cities, and of something called the Committee on Global Thought, no less, and has accumulated awards and honorary degrees aplenty from places like the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, the University of Poitiers, and the Royal Stockholm Institute of Technology.
In short, she’s as establishment as it comes. Routinely, however, Saskia Sassenpresents herself as a fearless anti-establishment radical and “transnational citizen” whose bag is proffering “counterintuitive” solutions to pretty much all the world’s major problems. This fearless-radical pose has won her a kind of cult following that’s rare, to say the least, among professors of the social sciences. A few years back, when she was teaching at the University of Chicago, a recent social-sciences grad student at that institution reported that many of his friends there “were staunch followers of Saskia Sassen – in fact, she was their raison d’etre there.”
A 2014 profile in Le Monde breathlessly pointed out that this globalization expert is also a world-class globetrotter: “Today in Bilbao, yesterday in New York, tomorrow in the U.K….” The irony that went utterly unmentioned by Le Monde‘s awestruck correspondent was that, even though Saskia Sassen burns a lot more than her fair share of jet fuel, she’s a world-class global-warming scold who, in a May 2014 piece for Salon, solemnly browbeat readers about the dark and dire consequences of “global CO2 emissions.”
As it happens, one of the few members of the sociology profession whose fame matches or even exceeds Saskia Sassen’s is her husband, Richard Sennett, who shares her far-left politics (he was a red-diaper baby), her preoccupation with globalization and urban issues, her hand-wringing concern about CO2 emissions and global footprints – and, ahem, her jet-setting lifestyle and two glorious homes in New York and London. For both Saskia Sassen and Sennett, hating capitalism has paid off big-time. A 2001 Guardian profile gushed over their “spacious, almost surreally well-ordered flat” in the heart of London, with a “roof terrace offer[ing] a dazzling view of an apparent jumble of warehousing and wasteground, a scene of brutal slate-grey beauty.” Six years later, a piece in the real-estate section of the New York Times described their “picturesque former carriage house on a cobblestone alleyway just off Washington Square Park” in Manhattan, in which Sennett had been living for twenty-eight years and for which they paid the landlord – Sennett’s employer, New York University – a monthly rent that was “below market rates.”
But this luxury, reported the Times, came at a cost: namely, guilt. (The piece was actually titled “The Guilt of Having a Good Thing.”) Bennett admitted that he felt guilty about living in this “gated community,” from which pedestrians were banned between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. After all, as he pointed out, he’s written himself “about the evils of gated communities.” Why live in one, then? Because “I’m not a sufficiently moral person to abandon this house.” He laughed as he accused himself of suffering from “a moral failing.” The refusal of both Saskia Sassen and Sennett to practice what they so vociferously preach made one wonder just how deep the guilt actually went; and Sennett’s laughter as he accused himself of “a moral failing” raised the question of just what the level of hypocrisy in that household is.
The Times was curious about the details of the couple’s lifestyle. Sennett explained that he and Saskia Sassen “divide up our clothes so that 50 percent are in London and 50 percent in New York.” And he “admitted — sheepishly — to owning duplicates of favorite items,” such as cellos. “I have a cello here and a cello in London, which may seem over the top,” he said. “But after 9/11 it became so difficult to travel with my cello.” Saskia Sassen, for her part, admitted, apropos of a recent trip to a conference in Mexico City: “I like a good comfortable plane ride.” Unlike her husband, however, she wasn’t quoted as accusing herself of “a moral failing.” No surprise there: she comes off as a hell of a lot more strident and self-righteous than he does. One gets the impression that she considers herself quite the moral icon. What with their two terrific homes and their constant air travel, their global footprint is obviously much bigger than most people’s – but one images that Saskia Sassen, at least, feels that they’ve earned it. They’re the exception. It’s all for the cause. For the rest of us, they’re certainly a great poster couple for leading the good life while preaching fiercely against it.
Global warming, to be sure, is far from the only crisis on her busy agenda. She also frets about the perpetual crisis in Middle East, and considers Israel to be at the root of the whole problem. In her writings about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she consistently depicts Israel as a brutal militant aggressor and Hamas as a benign force – a supplier of food and water, medical supplies, and other services that’s always being put on the defensive by the IDF. Saskia Sassen demonstrated the extent of her hostility to Israel back in 2004, when, as Stanford law prof Peter Berkowitz put it, she “storm[ed] off the stage” during a University of Chicago panel discussion about the Middle East, outraged that the panel was composed of both pro- and anti-Israel voices. As Berkowitz later wrote,
the panel consisted of Professor Saskia Sassen, who spoke on behalf of transnationalism, or principles and forms of government that transcend the nation state; myself, discussing nationalism and how Israel could be both a liberal democracy and Jewish state; Professor Anne Bayefsky…of Columbia University Law School, who analyzed the double standard the U.N. has applied to Israel for decades; and Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh, a Yale University geneticist, who sought to equate Zionism with Nazism, racism and apartheid.
What happened on that panel? According to Berkowitz, here’s how it went down:
After listening to Professor Bayefsky recount the many and varied ways that the U.N. had singled out Israel among all the nations of the world for special condemnation and Professor Qumsiyeh single out Israel as indistinguishable from one of the most heinous regimes in human history, Professor Saskia Sassen knew which opinion needed to be denounced…..Saskia Sassen explicitly upbraided the calm, lucid analyst of U.N. hypocrisy toward Israel (and me implicitly), and sided with the hate-mongering purveyor of the monstrous falsehood that Israel was in principle no different from the regime that murdered six million Jews for no other reason than that they were Jewish.
Here’s what she actually said on the panel in reaction to Bayefsky’s remarks: “We cannot make any headway even in our academic discussion if we talk about the Israeli government as a pure victim the way two of the speakers explicitly or implicitly did….We need to recognize that the Israeli state has operated with excess power in a situation of extreme asymmetry.” Which to her, presumably, meant that a panel discussion on the issue should also be characterized by “extreme assymetry” – in favor, naturally, of the Palestinian side.
And then she walked out – “after she had spoken for a second time,” noted Berkowitz, “but before she could be challenged.” By doing this, charged Berkowitz, “She showed that she held her own opinions to be beyond criticism and regarded her opponents’ opinions as unworthy of serious debate….Taking her conduct and comments together, one is led to conclude that Professor Saskia Sassen objects to sharing a stage with people who hold views that differ from hers; that she finds offensive the obligation to confront evidence and arguments put forward on behalf of positions she dislikes; and that she has forgotten or is unaware that the kind of debate that educates is debate with people with who hold the opposite opinion.” In short, Berkowitz concluded, she had exhibited “the high-handed and authoritarian habits that have become second nature for many faculty on campuses across the country.”
Saskia Sassen’s ardent engagement with such issues notwithstanding, her big bugaboo isn’t global warming or the brutal tyranny of Israel. It’s capitalism. For her, the overarching cause is “social justice,” and Public Enemy #1 is capitalist oppression (a conviction she shares with her late friend and mentor, Communist historian Eric Hobsbawm). She speaks of “capitalism’s deepening crisis” and of “the end of financial capitalism.”In her view, the current global financial system is suffering from a terminal ailment, and there’s no hope of saving it. “It is too late,” she maintains. What we need to do, Saskia Sassen prescribes, is “to definancialise our economies, as a prelude to move beyond the current model of capitalism.”
And what’s the ultimate symbol of capitalism’s rot, as Saskia Sassen sees it? Apparently, the phenomenon of distressed-security funds – which she, echoing Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, doesn’t hesitate to call “vulture funds.” Saskia Sassen despises those funds. They’re “a problem to be taken seriously,” she asserts, because they “threaten capital markets and the economic stability of many countries – and in doing so put the entire international economic system at risk.” When Fernández – in an effort to avoid paying her country’s debt to one such fund, Elliott Associates, as ordered by a U.S. judge in 2014 – took the case to the International Court of Justice, Saskia Sassen lent the President her full support. Of course she did: when you’re a “transnational citizen,” you support transnational institutions. This is one woman who trusts diktats by the UN (up to and including its absurd Human Rights Council) as zealously as she distrusts the free market, the American judiciary, and the West-based international financial order.
Then again, it’s easy, fun, and hip to be a “transnational citizen” who sneers at everything Western when you’ve got dream homes in the world’s two financial capitals and are constantly traveling the globe on a Western passport. “Transnational citizen,” indeed.