Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Real American Hero

Originally uploaded by totalvo.
CU professor: Free speech threatened

By Jeannette J. Lee, Associated Press
February 22, 2005

HONOLULU - A University of Colorado professor said the uproar from CU and the media over his comments likening Sept. 11 victims to a Nazi official shows that unfettered academic inquiry and free speech in the United States are being threatened.

Ward Churchill on Monday said efforts to remove him from his tenured position are signs of growing intolerance of academic freedom and public debate.

"It is our job to confront orthodoxy in a critical fashion, to raise uncomfortable questions, to insult people, if you will, to force a response to form a dialogue that furthers public understanding of issues," Churchill told reporters, a day before his speech at the University of Hawaii.

About two dozen University of Hawaii faculty and students showed up to his news conference Monday to support Churchill and his right to free speech.

UH professor Haunani-Kay Trask called the University of Colorado's investigation a "witch hunt" and likened the probe to House Un-American Activities Committee hearings and communist fears propagated by Sen. Joe McCarthy about 50 years ago.

"I am urging public support of Professor Churchill's struggle as if it were our own, that is to say the native people of Hawaii," said Trask, also an outspoken Hawaiian activist.

Churchill's essay about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have ignited a national firestorm. Written in the hours after the attacks, the essay refers to many of the World Trade Center victims as "little Eichmanns." Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann organized the extermination of Europe's Jews during World War II.

Churchill revised the essay for a book published in November 2003, and he urged reporters and others to interpret it in its current context.

His controversial comment targeted "people who function in investment and brokerage and trading capacity" because they further economic policies in Third World countries that lead to mass misery and death, he said.

"My point is that we cannot allow the U.S. government, acting in our name, to engage in massive violations of international law and fundamental human rights and not expect to reap the consequences," he said.

The Hawaii College Republicans, which formed last week, plans to stage a protest at today's talk. The group will display pictures of Sept. 11 terrorists and label them "Churchill's Gallant Combat Team."

"It's not a matter of free speech, it's a matter of common sense," said Kimberly Craven, a spokeswoman for the 12-member club. "We're in a war on terror, and you shouldn't bring a supporter of terrorists here."

The senior said she was outraged that the university is welcoming someone like Churchill to speak.

Tensions were already apparent in Monday's news conference, which became hostile after journalists questioned Churchill about his American Inidan heritage.

Churchill said the questions about his ethnicity were irrelevant and told reporters to do their jobs by looking it up themselves.

Ruth Hsu, a UH English professor and news conference moderator, shouted at reporters and told them they should be on their "best behavior."

"Certain questions are red herrings that detract from the main issues that professor Churchill is bringing to the table," she said. "You do not have to behave in the way that Bill O'Reilly behaves."

Some journalists complained that their own rights to free speech were being infringed upon by Hsu and Churchill.

UH President David McClain has said he strongly disagrees with Churchill's views, but also defended the invitation as an expression of free speech.