Letter to the FIRE on Bill Maher

To Whomever This May Concern:

I would like to begin this correspondence by mentioning the fact that I greatly admire the work that FIRE does to protect the free speech rights of students and faculty on college campuses. Your organization was instrumental in helping a student organization of which I am a member beat back reactionary forces on my campus. However, I am concerned with your stated position on the push by students to disinvite Bill Maher as a commencement speaker at UC Berkeley. More generally, I am concerned with your position on the recent push by students to disinvite a number of commencement speakers at various universities across the country. This is not an issue of free speech, and by claiming that it is one you are revealing your organization to not just be a protector of free speech but also a reactionary force in your own right. Your deliberate obfuscation of the core issue here is troubling and speaks to FIRE’s ideological leanings and values. The students leading the charge to disinvite Bill Maher have made their justifications abundantly clear and not one of them has to do with free speech. In fact, in several instances, in articles and blogposts they have explicitly stated that their decision has nothing to with free speech.

http://www.dailycal.org/2014/10/31/mahers-invitation-shows-disregard-students/

“There is no question Maher has a right to speak on campus; but the question is whether commencement, a time of celebration for all students, including those victimized by Maher’s commentary, is the appropriate forum. UC Berkeley undoubtedly must remain committed to principles of free speech. But this is not a matter of free speech — Maher can iterate his beliefs on campus at a debate or club event. This is about granting Bill Maher the honor of being our commencement speaker when he clearly spreads ignorance and intolerance affecting the very people he would be addressing.

Though we strongly disagree with the substance of Bill Maher’s racist, sexist and homophobic language, we value the university’s role as a public academic institution committed to preserving the free exchange of ideas — even when those ideas are at odds with our own. If the administration worries that it is discouraging debate by revoking this invitation, the administration is welcome to invite Maher to an open forum on campus instead.”

I would encourage you to read the bold statements especially carefully. The same assertion was made in the case of Ayaan Ali Hirsi, and still FIRE continues to characterize this recent movement to force administrations to cancel commencement speakers as representative of an assault on free speech. The notion that a commencement ceremony can be characterized as a setting in which the free exchange of ideas is happening is patently absurd. The students are out the door. It is a celebration of their accomplishments. The speaker and whatever they are about to say are being honored and endorsed by the university. It is a choice to elevate one person’s voice above all others, and the notion that the students, the students whose accomplishments are being celebrated, should not have a say in choosing the speaker is anti-democratic. The plain fact of the matter is that they should decide who is going to speak because it is a celebration of their accomplishments. FIRE draws a false equivalence between commencement speakers and other speakers by asserting that this is an issue of free speech. University administrations do not endorse the views of other speakers, and, in fact, when calls for disinvitation erupt in response they are quick to assert that fact. The same can not be said for commencement speakers.

Regards,

Ephraim Hussain

Disability Perspectives: The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco

Here’s another paper I wrote for my Masters Degree course on special education for students with disabilities.  It analyzes the perspectives on disability expressed in The Junkyard Wonders, a children’s book written by Patricia Polacco.  You can find the book at a library or bookstore near you.

Trisha had hoped to be able to keep her dyslexia a secret, but unbeknownst to her, the school’s exclusionary policy on students with disabilities mirrors the one at her old school, and as a result her fellow students have already been made aware that there is something different about the new girl.  Continue reading

Disability Perspectives: Sound and Fury

I wrote this paper for one of my Masters Degree courses on special education for students with disabilities.  It analyzes the perspectives on disability expressed by the Artinian Family and featured in the documentary films Sound and Fury (2000) and Sound and Fury: 6 Years later.  You can find both films in their entirety on Youtube.  Continue reading

John Kerry on Iraq

On Sunday U.S. secretary of state John Kerry publicly assured the Shiite government in Iraq led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, that the United States will support its war against militants from the Al-Qaeda-linked group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.  It has been reported that the ISIS now largely control the major cities of Ramadi and Fallujah located in Anbar Province.  In his comments Kerry made reference to their “barbarism against the civilians in Ramadi and Fallujah”  and asserted that “these are the most dangerous players in that region.”  In the course of putting emphasis on his claim that the administration is not contemplating the return of U.S. troops to Iraq, Kerry said,

“We can’t want peace and we can’t want democracy and we can’t want an orderly government and stability more than the people in a particular area, in a particular country or a particular region,” he said. “This fight, in the end, they will have to win, and I am confident they can.”

Of course Mr. Kerry neglected to mention the fact that the primary threat to democracy, peace, order, and stability in Iraq ever since the U.S. completed its troop withdrawal in 2011, has been the U.S. backed regime of one Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  By pledging support to this regime, Kerry refuses to acknowledge that this Shiite strongman has been largely responsible for igniting sectarian tensions in Iraq by branding all legitimate Sunni opposition and protests as “terrorism” and instituting vicious crackdowns against dissenters thus creating the environment in which Al-Qaeda could gain the support of certain tribes.  It is because of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s vicious crackdowns and discriminatory policies against the Sunni minority that 2013 saw the highest number of casualties in Iraq since 2008.  Of course Mr. Kerry neglected to mention that the strategy al-Maliki is currently employing against the ISIS is largely reminiscent of the counterinsurgency strategy which U.S. troops employed in Iraq in 2006; namely to enlist (mainly through bribes) the cooperation of some local tribal leaders in his fight thus further inflaming sectarian tension and laying the groundwork for the tragic mess that Iraq is today.  The Secretary of State neglected to denounce the most recent raid by Iraqi security forces on an encampment of peaceful Sunni protestors in Ramadi.  Of course Mr. Kerry neglected to mention the fact that the U.S. has never, is not, and will never support democracy in Iraq.  Of course Mr. Kerry neglected to mention the fact that the U.S. has always supported strongmen in the Middle East as opposed to human rights and the development of strong civil and political institutions and this policy of supporting al-Maliki is just an extension of that commitment.  Of course Mr. Kerry neglected to mention the fact that guns, tanks, helicopters, fighter jets, and especially drone strikes have never, do not, and will never solve the problem of Al-Qaeda.  Of course Mr. Kerry neglected to mention the fact that what Iraq needs from the United States is not military aid funneled to a corrupt government intent on destroying all opposition but rather massive reparations directed at the civilian population.  Of course Mr. Kerry neglected to mention the fact that this resurgence of Al-Qaeda and seething sectarian tension in Iraq is the direct result of the invasion and subsequent occupation which he supported.  Of course Mr. Kerry doesn’t mention the fact that President Obama’s expansion and escalation of the Global War on Terror has actually had the opposite of its stated intended effect and that this foray into Iraq will be no different.  And finally, Mr. Kerry doesn’t mention the fact that that anti-terrorism is just a cover for the assertion of American global hegemony in the twenty-first century much like anti-communism was just a cover for the assertion of American global hegemony during the so-called Cold War period.

Works Cited

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/05/us-iraq-idUSBREA0402P20140105

The Motivation And Purpose To Boycott

This commentary is in response to this recently “Freshly Pressed” Post entitled “I May Shop On Thanksgiving.”

I say this respectfully and not with intent to draw ire but just to poke at your logic a bit…the problem is simply “want”. What I mean by that is that we currently live in an economic system in which workers in the jobs you reference are basically compelled to sell their labor to corporations in order to just have the basic means to survival-food, shelter, etc Labor is viewed and treated as a commodity just as a television or an xbox 360. The market is a disciplining force. It is a compelling force. It’s maxim is maximization of profit at whatever cost. And one of those costs is labor. So if every company in these sectors is offering shitty wages for long hours then the fact is workers have no where else to go. If the exploitation existed with just a few companies then those companies would quickly go out of business because no one would want to work under their conditions when they have the freedom to choose better conditions. The problem is there is a monopoly on exploitation in the sectors you reference, and so the conditions are set for the labor market to act as a compelling force. People need to have access to the basic means of survival. This is the reality of wage labor. Continue reading

“Why Teach” by Mark Edmundson And The Dogma of New Criticism

Should a high school students, college student, or even an adult who has long since graduated from formal schooling be expected to value what is termed the Western literary canon just because it is held in such high regard by the individuals who first dubbed it the Western literary canon?

I pose this question after reading what I consider to be a semi-polemical work by University of Virginia English Professor, Mark Edmundson, entitled Why Teach, in which he claims in the chapter headed “Narcissus Regards His Book/ The Common Reader Now” that the devaluation of so-called Western Culture and the Western literary canon is caused by a growing “culture industry” in the United States in which the main standard by which society judges a work of literature is its ability to elicit feelings of pleasure and satisfaction from readers, Continue reading