Monday, April 14, 2003

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Nicholas De Genova speaks!!

The Filibuster links to this Chronicle of Higher Education interview with Nicholas De Genova, his first public comments since his letter to the editor of Columbia's student newspaper.

Read the whole interview to get the entire context. I found the entire exchange hysterical -- it basically consists of the interviewer asking reasoned questions, De Genova popping off an irrelevant or incoherent answer, and the interviewer having to gently re-ask the question. Two examples:

Q. Your comment about wishing for 'a million Mogadishus' has attracted the most attention. I read your letter in the 'Columbia Daily Spectator,' which gave some more context, but I have to confess I don't see how the context changes the meaning of that statement.

A. I was referring to what Mogadishu symbolizes politically. The U.S. invasion of Somalia was humiliated in an excruciating way by the Somali people. And Mogadishu was the premier symbol of that. What I was really emphasizing in the larger context of my comments was the question of Vietnam and that historical lesson. ... What I was intent to emphasize was that the importance of Vietnam is that it was a defeat for the U.S. war machine and a victory for the cause of human self-determination.

Q. I'm a little hazy on the rhetorical connection between Mogadishu and Vietnam.

A. The analogy between Mogadishu and Vietnam is that they were defeats for U.S. imperialism and U.S. military action against people in poor countries that had none of the sophisticated technology or weaponry that the U.S. was able to mobilize against them. The analogy between Mogadishu and Iraq is simply that there was an invasion of Somalia and there was an invasion of Iraq.

Q. Just so we're clear: Do you welcome or wish for the deaths of American soldiers?

A. No, precisely not.

Then there's this closing exchange:

Q. If you had it to do over again, would you make the same remarks?

A. There is a lesson here for all of us, far and wide, beyond my immediate circle of colleagues and this particular university. There is a message for all people who affirm the importance of free speech and the freedom of thought and expression. ...

Q. I guess my question is, would you have attempted to be clearer?

A. Had I known that there was a devious yellow journalist from a tabloid newspaper among the audience, I certainly would have selected my words somewhat more carefully. But I would not have changed the message. Unfortunately, that message has been largely lost on people who were not at the event.

Karl Marx once said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce. It's safe to say that Nicholas De Genova is the living embodiment of that cliché.

P.S. I must give some props to the Filibuster here. I knew about this story from an independent source and expected to be the first in the Blogosphere to comment/link to it. Because they are actually up at 2 AM, they beat me to it. A tip of the cap and a place on the blogroll to them.

posted by Dan on 04.14.03 at 09:47 AM


Unlike this writer, I heartily disagree with the assertion that Nicholas De Genova provides an "irrelevant or incoherent answer," or that "the interviewer [had] to gently re-ask the question". In fact, the tone of derision and condescension originates from the interviewer and not the interviewee.

Dr. De Genova, my graduate professor of anthropology is one of the most empathic and sympathetic academics I know. In his determination to stand for what is right, he has taken great risk to support people of the developing world by confronting immense criticism for his anti-U.S. stance. Inappropriate criticism came from many sources (c'mon, a congressman tell Columbia University how to manage its employees?). Dr. De Genova has also received unwarranted death threats from individuals whose words smack of blind jingoism.

Having taken a class with Dr. De Genova, I knew him to be a soft-spoken individual with strong ideals who genuinely cared about his students and the process of learning. His research into the culture of rap and hip hop music underscores his desire to bring a legitimate voice to a subculture often dismissed as violent and superficial. He was always open to students' ideas and encouraged everyone to participate, even undergraduates who floundered in his academically rigorous graduate classes.

Knowing this about Dr. De Genova, I find it impossible to interpret his comment as desiring the death of U.S. troops. I know he is aware that those American troops who are at the frontlines of war are typically young people who are in many ways socially and educationally disadvantaged. These are among the people Dr. De Genova cares most about, not the fat cats in Washington.

Even prominent economists like Jeffrey Sachs, advisor to the secretary general of the United Nations, and Democratic presidential candidates have denounced the U.S. war machine headed by George W. Bush. Dr. De Genova's comments simply expressed his desire to see the end of U.S. imperialism, and not the death of American lives. I know he would prefer not to see American soldiers lay down their lives fighting senseless and cruel wars against civilians in Somalia, Vietnam, or Iraq.

Dr. De Genova did us a great service by courageously challenging what economist Jeffrey Sachs has referred to as a climate of jingoism and persecution. No American should feel persecution for opposing American foreign policy. And Dr. De Genova's comments should not be misconstrued as desiring the death of American soliders but as desirous of the end of U.S. imperialism in soverign nations.

posted by: Jane Liu on 04.14.03 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

Sounds like someone's polishing the teacher's ... apple.

posted by: I. Bendito on 04.14.03 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

And quite a commentary on the intellectual state of the academy--at least that academy and in that "discipline".

posted by: Jem on 04.14.03 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

Having never met the Good Docter I can not say for certain what his personal politics are, but from what I understand he was not calling for the deaths of American soldiers, only for Military embaresment. One question I would like to see him asked is what he would prefer, American military action in Iraq, or the constant mass killings of Iraqi citizens by their own leader, and the leagle raping of Iraqi women by their leaders children.

Jane Liu describes his remarks as a desire for an end to American Imperialism, and Dr. De Genova takes military defeat as a victory for the cause of self determination. How would leaving a brutal dictator in power advance the self determination of the Iraqi people? How does setting up free elections advance American Imperialism?

I will agrea that Dr. De Genova should not be persecuted for his remarks. Freedom of speach is one of the great ideas America is founded apon, not Freedom to say only what others want to hear, Freedom to say what you want. No one should ever be persecuted for taking a stand on any issue, regardless of how unpopular their stand may be. Insults and smear campaigns should have no place in debate.

posted by: Ralph on 04.14.03 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

I. Bendito - when you learn that people can speak with integrity without ulterior motives then maybe you won't be so suspicious. It also is so easy for you to dismiss the validity of my arguments this way, isn't it?

posted by: Jane Liu on 04.14.03 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

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