Thinking Outside the Box
Local nut Kevin Barrett taught the first day of his class on "the religion and culture of Islam."
"Barrett, a part-time lecturer, sparked controversy this summer for advocating the theory that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were an inside job, and for planning to teach the theory in his fall class on Islam. Since then, enrollment in the class has swelled to capacity, with some students signing up hungry to hear his views.
"'It induced me to take the class,' a molecular science major with a pierced eyebrow said of the controversy. 'I'm inclined to believe we killed our own people.'."
For those of you who don't follow current events in south-central Wisconsin: In addition to indulging in cranky Loose Change-inspired ranting about 9/11, Barrett has denied that Islamic terrorism even exists to any significant degree and that such phantoms are, of course, merely a pretext to wage a global war on Islam and its adherants.
But students don't seem to mind.
"Courtney Schiesher, a senior from Chicago, said Barrett was a lively lecturer. She said his personal views on the terrorist attacks do not sour her toward him.
"'If he thinks that far outside the box, he also has some other interesting ideas to provoke student discussion,' she said. 'I'm looking forward to attending the rest of the classes.'"
Barrett and his particular brand of screwiness was the subject of one of Cathy Young's Boston Globe columns a few months back.
"According to [University provost Patrick] Farrell, 'We cannot allow political pressure from critics of unpopular ideas to inhibit the free exchange of ideas.' Would he use the same kind of reasoning to defend a Holocaust-denying course or a course in 'creation science'? When it comes to those issues, it is widely understood that even to open up an academic 'debate' about certain crackpot theories is to give them a legitimacy that will be corrosive to genuine scholarship. It is one thing to say that professors should not be penalized for whatever views they preach outside the classroom; it's quite another to say that they have the right to poison the well of the college curriculum.
"Mir Babar Basir, a recent University of Wisconsin graduate and former president of the Muslim Students Association, told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that Barrett had many supporters, which was not surprising since 'Madison is fairly liberal.' But what exactly is 'liberal' about the belief in bizarre conspiracy theories? If one wants to promote tolerance toward Muslims and counter the stereotypes that equate all Islam with terrorism, denying the link between Islamic fanaticism and Sept. 11 is hardly the way to go about it."
Is Barrett a "liberal" scholar? Here's a passage from Barrett's website, taken from an essay about "Traditionalism."
"Besides reconnecting me with monotheism, the Traditionalists helped cure me of a certain kind of left-wing dogmatism based on unexamined faith in the eternal progress of free-thinking, secularized humanity, liberated from the obscurantist shackles of religion. Such naivete! On this point the neocons are right: the human being is a religious animal, and progress is an illusion. But they are wrong about religion also being an illusion, a tool for elite manipulation of the masses. Real religion—for example, the Islamic discursive tradition—is a valid body of knowledge, an approach to truth that works...When folks get fed up with the neocon lies... will have been starved for truth so long that they will be truly ravenous. They will hunger for truth, yearn for truth. They will be dying, both figuratively and literally starved for truth, craving it with an attachment deeper than their attachment to life."
Why did this passage pop into my head just now, only moments after completing a post that referenced Ahmadinejad's assault on "free-thinking, secularized" education, William Dembski's disdain for "secular scholarship" and David Horowitz's contempt for, well, higher education in general?
No reason, I guess...