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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Kevin Barett vs the fury of ignorance

Kevin Barrett is scheduled to teach a class titled 'Islam: Religion and Culture' at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the Fall. Wisconsin State Representative Stephen L. Nass of Whitewater believes this is not such a hot idea. According to a June 29, 2006 AP report titled "Wis. lawmaker wants lecturer fired for 9-11 conspiracy views":
During his appearance Wednesday night on Jessica McBride's show on WTMJ, Barrett disputed most of the widely accepted information about the attacks that brought down the World Trade Center in New York City when airliners were flown into the twin towers.

Among other things, he claimed the group believed to have carried out the attacks was ``a bunch of losers who couldn't even fly planes,'' and that evidence indicates the buildings were brought down by controlled demolitions.

He acknowledged discussing Sept. 11 in teaching classes, but said it was only to give both sides of the issue, not to convert anyone to his point of view.

"I'm trying to teach them how to think, not what to think,'' he told McBride.

On Thursday, state Rep. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater, issued a statement demanding Barrett be fired immediately, calling him an embarrassment and accusing him of spewing "garbage.''

Since then, to their credit and in keeping with the tradition of academic freedom, University of Wisconsin-Madison has refused to censure Barrett because of his views:
Following a thorough review, University of Wisconsin-Madison Provost Patrick Farrell today announced that lecturer Kevin Barrett will teach, as scheduled, a class titled "Islam: Religion and Culture."

Barrett's remarks regarding his theories on the events of Sept. 11 recently drew widespread attention and criticism.

As a result, Farrell, along with Gary Sandefur, dean of the College of Letters and Science, and Ellen Rafferty, chair of the department of languages and cultures of Asia, met with Barrett. They reviewed his course syllabus and reading materials and examined his past teaching evaluations.

"There is no question that Mr. Barrett holds personal opinions that many people find unconventional," Farrell says. "These views are expected to take a small, but significant, role in the class. To the extent that his views are discussed, Mr. Barrett has assured me that students will be free - and encouraged - to challenge his viewpoint."

Which is precisely how things ought to be in a liberal society - there ought to be no sacred cows, no ideas one is told never to challenge. However, as Mr Barrett and others before him had a chance to learn first hand, the way our society operates is sometimes very different from such lofty ideals. While it appears that a lot of people are willing to at least listen to what Kevin Barrett and other 9/11 skeptics are willing to say some of Mr Barrett's detractors, for instance the above-mentioned Rep. Nass and his staff appear to believe that even considering the 9/11 skeptics' arguments would be beneath them. Writes Bill Douglas, a man motivated to the 9/11 research by the Kevin Barrett controversy:
Some of these guests referred to an organization called "Scholars for 9/11 Truth" with a website, which offered a physics research paper questioning the official explanation of the events of 9/11/2001. While visiting this site, I read that they pointed to the temperatures of the fires in the WTC buildings, and construction of the buildings, and the speed they fell, as evidence they claimed proved that what we saw on 9/11/2001 when the towers fell had to have been the result of a controlled demolition. Like the ones we've seen with Las Vegas hotels being brought down. Their claim was that the WTC buildings could not have been caused solely by the aircraft hitting the WTC buildings that day.

Then, I contacted the office of a Wisconsin State Legislator, Rep. Stephen Nass (R-Whitewater), and asked to speak to someone in the office who could speak on this issue. I asked if he was familiar with the Scholars for 9/11 Truth website, and he replied they had learned of it this week. I asked him if he and the Representative could comment on the charge that the fires on 9/11/2001 in the WTC buildings did not burn hot enough to bring down the buildings, and if he'd read the scholars organization's charge that thermate traces had been found on debris from the fallen towers (thermate indicating demolition type explosives were involved). The gentleman responded that no, they had not looked at this information, and this would not be something they would look at, further indicating that anyone who made such charges was blinded by their hatred of President Bush.

Well, I have no choice but to surmise that according to Rep. Nass's staffers and their ilk Sir Isaac Newton and other great scientists who gave us the foundation of modern physics must have been just a bunch of rabid Bush haters.

While such displays of ideological blindness may at times be comical, the situation overall appears rather grave. Do you think the times of Inquisition are a thing of the past? Do you think facts are now more important than blind faith? Not if Rep. Nass and his ilk are any indication.

Apparently dissatisfied with the fact that his attempts to get the UW-Madison officials to fire Barrett failed Rep. Nass decided to pile on some more pressure:
With lawmakers at the Capitol to act on state employee contracts, Representative Steve Nass is pushing a resolution on Kevin Barrett. "It will underscore the displeasure that legislators have with the university decision," said Nass. UW Madison officials on Monday decided to let Barrett teach an introductory class on Islam, despite Barrett's now well-publicized view that the Bush administration was behind the 9-11 terrorist attacks on America. Nass said that's not the decision he was hoping for; "they should terminate him, without question."

The Whitewater Republican said competency and academic quality, not academic freedom, is the issue here, and that Barrett is unable to provide evidence that would back up his position on on the 9-11 attacks.

Quite to the contrary, Barrett seems up to the challenge:
Madison lecturer who has received overwhelming public support along with a dash of vitriol for expressing his views about 9/11 on a radio program, has challenged Rep. Steve Nass to debate him on the subject. "It is time to stop the name-calling and threats, and get down to a serious, scholarly debate," Barrett said, adding "“If Rep. Nass successfully refutes my arguments, I promise to withdraw them, and issue a public apology to Vice President Cheney and others I have named as 9/11 suspects."
Yours truly is really curious to see what comes of this. Meanwhile, the Wisconsin State Assembly refused to act on Rep Nass's resolution which in my humble opinion is all for the better.

So chances are that Kevin Barrett's career is safe, at least for now. And hopefully this controversy has helped to stimulate a lots of much needed debate on the events of 9/11. But it has also served as a powerful reminder of how ideology can often trump the thought process and blind allegiance can trump knowledge.


Boris Epstein said...

To ewing2001:

Well, Mr Barrett just touches on different aspects of the picture. Your "TV fakery" idea does have some merit but I don't think evidence is conclusive to rule other way.

And I think it is important to understand that different 9/11 skeptics quite legitimately have different ideas - that is a normal part of the process.

Anonymous said...

Kevin Barett speaks his mind. Anything wrong with that?

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