[2]: Postcolonial Study deemed 'Anti-American'

[Postcolonial Study deemed 'Anti-American']

[2] Continued commentaries on the State of Nations ..

The second issue is the condemnation, by Stanford Professor Stanley Kurtz before a House Congressional Committee on Higher Education Reform, that post-colonial research in the United States is 'anti-patriotic', 'anti-American', 'biased' (against the US), against the principles of the US (democracy, the Constitution, etc.), and dominated by the work of the late Edward Said (whom Kurtz intensely dislikes).

Apparently, post-colonial critique constitutes a breach of US ideals, if not security, and that not only should funding be cut to such programs (known as Title VI) but that it should be given to a Defense program to train students in translation, so they can work for the spooks & US military. Finally (and this has happened) a Congressional committee should be established to monitor and regulate the content of US universities, especially Title VI programs, with special attention to these apparently needless & heedless, if not reckless and evil, Departments.

(Yes: the evil is within. Whenever a totalitarian regime comes into power, and begins to assert power, it removes those who question: the intellectuals. Let us not treat this lightly. The patterns are clear. This may not be the same pattern, but we follow its force nonetheless.)

I don't think I need to say more here. Stanley Kurtz has so deftly crafted his argument that he does not call for censorship, but rather economic penalties for technical-legal changes, as Title VI centers were originally created for supporting Defense research on foreign countries in the '50s. Kurtz assumes that such research must be compliant with, and agreeable to, current Republican views of US Foreign Policy. This is a narrow view of what such research is for. As a scholar such as Chomsky would note, if the US policy-makers took this research seriously--research that questions US Foreign Policy for its negative & detrimental effects--there might even be positive policy changes.

But to return to Kurtz's argument. For example, in levying charges of 'bias', Kurtz carefully neglects to mention how nothing save for pro-US views are pandered by corporate media; thus the 'bias' of said contentious Departments makes up an attempt to instigate questioning of the mainstream media (which could be analysed, at its worst, as majority propaganda). Moreover, Kurtz doesn't seem to wish to pay attention to the real issue of US backlash. It would seem that postcolonial research is a significant investigation of such backlash. Kurtz would rather sweep it under the rug, pretend the issues lie elsewhere, and continue to praise what is apparently a neo-con position. For Kurtz, post-colonial research offers the wrong answers to problems of anti-US sentiment (that the problem lies with US imperialism, basically). The right answer (which is also the Right answer) would no doubt be more along the lines of: anti-US sentiment is created by Leftists; it is an inherent religious problem (Islam); it is created by 'anti-democratic' forces (from the Left, from the Middle East, even to terrorism). Never, for Kurtz's thought, it seems, would the issue of anti-US sentiment lie in the generalised military might and violence that makes up US Foreign Policy.

Kurtz's recommendations are dangerous in the worst ways: militant, nationalist, vicious, violent, silencing. In calling post-colonialism 'biased', he presents no debate, invites no interlocutor. There is no attempt, even, before the Committee, to establish the point-of-view of post-colonial studies. Kurtz's word, and Kurtz's alone, is taken as truth, the final truth, and nothing but the truth. While the ACE was allowed to present in defense, it does not address the meat of the matter, speaking distantly of numbers of students hired by the Us Gov't, and recounting the history of Title VI. The verdict was already realised by the very fact that it was defending against these claims (guilty, we could say, before proving innocence), of which it had no real knowledge. The ACE fails to address Kurtz's force. Once again, the Right uses a tactics of affect to its full effect, while ACE (the American Council of Educators), dumbly believes its statistics will save the day.

While Kurtz has betrayed his privilege and power as an academic by refusing academic debate and pushing his own militant agenda into policy--through a Congress entirely willing and all too interested to see such actions come into power--one should not be all too surprised. Whether premeditated or not, this is a concerted, networked action by the ruling Right, in many respects. This is beyond censorship in the media, beyond even media control: this is the control of the University system, a 21C book-burning of questioning, thought-provoking, and yes, contentious research that challenges normative assumptions of not only US imperialism, but racism, gender, capitalism, power, technology, and so forth.

To repeat. It is not, of course, surprising that various groups wish to halt this research. It questions the very premises of what it means to be 'patriotic' to the nation-state, and especially the 'United States', in times such as these (if not at any time). That this violent view, of oppressing academic freedom, and moreover, blatantly supporting the military complex of the US Gov't by offering to quite literally churn out scholars and students to suit the military's own ends, is a view that is engrossed with its own power, is a view of domination, is completely engrossed in the continuation of US power, is Kurtz's claim to fame in a long pantheon of scare-mongers. Kurtz must consider himself, at some level, a kind of proto-American hero, a John Wayne of the university. To say that Kurtz's agenda is negligent, polemic, one-sided, and slanderous, and to acknowledge that it is propagated by a Professor, is all the more abhorrent, yet not entirely surprising. These are the times we live in.

I reprint the entire text of the information being circulated. Circulate it widely.

(Yes, I verified the links and Bednar's person.)

From Michael Bednar
Department of History
The University of Texas at Austin
Congress Moves to Regulate Postcolonial Studies

Oct. 20, 2003


As many of you who know me well will soon realize, I
have become a political activist for the first time in
my life. I am not here to rant, but to inform you on
current legislation that is being debated in the House
of Representatives. The legislation in question, H.R.
3077, will rewrite the Title VI legislation that has
provided FLAS money to many of us and that also funds
the various area-studies centers in our universities.

In particular, the legislation proposes the creation
of an "advisory board" that may severely impact
universities by dictating the curricula taught, course
materials assigned in class, and the faculty who are
hired in institutions that accept Title VI funding. It
gets worse.

The U.S. House of Representative's
Subcommittee on Select Education Hearing on
"International Programs in Higher Education and
Questions about Bias" on June 19, 2003
begins with
an opening statement by Representative
Phil Gringrey that includes the following passage: "we
are here today to learn more about a number of
programs that are authorized and funded under Title
VI, which are some of the oldest programs of support
to higher education. These programs reflect the
priority placed by the federal government on
diplomacy, national security, and trade
competitiveness. International studies and education
have become an increasingly important and relevant
topic of conversation and consideration in higher

However, with mounting global tensions, some
programs under the Higher Education Act that support
foreign language and area studies centers have
recently attracted national attention and concern due
to the perception of their teachings and policies."

Testimony provided by Dr. Stanley Kurtz (available
from the link above) portrays areas studies centers as
hotbeds of unpatriotic anti-Americanism. Dr. Kurtz
focuses, in particular, on post-colonial theory and
the work of Edward Said's Orientalism in which "Said
equated professors who support American foreign policy
with the 19th century European intellectuals who
propped up racist colonial empires. The core premise
of post-colonial theory is that it is immoral for a
scholar to put his knowledge of foreign languages and
cultures at the service of American power." (quoted
from Kurtz's statement found here.

Kurtz asserts that the rampant presence of
post-colonial theory in academic circles, with its
bias against America and the West, has produced a
corps of professors who refuse to instruct or support
(with FLAS grants) students interested in pursuing
careers in the foreign service and/or intelligence
agencies. Kurtz comments that: "We know that
transmissions from the September 11 highjackers [sic]
went untranslated for want of Arabic speakers in our
intelligence agencies. Given that, and given the
ongoing lack of foreign language expertise in our
defense and intelligence agencies, the directors of
the Title VI African studies centers who voted
unanimously, just after September 11, to reaffirm
their boycott of the NSEP [National Security Education
Program], have all acted to undermine America's
national security, and its foreign policy. And so has
every other Title VI-funded scholar in Latin
American-, African-, and Middle Eastern Studies who
has upheld the long-standing boycott of the NSEP."

The answer, Kurtz proposes, is to create an
oversight board that will link Title VI funding to
students training for careers in national security,
defense and intelligence agencies, and the Foreign

How effective was Dr. Kurtz's presentation? The
committee not only believed everything Dr.Kurtz
claimed, they even implemented most of his
suggestions, including the "advisory board."

An amended House Resolution, H.R. 3077, proposes to
create an International Education Advisory Board, with
appointed members from homeland security, the
Department of Defense, and the National Security
Agency, "to increase accountability by providing
advice, counsel, and recommendations to Congress on
international education issues for higher education."
(Quoted from the Sept. 19, 2003 press release of
Congressman John Boehner, committee chairman, here.)

The full resolution of H.R. 3077 can be found here.

H.R. 3077 was amended in subcommittee and this
amended resolution elaborates on the composition and
role of the International Education Advisory Board
(see especially pages 16-24). The amended H.R. 3077
can be found here.

Click on the link that says "Amendment in the Nature
of a Substitute" which will download an Adobe Acrobat
pdf file. This amended H.R. 3077 has been sent to the
full committee, which met on Thursday, September 25 at
11:00 AM to discuss the resolution before sending it
to the House of Representatives.

Just in case you think that I have lost my marbles
or that I am over-reacting, the Higher Education and
National Affairs newsletter, published by the American
Council on Education, and available here includes the
following comments on H.R. 3077 (page 1, continued on
page 4):

"House Republicans intend for H.R. 3077 to build on
existing international and foreign language studies
Title VI programs, adding what many in the higher
education community believe is unnecessary federal
oversight through a new International Education
Advisory Board."

Federal international education programs were the
focus of a House subcommittee hearing in June, during
which one witness testified to a strong "anti-American"
bias in many college and university international
departments which he claimed could possibly undermine
American foreign policy. ACE presented opposing testimony
(see this .pdf).

As a subcommittee press release asserted, this
advisory body would be created in consultation with
homeland security agencies in order to "increase
accountability by providing advice, counsel, and
recommendations to Congress on international education
issues for higher education." Higher education leaders
oppose this board on the grounds that the powers it is
granted are so broad that they put institutions in
danger of losing control over their own curricula,
hiring practices, and other aspects of their
international programs."

In short, it seems that the House of
Representatives is about to regulate the courses and
content that we, as future professors, will teach in
colleges and universities. The possibility that
someone in homeland security will instruct college
professors (with Ph.D.s) on the proper, patriotic,
"American-friendly" textbooks that may be used in
class scares and outrages me. This morning, this was
news to me. If this is new to you and if you feel as
equally scared and angered that the government may
censure your future academic career, then I urge you

1) distribute this message to other professors and
students in area studies; and

2) write a handwritten letter (in ink) to your local
congressmen and to John A. Boehner, Chairman of the
Full Committee on Education and the Workforce at the
following address:

John A. Boehner
1011 Longworth H.O.B.
Washington, DC 20515

Please refrain from emails and typewritten or
computer printouts as these are often ignored in
Congress as being mass-produced by special-interest
groups. Write in ink, in legible penmanship, and let
your voice be heard.


Michael Bednar
Department of History
The University of Texas at Austin

posted. Fri - November 7, 2003 @ 05:11 PM           |