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War Watch
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
By Orson Scott Card July 08, 2002

American Imams

I recently heard a doctor in the U.S. military tell a group of us about a time when he was part of a disaster-relief team helping people after a devastating earthquake in Turkey.

The quake had been centered near the Sea of Marmara, which is between the European part of Turkey and the main portion of Turkey in Asia.

The Turkish people he was working with had seemed glad to have American help -- Turkey is, after all, a longtime member of NATO, our ally since shortly after World War II.

But suddenly one morning, everyone seemed chilly, standoffish, resentful of him and the other Americans.

He could not understand why, until he learned that the night before, one of Turkey's leading imams had made a speech on television in which he declared that the earthquake had been caused by a secret weapon which the American and Turkish military had set off in the Sea of Marmara.

Never mind that there was absolutely no evidence for such a thing. Never mind that it would make no sense at all for either the U.S. or Turkey to test a weapon in the middle of one of the busiest sea lanes in the world.

It served the purpose of this religious leader to inflame the Turkish people against America and against their own military.

Why? Because the Turkish military is one of the strongest forces supporting the secular government of Turkey, which has, since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, made Turkey the most westward-looking Muslim country -- and the most democratic.

Islam is not a centralized religion. The teachers of religion -- the imams -- appoint each other, and when one of them makes such wild accusations, there is no one with the authority to rebuke him for causing mischief, or to demand that he show proof.

And if the government tried to curb the imams, it would be seen as repressive, the enemy of Islam, the puppet of the Americans.

The imams, therefore, know that they pretty much have a free ride. They can say what they want, making up reckless accusations and stirring up fear and hatred, and no one can touch them.

When the government issues statements to correct an imam's falsehoods, the imam does not even have to defend himself. He merely replies, "What do you expect the government to say?"

There are imams in America, too.

We all know about the Muslim teachers in America who call for the downfall of America's secular government and who openly call for American Muslims to help in the effort to make the U.S. an Islamic nation -- whether by force or conversion, they don't quite say.

But those imams appeal to only a tiny minority within our borders, and probably don't have much influence over the course of events.

We have another group of teachers, however, who function exactly like that imam in Turkey. Teachers who make reckless accusations against our own government, without evidence or even common sense, and yet they have wide influence among our young people and pose a grave danger to our ability to wage war to defend our shores, or even to pass traditional American culture on to the next generation.

These American imams are among the teachers in American colleges and universities, and no one can touch them because they have tenure.

This group of teachers are often charismatic, always passionate. They appear to be intellectuals, and appeal to their young students by pretending that their anti-American ideology is based on the superior wisdom and information that only intellectuals possess.

"We are smarter and better than the fools and knaves in government," they say (in different words), "and if you are smart and good you will see things as we do." Thus they seduce our children by promising to make them wise.

In fact they are not wise at all. Passionate and usually sincere, they bring no intellectual tools or analytical rigor to the issues of American foreign policy that they address. Even those who are rigorous in their own fields of expertise (and those are sadly rare) make little effort to question either the data or the reasoning that supposedly support the anti-American ideology they preach.

And even within the university, where one would suppose that every such voice would be answered by other voices that use logic and scholarship to hold their feet to the fire and demand proof, they are generally met with silence.

Why? Because for the past thirty years, our universities have been taken over by the politically correct establishment to such a degree that few professors who actually believe in traditional American values dare to speak.

I know that statements such as this are scoffed at by many professors, who say, "There is no problem with political correctness at our school." But in my experience, every professor who says that is merely confessing that he is so politically correct he has never run into any resistance.

I know teacher after teacher, at school after school, who has horror stories to tell about teachers denied tenure despite meeting reasonable standards, falsely or ridiculously accused of sexual harassment, racism, or other modern sins, until all the others who might question the absurd and self-contradictory tenets of the religion of political correctness learn to simply shut up, teach their own classes, and keep their heads down.

The imams of the American university regard it as their sacred duty to spread their religion -- er, pardon me, their "truth" that transcends and replaces mere religion -- to the next generation.

Of course they deny it when challenged. But I recently attended a conference of college professors held at a North Carolina university where there were sessions devoted to topics like "how to help your students get past the religious teachings of their parents."

What shocked me was not so much that someone was teaching such a topic as that no one thought it was outrageous and they all seemed rather surprised that I found it so.

As America conducts its war against the radical Islamicists who are determined to murder Americans wherever they can in order to bring about a worldwide war between Islam and the rest of the world, the greatest danger we face is not military.

It is the American imams, who are inculcating our young college students with absurdly false ideas about what America is, what we have done and are doing in the rest of the world, and why we are evil to conduct this war.

I wish I could tell you that there was no truth on their side, but in fact they do have plenty of examples of stupid or evil actions by our government. Reagan ordering our Navy to shell Beirut neighborhoods back in the eighties, for instance, which killed and terrified innocent civilians; Clinton destroying a medicine factory in Khartoum in order to keep Monica's dress out of the headlines; the IMF's rigid free market ideology that can destroy the already-weak economies of foreign countries whose debts make them unable to resist the IMF's dictates.

We are not always the good guys, and we should be, and we need to have voices in our society saying so.

But it is a far cry from facing and admitting America's faults in order to correct them, to saying that these faults make us so evil and culpable as a nation that we don't have a right to defend ourselves.

These imams go further -- they insist on viewing our war in Afghanistan and our future actions against countries like Iraq as aggressive campaigns, as if we were initiating this war rather than responding to a systematic attack.

For my money, however, the worst danger posed by these imams is that, like the fanatical imams in Muslim countries, they are convinced that their religion is the absolute truth -- that it is above all other religions -- and so it is their mission to woo and win their students, rather than merely to present their ideas and let their students choose for themselves.

And they have no tolerance for anyone who disagrees with them. Those who oppose them are, in their view, stupid or evil ... or both.

Not everyone who holds the opinions I just mentioned is an American imam. For instance, I know one professor in our state who has some of these views -- but he is not intolerant of those who disagree with him. In fact, he welcomes students, faculty, and even civilians like me who disagree with him, treats them and their ideas with respect, and is even willing to change his mind when presented with evidence or reasoning that requires it.

The ones I call "imams" don't do that.

The irony is that most of the schools where imams teach are funded by taxes taken under threat of force from the very people whose culture and values they are trying to extirpate.

Most of the imams cluster in departments where ideology is easily introduced and rigorous thinking is only optional -- the ideology-based departments like women's studies, where politics always trumps reason and evidence; literature; the social sciences; the arts and humanities.

Engineering, physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, business, physical education -- these departments rarely contain imams, if only because they actually have a firm subject matter where results are measurable and one's colleagues don't have the habit of taking pie-in-the-sky philosophizing seriously.

But even if our kids are majoring in one of the non-ideological departments, they're going to have to take classes in the departments where political correctness prevails and the imams have a protected, even exalted, status.

So ... what can you do?

We can't just stop sending our kids to college, because most decent jobs in our country require a college degree in order to be hired -- even though college is irrelevant to most of the careers that require it.

Besides, we want our kids to be well-educated. We want them to hear ideas different from those they learned at home. We want them, in other words, to have a genuine, well-rounded university education.

The problem is not that we want the colleges to teach our narrow, predetermined ideas. The problem is that we don't want the colleges to teach anybody's narrow, predetermined ideas.

We don't want to punish professors who raise questions about the war.

But we also don't want professors to shelter behind tenure while agitating and propagandizing against the war, against our country, and against our traditional values.

College should be a place for reason, scholarship, careful consideration of evidence, and open discussion in a marketplace of ideas where everyone treats everyone else's ideas with respect. The problem is that the imams are already doing their best to eliminate that climate.

What can be done?

First, the teachers who are passionate opponents of the war need to examine themselves and see if, in fact, they have not been leaping to conclusions with insufficient evidence, have not been automatically putting the worst, most anti-American spin on everything, have not been propagandizing rather than teaching. And either way, they should bend over backward to present both sides of the issues and look critically at every claim, not just the ones they disagree with.

Second, the teachers who do not adhere to the politically correct ideology that shields the anti-American imams must speak up and turn our universities back into communities where there is a free exchange of ideas. They must have the courage to risk being slandered and attacked, and stand up for intellectual rigor and integrity. The time for hiding in order to protect their jobs is over.

Third, American businessmen need to stop requiring college degrees for their employees outside a few narrow specialties where it is actually valuable. Almost everything their employees need to know, they will learn on the job anyway. Don't force parents to send their students to college in order to get jobs for which a college education is not really required.

Fourth, concerned parents should get actively involved in state schools. We should examine syllabuses and textbooks, handouts and reading lists. We should join parents' groups and urge administrations to make sure professors are teaching their subject matter in a scholarly manner, not using class time to agitate or preach. That's not what our tax money was appropriated to do, and we have a right to insist on an accounting when a professor is ranging far outside his area of expertise into political realms where all citizens have equal authority.

The last thing we should do is try to fire professors we disagree with. That's what the imams do; we won't defeat their influence by becoming as oppressive as they are. If they start acting like real college professors -- being open-minded, rigorous, rational, and aware of what the evidence does and does not justify -- then they will no longer be imams and we will no longer have a reason to oppose them.

Our beliefs and values are strong -- they can survive any kind of fair-minded, rigorous examination. All we ask is a level playing field, and open marketplace of ideas.

And it is in the interest of the state universities, at least, to end their love affair with radical left-wing politics and return to that open marketplace. They should end the ideological litmus tests that have made so many university departments uniformly leftist and anti-American and anti-religious. They should stop letting their faculties make the universities into revolutionary opponents of America, and return to making the universities into places where all ideas are questioned, tested, and fairly discussed.

The universities would be wise to take this seriously. As more and more citizens become aware of what their tax money is being spent to teach, especially in time of war, it is quite possible for demagogues to seize upon the issue and make it a rallying cry.

Witch hunts by the right wing against the left would be just as ugly as the witch hunts the left wing now mounts against the right on many a politically correct campus. Any group that insists on ideological purity is the enemy of real education.

But if the universities don't restore balance themselves, then the pendulum, instead of swinging back to center where it belongs, is likely (history tells us) to swing far to the other side.

Either way, real education is in grave danger. And in time of war, when emotions run high, either the disease or the cure might be fatal.

Far better for professors, faculties, and administrations to examine themselves and return to the idea that being an intellectual does not mean agreeing with a predetermined list of "smart" or "right" opinions, but rather bringing a questioning, rigorous, evidence-based attitude to every intellectual problem.

And if anyone answers this manifesto by declaring that it is bad for citizens, parents, taxpayers even to question what the universities are doing -- well, as far as I'm concerned, that's a complete confession that everything that I've said is true. Because real scholars are never afraid to show their work to the public and submit it for free and open examination.

Copyright © 2002 by Orson Scott Card.


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