Tuesday, February 08, 2005

About Ward Churchill

Last week, a major bruhaha arose concerning plans to invite Ward Churchill to speak at a college in New York. Churchill is a long-time activist on Native American issues who has published many popular books and written hundreds of articles.

There are plenty of reasons for people from all points of view to get angry about things Churchill has said. That isn't what happened. People got angry about something Churchill did not say. As a result, the event he was invited to has been cancelled; he has received multiple death threats; he has resigned as chair of his department; and he may lose his job over the issue.

You can read for yourself what Churchill actually said. The original post is available from Darknight Press at their website, under the original title: Some People Push Back

Harsh words? Yes. Hyperbole? Yes. Anger? Yes. Over the top? Undoubtedly.

Grounds for a death warrant? Not at all.

By now, you've probably heard the mainstream lies that have been told about Churchill. For instance, he did not say that all 3,000 9/11 victims deserved to die. He did not say that all 3,000 9/11 victims were “little Eichmans.” He did not say that those who perpetrated the attacks were heros.

On the other hand, I have problems with Churchill and with this particular article. My opinion comes from a different point of view.

I have read nearly every book Churchill has written and I have learned quite a lot from him. None of his writings are grounds for hatred or death threats. I defend his right to have his opinion heard and not distorted. I strongly defend his right to engage in hateful speech and have it protected. He should not have his job or his life threatened for holding unpopular opinions. I willingly defend his right to his job, to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I will not, however, defend this particular essay. The essay's title and opening paragraph are in reference to a comment by Malcolm X in 1963. Here is what Churchill says:

“Some People Push Back” On the Justice of Roosting Chickens

When queried by reporters concerning his views on the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963, Malcolm X famously – and quite charitably, all things considered – replied that it was merely a case of “chickens coming home to roost.”

On the morning of September 11, 2001, a few more chickens – along with some half-million dead Iraqi children – came home to roost in a very big way at the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center. Well, actually, a few of them seem to have nestled in at the Pentagon as well.

Oddly enough, this whole controversy over Ward Churchill came up shortly after we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. I had taken three days off from work and was spending the time re-reading some of my favorite books, including The Autobiography of Malcolm X. In fact, I had just finished Malcolm's description of that particular speech:

Many times since then, I've looked at the speech notes I used that day, which has been prepared at least a week before the assassination. The title of my speech was “God's Judgment of White America.” It was on the theme, familiar to me, of “as you sow, so shall you reap,” or how the hypocritical American white man was reaping what he had sowed.

The question-and-answer period opened, I suppose inevitably, with someone asking me, “What do you think about President Kennedy's assassination? What is your opinion?”

Without a second thought, I said what I honestly felt – that it was, as I saw it, a case of “the chickens coming home to roost.” I said that the hate in white men had not stopped with the killing of defenseless black people, but that hate, allowed to spread unchecked, finally had struck down this country's Chief of State. I said it was the same thing as had happened with Medgar Evers, with Patrice Lumumba, with Madame Nhu's husband.

The headlines and the news broadcasts promptly had it: “Black Muslims' Malcolm X: ‘Chickens Come Home to Roost.' ”

It makes me feel weary to think of it all now. All over America, all over the world, some of the world's most important personages were saying in various ways, and in far stronger ways that I did, that America's climate of hate had been responsible for the President's death. But when Malcolm X said the same thing, it was ominous.

If you have read anything written by Malcolm X, you know that the man was a profoundly religious man. He loved God and he loved those who loved and served the godly purpose of truth and justice. In the beginning of his religious career, Malcolm X focussed on uplifting black people, but over time he came to love people of all races who worked for justice:

“I'm for truth, no matter who tells it. I'm for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I'm a human being first and foremost, and as such I'm for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.”

For me, there is a qualitative and fundamental difference between the views Malcolm expresses in “The Autobiography…” and the view Churchill expresses in his essay.

Churchill's essay expresses sympathy for no one. He attacks both pro-war Americans and anti-war Americans. He attacks both U.S. soldiers and the “soldiers” (his term) who carried out the attacks that led to 3000 deaths on September 11, 2001.

I honestly don't believe that the kind of anger and hatred that Churchill expresses in that essay has any value. In fact, I believe that he was engaging in the hatred that Malcolm X condemned in his “Chickens come home to roost” speech. Malcolm X said that, if we allow ourselves to engage in hateful acts toward others, that hatred will be returned to us in kind.

And yet, still, I do not hate Churchill or believe that he deserves the odium that has been heaped upon him. I hope he finds time to re-read Malcolm X. I have always found it extremely valuable.