A letter sent Thursday and signed by 52 Assembly representatives and nine state senators condemns a decision to let Kevin Barrett teach an introductory class on Islam this fall.
U.W.-Madison Provost Pat Farrell launched a review after Barrett spoke last month on a talk show about his views that the terrorist attacks were the result of a government conspiracy to spark war in the Middle East. After the review, Farrell said Barrett was a qualified instructor who can present his views as one perspective on the attacks.
Barrett has said he thinks the most likely theory about the 9/11 plot is that it was an "inside job" organized and commanded by Vice President Dick Cheney.
My beef isn't with Barett's comments - hey, free speech, whatever - but rather that they reveal a mentality that is very dangerous for a professor teaching introductory Islam. Barrett has a clear agenda and is going to use his class as a vehicle for it. Rather than be taught about the great history of jihad, the critically differing interpretations of it between (as an example) the Umaiyyads and the Fatimids, the students will be taught a bland version of the concept that ultimately takes away the power of jihad as a principle of Islam.
This is my beef with progressivism in general - it seeks to neutralize the power of faith and the vibrancy and potency of its ideas. Islam is not easy. It isn't meant to be distilled into coffee-cup aphorisms or worn on the sleeve. It's not a pet cause to be trotted out in service of political posturing. It means something, it has a real depth and a real heft, but people like Barrett (and bin Laden) cannot allow that wondrous complexity to distract their audience from their own petty agendas.
Ann Althouse comments that not firing Barrett is probably the best way to deal with him:
Why would anyone who cared about left wing politics want to be associated with Barrett? He's obviously wrong! It would only make your beliefs seem like a load of lies and idiocy. I think people on the left and the university are simply trying to isolate and endure him as he passes through the system in his one semester. Do you hear any university lefties praising him? Do you hear anyone here praising him? I think not. You're only hearing the most minimal statements, all designed to encapsulate him so that he can pass through the system doing the least harm. These bland statements are like the milk you're supposed to drink if you swallow vitriolic acid. Refusing to fire him is like following the do-not-induce-vomiting advice. I think they are right that firing him would do more damage than passing him through the system.
Damage to the University, sure, but what about the damage to the young students who take the class?
UPDATE: from a comment left at Ann Althouse's blog:
I don't disagree that Barrett is a loon. But what most people don't realize is that Barrett *has* co-taught this class in the past, several times, w/ a member of the faculty (who is I believe tenured, tho I'm not positive). In fact, this is what got him the job: he had been TAing the course for years, he received decent reviews for doing so, and when the usual prof went on sabbatical, he was the logical person to take over it. Oh, and he also happened to be the only applicant.
So I'm just not sure what else the university should have done here. Not offer the course at all?
This is a fair question. But at the very least Barrett's views on 9-11 should get attention so that the students taking the course have that information as they assess and critically evaluate what they are taught. After all, as another commentor says, "We should have more faith in the intelligence and common sense of the students." Fair enough.