Kevin Barrett, lecturer at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, who the New York Times dubs a “Skeptic on 9-11″ yesterday taught his first class on “Islam: Religion and Culture 370.” Such an incident would not conventionally prove occasion for note, but Barrett holds iconoclastic views on September 11, concerning, unsurprisingly, U.S. governmental involvement in the attacks. He spoke piquantly to the Times: “The 9/11 report will be universally reviled as a sham and a cover-up very soon.” The revelation of Barrett’s views provoked controversy, detailed here. Barrett is not simply given to airing his views, but acting upon them, as a co-founder of the Muslim-Jewish-Christian Alliance for 9-11 Truth. These truths involve the fact that the CIA met with Bin Laden shortly before the attacks and that two planes were incapable of felling the Twin Towers. Only government explosives, or something of the sort, could do that.
The University President had written Barrett, urging him to dissociate himself from U Wisconsin in his 9-11 activities, and some Wisconsin legislators pressed for his firing. The first class went off without incident. Barrett in fact cautioned the class that discussion of 9-11 would be confined to two weeks. The course syllabus does include essays suggesting U.S. governmental involvement in 9-11. This no doubt came as a disappointment to some students, whose interest in Islam seems, of course, ever-scholarly. One of our best and brightest, quoted in the Wisconsin Badger-Herald:
“I’m not going to lie, I enrolled because it is such a controversial class,” UW senior Megan Gill said.
Gill’s hopes might have been crushed with Barrett’s impish introduction “Welcome to Conspiracy Theories 370, not” but the start of the class continues to pose stark questions. The innocuous start will likely provoke commentary that the furor in the Wisconsin legislature was unwarranted. Barrett’s path is not surprising; most of his critics did not suggest that Barrett would use the class as an exclusive forum for 9-11 conspiracy theorizing. The extent to which Barrett’s personal views would influence his class remained uncertain and difficult to verify; based upon the slight evidence thus far, he does not seem to have used the class to advance his 9-11 views. Barrett spoke, in the Badger-Herald interview:
“I approach my job here in a pretty traditional perspective,” Barrett said. “I’m trying to teach students how to think critically, and I’m trying to broaden their worlds by exposing them to different interpretations to bodies of texts.”
Even if Barrett continues in such an ‘objective’ manner, there remains legitimate question of an examination so dispassionate as to treat the assertion that the U.S. government had a hand in the 9-11 attacks as merely a “different interpretation” of world events, beyond any question of what Barrett favors personally (which is of course this very item). Academic offerings are certainly to be expected to provide an assortment of views, but interpretations that offer a base of truth. The “different interpretation” of the 9-11 Commission report as “sham” and “cover-up” falls more than a little outside the usual sphere of “critical thinking.” The inclusion of, say, President Ahmadinejad’s thoughts in a course on the Holocaust (“Holocaust? Qu’est que c’est?”) would hardly be considered a blow for academic freedom or the creation of well-rounded minds, but a serious regression from any pretense of the pursuit of truth. Who seriously hopes for an academic forum in which all ideas are given equal weight. Has nothing ever been discredited? Are all available theories to be presented equally? This is seriously doubtful. Ann Althouse asked:
“What if we found someone hired to teach here was a white supremacist, planning to devote a week of his course to his theory? Would he be treated with as much respect as Barrett? What if we found someone hired to teach evolution was a young earth creationist planning to devote a week of his course to his theory? These people now must be treated the same.” We’ll see if Wisconsin has plans to bring on any Phrenologists to teach Abnormal Psychology.
For those insufficiently entertained, Barrett himself can be seen in the New York area on September 10th at the 9/11 Truth Breakthrough Rally. Admission for this event is $12, which is still a bargain compared to the 9/11 commission report.