Stanford’s Faculty and the Banality of Extremism

Stanford’s Faculty and the Banality of Extremism
“this is what the u.s. IS. what israel IS. founded in slaughter. nourished by our silence & complicity.”
–Aracelis Girmay, Professor of English, Stanford University

On November 27th, 2023, a group of Stanford professors and administrators published an open letter to form the “collective” Stanford Faculty for Justice in Palestine, or SFJP. On their website and in their letter, they explicitly support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction platform to, in their words, end “Israel’s continued colonization of Palestine and all Arab lands” and Israel’s “policy of apartheid toward—and now genocide of—Palestinians.”

Observing the X accounts of several SFJP members, one notices two responses to Hamas’ October 7th massacres: either silence or an obdurate support for Palestinian liberation at any cost. Let’s take a few examples:

On October 7th, David Palumbo-Liu , a professor of comparative literature, simply tweeted “#FreePalestine.”

On October 7th, Jonathan Rosa, an associate professor of education, retweeted a post by the activist Sarah Ahmed: “‘When we revolt it’s not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.’ (Frantz Fanon). Solidarity with Palestine today and everyday! #FreePalestine.”

On October 7th, Anna Bigelow, an associate professor of religious studies, also retweeted a post by Ahmed: “Sometimes it is just overwhelming: when you see in the violence that is seen, the violence that is not.” She commented, “An archaeology of the unseeable.”

Bigelow later expressed her support for art that explicitly glorified Hamas’ October 7th massacre of more than 1,200 Israelis, including 364 Israeli civilians at the Nova music festival. Safia Latif’s painting “Ababil” depicts the border fence rammed open by a bulldozer and a blue sky thick with large, black birds.

If the reference to the Hamas paragliders weren’t clear enough, the title makes it plain. The word “ababil”—Arabic for “flock of birds” appears only once in the Quran in a surah in which Allah sends birds to destroy an army of elephants by dropping stones on them. Bigelow commented, “Standing with you. @ThePCRF does amazing work and so do you.” Latif herself understands the reference, writing on her website, “you’ll recognize these birds as the ababil of the Qur’an who vindicated the sacred land from an evil tyrant with stones of clay.” Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan all have missile systems or drones named Ababil.

These members of the SFJP more than imply that terrorism is justified. They are not revolted by the mass murder of the elderly and children in the kibbutzim. They wink at Hamas’s rape of an unknown number of Israeli women. Terror, massacre, and rape are all useful tools in the “liberationist” toolbox.

The recent flourishing of terror fetishism among the Stanford Graduate Student Union and now Stanford Faculty for Justice in Palestine could be dubbed the “banality of extremism.” It’s not new. Jean-Paul Sartre defended Stalin and Mao. Michel Foucault defended Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamist revolution in Iran. Foucault’s epigones supported the Covid biomedical security state.

In The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics, Mark Lilla succinctly describes our woke faculty:

"Some tyrannical souls become rulers of cities and nations…But such tyrants are rare…There is another, more common class of tyrannical souls that Socrates considers, those who enter public life not as rulers, but as teachers, orators, poets—what today we would call intellectuals…he dives headlong into political discussion, writing books, giving speeches, offering advice in a frenzy of activity that barely masks his incompetence and irresponsibility. Such men consider themselves to be independent minds, when the truth is that they are a herd driven by their inner demons and thirsty for the approval of a fickle public."

We live in a time of stochastic terrorism—lone wolf insurgents radicalized by extremist rhetoric and sentiment execute random attacks on innocent bystanders. SFJP wants to indoctrinate students, especially non-white students, to view this conflict through the lens of racial resentment: black against white, indigenous inhabitant against white colonist. That is their openly stated plan.

Members of the Stanford community would be right to be sickened by SFJP, but we should also take pause: If terror, massacre, and rape are justifiable in the Levant, what would keep SFJP members from justifying these acts here at Stanford or in the US, a supposed “settler colonist” state?

That is a disturbing question. If you think it’s far-fetched, however, consider the epigraph from SFJP member Aracelis Girmay that began this piece: “this is what the u.s. IS. what israel IS. founded in slaughter. nourished by our silence & complicity.” For Girmay, Israel and the United States are both white supremacist, genocidal, settler-colonial states, and this likeness insinuates a common solution: Hamas-style revolution here. Rosa’s X banner proposes the first step: “ABOLISH BORDERS.”

We should not just laugh off their fentanyl progressivism. The banality of extremism may be asinine, but it is dangerous. Members of the SFJP, entrusted with teaching our nation’s best and brightest, are revolutionaries, the sworn enemies of civilization, whose ultimate aim is to destroy America and our way of life, culture, and traditions.

Our resistance is not optional.

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