Liberation Gazette: Welcome Professor Peter N. Kirstein to Liberation Gazette. This is the second anniversary of your blog. What is your assessment of this enterprise at the end of its second year?
PNK: Well it has been a hectic year. Non-stop activity and much more time consuming than I had imagined. Its focus has somewhat shifted from external affairs and war to academic freedom, which was perhaps inevitable given my affiliation with Illinois-A.A.U.P. and soon to be Vice President, and becoming a contact for sources in some highly publicised academic freedom cases. I do look forward to emphasising peace issues but the blog’s motto at the top describes its raison d’etre and as long as I remain consistent with that, I will feel fulfilled.
LG: Of course some of the academic freedom cases, as you put it, dealt with peace in that both DePaul University Professors Norman G. Finkelstein and University of Colorado former Professor Ward Churchill wrote quite a bit about war and genocide. Professor, do you ever get the “blog burnout blues?”
PNK: Yes you are right about the admixture of war and academic freedom. All I said was my preference would be to focus independently on the war and American imperialism. I am doing that in other venues such as research but it is hardly absent in my posts. With regard to burn out, I don’t know if I would say that but it is a lot of work and it seems to be less voluntary and more driven by deadlines and things like that. There is kinda a blog race to get it out there but since I have experienced a significant increase of visitors and links to my blog, I am playing that game less. There have been some issues concerning academic freedom that were dropped in my lap and I became more of a reporter than an analyst. I prefer to ruminate merely and articulate views but at times I was having the extra burden of verifying sources and making sure I was being properly quoted and cited. For this blog to remain extant, it MUST, repeat MUST be accurate which will sustain the advocacy component. If folks sense that the blog is not trustworthy as a source of information–aside from my opinions–it might be, shall we say, on a short half-life.
LG: You use a nuclear-radiation term. Interesting. Why do you blog, for the publicity?
PNK: Not in a Andy Warhol sense. I believe in an engaged citizenry and in a robust civil society. I care about my world and I need to have an outlet to express never ending emotional and almost frenzied feelings about America and its conduct. This is a cathartic release when I write and I have NEVER written so much as I have these past two years and it has a collateral effect in sharpening papers and a variety of research projects I am involved in.
LG: Your posts are rather lengthy. Many blogs use shorter items. Why is that?
PNK: Yeah I know. Of course some are documents such as in the Dr. Finkelstein case that were rather comprehensive and I sometimes used press releases from CriticalThinking with regard to the Ward Churchill matter. But yes I do like to engage in commentary and since no one has to read any of it, much less all of it, I need to do it because it serves as an outlet for a passionate intensity that never ebbs, only flows.
LG: Let’s talk a little more about you if you don’t mind,
PNK: Do I have a choice?
LG: No seriously. Have you been criticised or questioned by any official of your university for what you place on your blog?
LG: Have you been given any indication that what you are doing is not appropriate or is a distraction for St Xavier’s?
LG: Well you see yourself as an academic freedom advocate; so has there been any effort on the part of your university to reign you in or harness your speech on your blog?
PNK: You can keep asking this in a myriad of ways but the answer remains the same. “No.” Look I am expressing opinions and I believe they are informed. I have a clear if somewhat ironic disclaimer that is clearly accessible on my blog. I think as I said before I am accurate. I think the blog stands for many of the things that are contained in my university’s mission statement but I do not speak for the mission but for myself which I think is allowed under the mission. (Laughs) I learned four years ago that in this world, if you let others define you and speak for you, the persona will not be yours. I am my own person! My freedom and sense of liberation is total. I am totally beyond any fear of job loss or other types of sanctions. My work is too important to be hindered by perceptions of third-party disapproval. I have also answered these questions enough, and would like to move on.
LG: Well not just yet. You were suspended by your university four years ago for shall we say a “robust e-mail” on war and peace and what you felt about the military. Aren’t you a little bit concerned about your job and about the possible penalties you could incur from being so opinionated on your blog?
PNK: First let me say administrations change. New presidents and provosts are hired. An institutional culture can adapt. I believe what I do is the height of professional responsibility and reflects well on the mission of an academician. I can’t let fear control me or I lose everything I have. I would like to believe I am not tolerated but respected and admired for what I stand for. However, why don’t we change the subject. I think I have been very forthcoming and have reiterated that no third party has discussed this blog with me and that is that.
LG: Are you a communist and do you believe in God?
PNK: Is this the inquisition? Are you the House Un-American Activities Committee? I do embrace many elements of classical communism or Marxism, of course. I have said that many times. Not the Soviet command-economy model. Not the state-capitalist autocracies that emerged after 1917 in Russia and China, but the Marxian concept of a classless society, the equalisation of conditions and the transformation of profit into social responsibility. I think communism is a very sophisticated intellectual and social enterprise that contains notable elements of justice, respect for all humans and emphasises that individualism must have its limits and that equality should be more pronounced: health care should be socialized; education should be state-supported through college; day care should be available for working women for example.
LG: What about your belief in God, you did not answer that?
PNK: Well that is a little personal. I don’t discuss religion that much. You have to pick and choose which third rails to touch and I am not big on that topic. But you will persist I know. I do not understand very well the concept of a Supreme Being and have not been able to fully comprehend its meaning. It makes it hard for me to believe in something that I don’t fully understand recognising that absolute knowledge is not a prerequisite for embracing a concept.
LG: So are you an atheist who rejects religion and the notion of a God?
PNK: Religion is not something for me to reject in a societal sense. People have the right to express religious beliefs. I have been with Catholic universities since the day I got out of college and know the terrain quite well as it were. Religious commitment helped end slavery and drive the civil rights movement. It was the force behind the establishment, no pun intended, of many of our great universities. It is, however, sometimes reactionary and a barrier for human progress. It can be used as a racist, sexist, homophobic instrument of repression. In America, religion can be retrogressive and harmful to societal progress but I am not stereotyping all religions or stigmatising the faithful. For me, at this stage, organized religion, even my nominal affiliation with the Unitarian-Universalist church, is something I do not devote a lot of time to. I also repeat: the African-American clergy were the prime movers in ending apartheid in the United States: perhaps the single greatest achievement since the end of slavery in American history.
LG: It seems then you do not believe in God and that you are really an atheist.
PNK: Well, you use your terms and I will describe my views with more nuance. Atheism is an announcement!! Religious skepticism is reflection. I prefer the latter and rarely delve into public advocacy for or against religion. I believe in religious toleration both in terms of freedom of and from religion. The latter is the greater challenge in America today I believe.
LG: Do you hate America and would you prefer to live elsewhere?
PNK: Oh my goodness. I have been asked this so many times that I am bored by it. I would prefer to live in a country that is less violent, less selfish, less militaristic, less…
PNK: Oh stop!, militaristic, and that had universal health care and was not hopelessly backward and xenophobic. There are many nations that I would prefer to live in. Switzerland, Sweden, Canada, Norway, Luxembourg. Of course I am established here, speak the language and am personally comfortable with a decent salary, health care and pension plan. Yet so many are not in my position and instead of “cut and run,” I will stay and continue to speak out to improve America. Instead of you asking dissenters to leave…
LG: I did not say that!
PNK …they should be commended for not leaving and trying to make this violent, imperial nation more globally responsible and less preoccupied with “national security” and “vital strategic interests.” The world hates America, boos our athletes all over the world and I can understand why. I do not love a nation that commits war crimes, that pardons felons because of status and class such as the criminal Scooter Libby, that drops A-bombs, that retains slavery for centuries, and then Jim Crow for ANOTHER century after that, that oppresses homosexuals and denies them marriage, and worships handguns at the same time it says to respect police who are frequently its victims. It is too much for anyone to demand that I exhibit a blind patriotic attachment to a nation such as this.
LG: I hear you professor. We are getting near the end of this interview and let me ask you this please?
LG: Did you find sorrow in the 9/11 attacks? Were you horrified? Where were you and what was your initial response? I would rather you not answer the question than provide a less than precise response.
PNK: Just ask the questions ma’am. I don’t need preconditions and I am being very forthright with you and don’t need prompting. I hate interviews that are Barbara Walters’s type but you are doing your job and I know I am doing mine.
PNK: Anyway I was driving to get my car inspected as required in the state of Illinois. I was driving out of the car-vehicle inspection place when I saw a man stick his fist out of his car window and shout “it’s war.” I was listening to Brahms and did not have the radio on. I did not know if he meant me or what. I turned on the radio and was listening to the early moments. I got to a Best Buy and bought Dylan’s new album, Love and Theft, that was released that day, September 11, 2001. Later that night I played “Mississippi” and there was this verse: “Sky full of fire, pain pourin’ down.” I was with a girlfriend at the time who still teaches at my university and we were just amazed. We just sat there with our mouths open. I felt the attacks were not a Pearl Harbor but resulted from previous unresolved conflicts over the occupation of Palestine by Israel; the horrific baby-killing sanctions imposed upon Iraq; the stationing of American forces in Saudi Arabia and the general unwillingness of America to reach out to the Muslim world. I felt they were tragic and empathised with the casualties falling with those towers and crashing in those planes. Yet I also thought such suffering happens frequently as the result of American military intervention. So I was saddened but not angry and felt it was a spectacular event in an ongoing war. Unfortunately the US construed it as an opening act in a war and has failed to address its underlying causes.
LG: Finally, you are a professor. Do you like teaching?
PNK: Oh, the last question, you give me a softball!! (Laughs) I love teaching. It has always been one of the most rewarding activities of my life. It’s a lot of work but it is priority number one. It comes first, other professional activities wait in queue. I strive to remain up to date on the literature. I feel a buzz everytime I enter a classroom and am never bored. I love the students and they have been more than good to me. They have stood by me through thick and thin and have rewarded me with awards and great and thoughtful comments. They know I put a lot into my classes and that I take my work very seriously. I am still learning how to teach but as long as I am able to teach, I will. I can’t imagine what I would do with myself if I could not teach!!
LG: Thank you Dr Kirstein. It has been very provocative and GOD BLESS AMERICA!
This “interview” did not occur but was adopted as a rhetorical device to reflect on two-years of online commentary.