Tuesday, August 22, 2006

9/11 Denial Comes to Campus

The 9/11 denial movement is built around the proposition that the September 11th atrocities were either deliberately allowed to happen or actually carried out by the US government. Among the more idiotic yet popular conspiracy theories are the belief that the World Trade Center was actually brought down by a controlled demolition, and that the Pentagon was really hit by a cruise missile, not by American Airlines Flight 77.

The utter absurdity of the 9/11 deniers' infantile theories has been proven repeatedly, by web sites such as Snopes.com and Debunking 9/11.com, and by magazines such as Popular Mechanics. The latter publication has even published a new book, Debunking 9/11 Myths, that does a superb job of demolishing the half-baked claims of the conspiracy theorists. In short, the truth of what happened on 9/11, and the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the 9/11 deniers, should be abundantly clear to anyone with a brain and the willingness to use it.

One would think that these theories would be permanently relegated to the fevered swamp where they belong. Sadly, this is not the case. According to a recent poll:

Thirty-six percent of respondents overall said it is "very likely" or "somewhat likely" that federal officials either participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or took no action to stop them "because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East."


The poll also found that 16 percent of Americans speculate that secretly planted explosives, not burning passenger jets, were the real reason the massive twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsed.


Twelve percent suspect the Pentagon was struck by a military cruise missile in 2001 rather than by an airliner captured by terrorists.

The 9/11 denial movement has even spread to our nation's campuses, in the guise of an organization calling itself "9/11 Scholars for Truth". To quote an August 7th piece from the Associated Press:

The organization says publicity over Mr. Barrett's case has helped boost membership to about 75 academics. They are a tiny minority of the 1 million part- and full-time faculty nationwide, and some have no university affiliation. Most aren't scholars in relevant fields. But some are well-educated, with degrees from elite universities such as Princeton and Stanford, and jobs at schools including Rice, Indiana and the University of Texas.

"Things are happening," said co-founder James Fetzer, a retired philosophy professor at the University of Minnesota at Duluth, who maintains, among other claims, that some of the hijackers are still alive. "We're going to continue to do this. Our role is to establish what really happened on 9/11."

The Mr. Barrett referenced above is one Kevin Barrett, an instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He recently became the object of controversy after word of his views reached a statewide audience. However, as this article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel shows, Mr. Barrett has his supporters in Madison:

Mir Babar Basir, a recent graduate of UW-Madison who served as president of the Muslim Students Association, said he knew Barrett and agreed with his take on the attacks. He said Griffin drew hundreds of supportive observers when he spoke at the university.

"This is not just Kevin Barrett's idea," Basir said. "It's legitimate to think that the U.S. government was involved."

"When David Ray Griffin spoke, it was packed," Basir added. "Madison is fairly liberal. It's not surprising that a lot of people agreed with him."

Sadly, it's not surprising that 9/11 denial would strike a chord in the People's Republic of Madison. Neither is it surprising that someone affiliated with the pro-Islamist Muslim Students' Association would embrace such ridiculous conspiracy theories.

The best overview of the 9/11 denial movement in academia is this June 23rd article by John Gravois from the Chronicle of Higher Education. It is an entertaining yet chilling look at how supposedly well educated individuals can come to believe the most ridiculous of theories. The peddlers of 9/11 denial have a breathtaking ability to embrace utter absurdities while dismissing the mountain of evidence to the contrary. Witness the example of James Fetzer, a retired professor from the University of Minnesota-Duluth:

Mr. Fetzer, a voluble, impassioned man who often speaks in long paragraphs, is no stranger to conspiracy theory. Before September 11, he had a side career investigating the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. But the issues surrounding the Scholars for 9/11 Truth are far more acute, he thinks. In Mr. Fetzer's mind, the country is in a state of dire emergency.

Hence, it does not much bother Mr. Fetzer that outside scientists have largely refrained from tackling the group's arguments. "I don't think it's a problem," he says, "because we have so much competence and expertise among ourselves."

911myths.com, a Web site run by a software developer in England, is one of the few venues that offers a running scrutiny of the various claims and arguments coming out of the 9/11 Truth movement. Mr. Fetzer has heard of 911myths .com, but he has never visited the site.

"I have been dealing with disinformation and phony stories about the death of JFK for all these years. There's a huge amount of phoniness out there," he says. "You have to be very selective in how you approach these things."

"I can assure you the things I'm telling you about 9/11 have objective scientific status," he says. 911myths.com, he says, "is going to be built on either fabricated evidence, or disregard of the real evidence, or violations of the principles of scientific reasoning."

"They cannot be right," he says.

(emphasis added-DD)

What's truly frightening, beyond the fact that this man inhabits an entirely different universe from most of the rest of us, is that Mr. Fetzer apparently taught classes on critical thinking at UM-D.

As Gravois notes, the 9/11 deniers have gained a small but growing foothold in academia. Even Howard Zinn, the dean of radical left historians, has provided a positive blurb for one of the major pieces of 9/11 conspiracy literature. One of the main reasons why is that legitimate scholars and scientists have proven reluctant to engage the deniers and their outlandish claims. Most experts see the arguments of the conspiracy theorists as so ridiculous that rebuttal is unnecessary. It has been left to those such as the editors of Popular Mechanics and independent web authors to point out the absurdity of these claims.

Unfortunately, the reluctance of genuine experts to debunk the 9/11 deniers has allowed their infantile theories to gain traction. In addition to horrible pieces of pseudo-scholarship like The New Pearl Harbor, homemade agitprop such as Loose Change has allowed the conspiracy theorists to spread their ideas among the public. That over one third of Americans have come to accept those ideas as plausible is truly frightening.

The danger posed by 9/11 denial goes well beyond its ability to drag public perceptions and discourse into an X-Files fevered swamp where everything is a government conspiracy. The 9/11 atrocities showed for all to see that we are at war with a global jihadist movement that seeks our eventual destruction. This movement is not a figment of CIA propaganda: the literature documenting its existence is voluminous. Similarly, the statements of its leaders and ideologues are readily available to anyone who cares to look. By denying this reality, whether out of malice or sheer stupidity, the 9/11 deniers have simply become useful idiots on behalf of the jihadists.

As with Holocaust denial, the solution to 9/11 denial is not to ban it. The 9/11 conspiracy theorists must be free to peddle their ideas, no matter how ridiculous and offensive. The solution is for legitimate experts and informed citizens to debunk and refute their theories at every available opportunity. Only by engaging and exposing the utter absurdity of 9/11 denial can it be relegated back to the fringe where it belongs.

(Link updated-DD, 8-24-06)


Anonymous Greg said...

I'm not sure I agree. Legally, yes, they have a right to peddle their insanity but trying to offer a reasoned response to insanity is a waste of time and energy better spent on more serious things. Call them useful idiots, traitors, cowards, whatever, and be done with them.

9:57 AM  
Anonymous carlo*37 said...

I believe the constitution allows every citizen the right to express his or her views on issues that involve the country. Therefore it just right that these movements however stupid or crazy their claims sound must be given the chance to speak and heard. As a proof that their claims are not dumbfounded they should present evidence to support them.

1:13 AM  
Blogger Paul Bramscher said...

This government and its ideological forbears has a long track record of honesty, and it's important to cease the chain of questioning (unlike the sciences, scholarship, history, etc.). Not.

I've got a blog entry which suggests the polar opposite of what's been written here:

I think if you read it you'll see that while I don't offer any lunatic conspiracy theory, there is every reason to doubt, and that permenently questioning is a sensible, rational and scholarly activity.

11:00 PM  
Anonymous stinker said...

Be sure to check out the book “Debunking 9/11 Debunking: An Answer to Popular Mechanics and Other Defenders of the Official Conspiracy Theory” due out in March by Dr. David Ray Griffin.



10:09 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home