Wahneema Lubiano. Her authorship of the guilt-presuming Group of 88 statement (something “happened” to Crystal Mangum; “thank you” to protesters carrying “castrate” signs; the signatories would hold firm “regardless of what the police say or the court decides”) didn’t exactly identify her as a friend of civil liberties.
Based on their attitudes and actions since 2006, Lubiano and her Group colleagues would be about the last people expected to stand up for due process or the rights of the accused. Yet this self-described “post-structuralist teacher-critic leftist”—who views part of her job as “engaging in politics (including strategizing)”—has found a new crusade to occupy her time. In 2006, a former
Lubiano’s not the only faculty member going to the barricades for Hashmi. A petition from a group calling itself “Educators for Civil Liberties” has attracted the signatures of more than 500 professors. While denying that their words take a position on Hashmi’s guilt, the “Educators” maintain that the
Given the Bush administration’s record on civil liberties in terrorism-related cases, it’s possible to believe that Hashmi has suffered improperly. Yet the petition’s presentation of the case is so one-sided—and its comments about the case’s effects on the academy so off-the-wall—as to make any undecided reader less, rather than more, likely to embrace the signatories’ position.
The Chronicle of Higher Education, a non-partisan, non-ideological journal that covers college and university issues, produced an article that appropriately described the case against Hashmi as “murky.” No items in the Chronicle article, the few other publications on the case, or any public statements by the signatories point to even one specific violation of Hashmi’s civil liberties.
Nonetheless, the signatories confidently affirm, “The prosecution’s case against Hashmi, an activist within the Muslim community, threatens the First Amendment rights of others. While Hashmi’s political and religious beliefs, speech, and associations are constitutionally protected, the government may attempt to use them as evidence of his criminal intent.”
Well, yes: at trial, for instance, the government may point out that Hashmi’s praise of John Walker Lindh (the “American Taliban”) provides insight into his state of mind in allegedly seeking to aid Al Qaeda. Similarly, in the 1960s, it was perfectly appropriate for federal prosecutors in trials of KKK members to use their (constitutionally protected) racist statements or memberships to provide insight into the Klansmens’ mindsets. There isn’t anything unusual about such a trial strategy, and it’s absurd to say that such an attempt “threatens the First Amendment rights of others.”
(By the way, I assume that each of the “Educators” supports repeal of all hate crimes laws—since such legislation is based on the premise of using “constitutionally protected” “political and religious beliefs, speech, and associations . . . as evidence of . . . criminal intent.”)
Accoding to the “Educators,” Hashmi’s civil liberties also have been violated because “under a plea agreement reported in the media, [alleged Hashmi confederate Junaid] Babar will receive a reduced sentence in return for his cooperation.”
It’s true that (based on what we know from press reports about the evidence), the government’s case aggressively uses testimony from Hashmi’s former confederate. And it’s possible—as with every criminal who enters into a plea bargain—that Babar is lying. But it’s very strange indeed to claim that all testimony obtained as a result of a plea bargain automatically violates the civil liberties of a suspect. If the “Educators” really believe this point, however, perhaps they should petition the court to overturn convictions of such figures as Martha Stewart, Enron executives, or WorldCom executives. After all, each of those cases (like the Hashmi case) involved testimony obtained from plea bargains.
The statement’s two authors stretch credulity even further when they discuss the case’s alleged effect on the academy.
The signatories present no evidence that the government has even investigated Hashmi’s utterances in the “sacred space” of the “classroom,” or that the government intends to make the classroom “an item of scrutiny in a court of law.” Nor do the signatories present any evidence to suggest a pattern of “the criminalization(!) of Muslim students.”
That hundreds of professors could sign a statement associated with such claims says more about the rush-to-judgment attitude of the academy than any violations of civil liberties by the government. More remarkably, Lubiano isn’t the only Group member to have suddenly discovered civil liberties. In fact, the list of “Educators for Civil Liberties” includes no fewer than eleven members of the Group of 88.
It’s not clear what has caused Lubiano’s sudden interest in due process. I would have asked her directly, but Lubiano previously had instructed me not to e-mail her.
Joining Lubiano as “Educators” members are Group of 88’er Rom Coles (Political Science)—perhaps best known in the case as husband of the infamous Kim Curtis—the Literature Department’s Michael Hardt, Ariel Dorfman, and Walter Mignolo; English professor Priscilla Wald; and Caroline Light of Women’s Studies.
Likewise, Group of 88 historians Pete (“floating phallus”) Sigal, Irene Silverblatt, Jocelyn Olcott, and Claudia Koonz all have apparently become born-again civil libertarians. Here’s how Koonz’s website describes her research agenda: “How does it happen that citizens who consider themselves deeply moral can believe that some of their fellow citizens embody a danger so lethal that they must be eliminated? . . . I am less concerned with fanatics’ hate speech than with the subtle prejudices common in generally liberal milieus.”
A naïve person might wonder if the Lubiano cohort learned from the Mike Nifong case. Having not only remained silent during the highest-profile modern case of prosecutorial misconduct but joined in an effort that even some signatories (privately) conceded mirrored Nifong’s viewpoint, Lubiano, Koonz, and the other eight Group members might have decided to stand up for due process rights whenever and wherever possible.
A less charitable—if more realistic—person might suppose that, as in April 2006, the civil libertarianism of Lubiano & Friends begins and ends with the limits of their race/class/gender worldview.
[Parts of this post originally appeared, in a modified form, at Cliopatria.]