Virginia Tech English Professor, Steven Salaita, On Why Not To Support The Troops
My interview with Virginia Tech Porfessor Steven Salaita was everything my brief interview with MSNBC host Karen Finney wasn’t: Long, civil, with an invited guest answering hard but politely asked questions, and given ample opportunity to explain his answers. Finney wouldn’t give an answers, and the impression grew among most listeners –the live audience and the online audience later– that she was clueless about the basics of recent American history. When she bolted I and the audience had a great big laugh at her lack of professionalism as well as her challenged host syndrome which seems to creep up on MSMBCers outside of their loyal cadre of coffee carrying associate producers and fawning guests.
Not so Professor Salaita, who came, stayed, stayed cool throughout, answered most of the toughest questions, though some with a degree of evasiveness that itself became an answer. Kudos for him for going the full five rounds. Our last couple of exchanges are the most interesting to me. It must be difficult to accept tax payer money as your salary and your benefits when the entity paying you –the government– is so deeply despised by you. In any event, read it all, and if you follow him on Twitter, reap civility and a willingness to engage with the same degree of polite but firm disagreement.
HH: CNN reporting at this hour that an unidentified official says the United States could strike Syria within hours, and so it’s an interesting time to talk to my next guest, Professor Steven Salaita, is an associate professor of English at Virginia Tech University. He wrote a very controversial piece for Salon.com over the weekend – “No thanks: Stop saying ‘support the troops.'” So it’s an interesting time to talk with him. Professor, thanks for joining me. I appreciate it very much.
SS: Thank you for having me on.
HH: How long do I have you for?
SS: I have no idea. I was meant to understand about 10-15 minutes.
HH: Oh, I could go longer. If I can go longer, I’ll just pace myself easier, and that way, I’ll give you more time to talk. Are you free for, say, the hour?
HH: Great, terrific, I’ll go slow, then. Let’s start with biography. It’s an interview, not a debate. I’ll really curious about your perspective. I read up on you today. What do you teach at Virginia Tech?
SS: I teach English. I’m in the English Department, and I teach American Literature.
HH: So mostly 20th Century, 19th Century, that kind of stuff?
SS: Mostly 20th Century, 21st Century, although this semester, I’m teaching a class in early American Lit.
HH: Okay, and did you get your PhD from Virginia Tech?
SS: I didn’t. I got it from the University of Oklahoma.
HH: Oh, you’re a Sooner.
SS: I am a Sooner, yes.
HH: How about undergrad?
SS: From Radford University, which is nearby Virginia Tech.
HH: It’s in Virginia, you bet. And you grew up in Virginia. I saw that in your bio. You have authored six books, you write frequently about Arab Americans, Palestine, indigenous peoples and decolonization, according to your author bio. Are you tenured, by the way?
SS: I am.
HH: Ah, that’s a good thing for when you write a piece like this. So how’s the reaction to the piece going?
SS: It’s been mostly positive. I’ve had a lot of currently-serving folks and veterans tell me that they agreed with and appreciated the point of view that I offer. There’s been a little bit of sort of anger, sort of a type of vitriol about the point of view. Otherwise, it’s generated a lot of discussion. The last I saw on the Salon article, they were up over a thousand comments, so it certainly touched a nerve. And I think if you, I’ve been grazing through some of the Salon comments, and I’m seeing quite the spectrum of responses. You’re getting everything from conservative to liberal, to far left to far right.
HH: Yeah, I do not allow comments on my site because of too many nuts. So don’t, just disregard the nuts. We disagree, but this is a pretty civilized show, so we won’t be having any vitriol. Are you a veteran?
SS: No, I’m not.
HH: Any member of your family a veteran?
SS: Not that I know of.
HH: Do you have any close friends who are on active duty in the military?
SS: I wouldn’t say close friends, no.
HH: Do you know anyone who’s served in the war in the last ten years?
SS: Yeah, a good amount of folks.
SS: What’s that?
HH: Do you know them well?
SS: I know some of them well, yes.
HH: Okay, so you do have some experience with the military.
SS: Some, well, in terms of having interacted with folks who have served or who are currently serving, yes.
HH: And so you know the hardships on their family and on them, and how long the last ten years have been for people who have been deployed, and repeated deployments, and all that kind of stuff?
SS: I am aware.
HH: All right. One of my background questions, I always like to know if I have any common ground at all with someone with whom I disagree.
HH: And I run through the set of books I call the Necessary Bookshelf to understand the war. I just want to know if you’ve read any of them.
HH: The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright?
HH: The Outpost by Jake Tapper?
HH: The Forever War by Dexter Filkins?
HH: Little America: The War Within The War For Afghanistan by Rajiv Chandrasekaran?
HH: Nuclear Jihadist by Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins?
HH: Dreams And Shadows by Robin Wright?
HH: Legacy Of Ashes by Timothy Weiner?
HH: Crisis Of Islam by Bernard Lewis?
HH: All right, we’ve got one. Okay, there’s something. World War IV by Norman Podhoretz?
SS: No. I’ve read some of Podhoretz’ other works, but not that one, no.
HH: Faith, Reason And The War Against Jihadism by George Weigel?
HH: America Alone by Mark Steyn?
SS: No, but I’m familiar with some of his other work.
HH: How about Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts by Robert Kaplan?
SS: No, again, familiar with some of his other work, though.
HH: Last one, The Pentagon’s New Map by Thomas P.M. Barnett?
HH: All right, what do you read for military perspective?
SS: I don’t really read much for military perspective. I don’t consider myself somebody who, you know, studies the military, nor do I hold up a particular interest in that area. I tend to read things, well, I read a lot of fiction, first of all, but when I read non-fiction, I tend to read a wide variety of things that proffer cultural critique, and that you know, sort of focus on and examine discourse and representation, in other words, you know, what people are saying, what it means, you know, how folks are being represented in the media, and how the media is being received by certain demographics and constituencies inside and outside of the United States.
HH: Okay, I’m talking with Professor Steven Salaita of the Virginia Tech University, who wrote a piece for Salon entitled “No thanks. Stop saying ‘support the troops.'” Now it’s my experience that usually, authors don’t get to write their headline. Did you write that headline?
SS: I did not.
HH: That’s what I thought. But so would you, it’s too long. I will link it at www.hughhewitt.com. I will Tweet out a link. It’s too long to read the whole thing. Would you give a summary, and then I’ll go to a few quotes that are specific.
SS: Okay, if I had to summarize it, it’s a mixture of some, I guess, personal reflection couched in an analysis of what the phrase support the troops might actually mean, and how it connotes, and in what ways it’s being used and by whom. And the central argument that I make in the piece is that the constant appeals by corporations and the government for American citizens to support the troops is in part vague, so vague as to be meaningless. But more important, it appeals to whatever instincts we have towards putting aside critical thinking, right, and to sort of accepting it as a platitude, rather than sort of unpacking what exactly it means to support the troops, who benefits from proffering that vague support, and in what ways it doesn’t actually, in what ways does it not actually seem to benefit the men and women who actually serve in the military. And that’s one of my main arguments, that it doesn’t seem to do much for the people who actually serve or have served.
HH: Now twice a year, I do a three hour show dedicated to the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, which raises money for the Semper Fi Fund. I’ve hosted appeals for Fisher House. Those are the two highest-ranked by Charity Navigator charities to help wounded veterans of the war and their families. Do you think that qualifies as support your troops? And would you support such efforts?
SS: It depends. I mean, I would be completely willing to read into it, to read about it, to see what’s going on, and then make that sort of determination. But I don’t oppose in any way, and I want to make this clear, because I think there has been a certain misreading, or a certain type of misreading of the article, based, I think largely on the headline, to be honest. I don’t think the headline, you know, accurately summates what the text that follows, but you know, I feel like any efforts to support the human beings, right, who serve or have served, right, whether it be raising money for them, making their transition back to life in the United States an easier one, you know, helping them procure good, sustainable employment, these sorts of things, are all fantastic initiatives, right? And these are initiatives that I would never oppose. What I oppose is the way that support the troops as a phrase, as a platitude, I call it, sort of exemplifies the way that we are meant to be put into a sort of lock step patriotism, and stand behind whatever it is that the government chooses to do, right, and how it chooses to deploy the troops.
HH: All right, now let me go to a couple of quotes. First quote from your article, “Such troop worship is trite and tiresome, but that’s not its primary danger. A nation that continuously publicizes appeals to ‘support our troops’ is explicitly asking its citizens not to think. It is the ideal slogan for suppressing the practice of democracy presented to us in the guise of democratic preservation.” How does that work?
SS: That if we take the phrase support the troops, or support our troops and comparable phrases, I guess there are a number of them that…
HH: And we have about a minute to the break, by the way, Professor, so I didn’t want to, I’ll give you a minute to the break, and then we’ll come back.
SS: Okay, okay. …is, if we sort of take it as an exemplar of a push by the government, and a lot of the corporate elite who have an interest in what the government is doing internationally, i.e. with the military, by supporting the troops, or by repeating the slogan, we’re not actually supporting the individuals who comprise the military. But we’re supporting a particular vision of the American role in the world. And that vision is one that doesn’t benefit the vast majority of Americans. It’s one that benefits the entities that tend to profit from the imperial adventures that our military gets sent to execute.
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HH: Professor, very quickly, running down past American conflicts, did you support Bill Clinton’s decision to wage war against Serbs on the part of the Kosovars in the 90s?
SS: I didn’t really have an opinion on it at the time. You know, I was a college student. It wasn’t something I had an engagement in, so that’s one thing that I’m kind of agnostic about.
HH: Did you support the American invasion of the Gulf War of Iraq in 1991?
SS: Again, I was a high school student, but you know, as a high school student, you know, I had my trepidations about it. And I can say that I’ve read enough about it in the ensuing years to where I, if it were to happen again, I would express serious reservations.
HH: And did you support the decision to invade Afghanistan in 2001?
HH: Did you support the decision to invade Iraq in 2003?
HH: If the United States uses force, either alone or in concert with its NATO allies against Syria following the chemical attack of last weekend, will that be a good move or a bad move in your view?
SS: Honestly, honestly, Hugh, I’m still working that one out. It’s a little bit more complicated than my mind can organize at the moment. So I’m reading a lot and thinking about it. But I have very passionate friends on both sides of the issue, and I’m kind of trying to hear them out right now.
HH: Okay, back to the article. You write, “The U.S. troops are now everywhere. They occupy bases and war zones throughout the Arab world and Central Asia, and have permanent presence in dozens of countries. They also occupy every tract of discursive territory in the United States. The troops are an omnipresent, if amorphous, symbol of moral and intellectual austerity.” You go on to write, “Unthinking patriotism exemplified by support of the troops, however insincere or self-serving, is an asset to the modern business model, not simply for good P.R., but for the profit it generates.” You also write, “Support the troops is the most overused platitude in the United States, but still the most effective for anybody who seeks interpersonal or economic ingratiation. The platitude abounds with significance, but lacks the burdens of substance and specificity. It says something, apparently apolitical, while patrolling for heresy to an inelastic logic. Its only concrete function is to situate users into normative spaces. Cliches,” you continue, “aren’t usually meant to be analyzed, but this one illuminates imperialism so succinctly that to think seriously about it is to necessarily assess jingoism, foreign policy, and national identity. The sheer of acuity and inexplicability of the phrase, despite its ubiquity, indicates just how incoherent patriotism is these days.” A couple of questions.
HH: Do you think America is an imperial power?
SS: I do.
HH: And do imperial powers usually leave on their own timetable as we did in Iraq?
SS: It depends on the circumstances. There have been certain instances where imperial powers have left of their own accord, but there’s always a pushback, right? You know, I think it’s difficult to look at any historical instance and say okay, they just decided that this moment was the perfect time to pack our bags and go home. You know, there are always circumstances at play there that determine the length of time that the occupier spends in the country.
HH: If, do you think we’re acting imperially in Afghanistan?
HH: Okay, now here’s a sincere question.
HH: I read you a long list of books about the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, none of which you have read, and you told me that you haven’t read about the wars. How can you come to a conclusion that we’re acting imperially if you have not read about how we are acting?
SS: No, no, I have read plenty about how we’re acting. You know, I spend plenty of time. You know, reading both articles and books, I just haven’t read that particular set of books, because they tend not to, they tend not to interest my politics or my personal preferences. But I’m absolutely going to check out your website and look at the list of essential books and start reading them, because I’m interested in what they have to say. But no, no, I consider myself well read on the matters.
HH: Okay, which books would you recommend to my audience they read about Afghanistan and Iraq?
SS: About Afghanistan and Iraq? I think the work of Jeremy Scahill has been really good. That’s Scahill.
SS: I think that, I’m looking at my bookshelf, I’m looking at my bookshelf right now. Richard Seymour’s book is quite good, The Liberal Defense Of Murder. Seymour is S-E-Y-M-O-U-R. Rahul Mahajan’s Full Spectrum Dominance is excellent, Gore Vidal’s Imperial America is good. Arundhati Roy’s War Talk is good. I can…
HH: Okay, that’s fair. I just wanted to get some perspectives, because I’m looking at my producer, Marlon, who’s a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, and is about the least imperial person you’ve ever met. And I’m thinking that probably a lot of people, and I’m not a veteran. I’m a civilian’s civilian. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got no claim to any moral authority here at all. But my guess is the vast majority of those who served in those combat arenas did not think of themselves as imperialists.
SS: Right. I don’t doubt that.
HH: And so are they deluded? Is Marlon deluded?
SS: Oh, no.
HH: Well, actually, he is pretty deluded on a lot of things like the Lakers, but I mean as to what he was doing there? Was he just simply clueless?
SS: No, no. I have absolutely no basis or authority to make that sort of a judgment. I don’t even know the gentleman, right? I don’t know obviously the vast majority of people who have served in Afghanistan. I guess, you know, very few people do, would say that what people are deployed to do, right, doesn’t always correspond, or how people are told they’re being deployed, excuse me, doesn’t always correspond with the interests and the ideas of those who do the deploying.
HH: With a minute and a half to the break, what do you think we were doing in Iraq?
SS: Again, we were doing lots of things. I’ve never found any of the singular theories particularly convincing, right? I know that we have short time. The various theories that I’ve heard that I don’t find fully convincing are that there was a personal vendetta by Bush against Saddam because of a conflict with his father. I find that a little bit too Freudian mumbo-jumbo, that we were doing it on behalf of Israel, I don’t necessarily believe that, and that we were doing it on behalf of oil. But I do think that there are profound business interests, right, and that came to bear on the invasion of Iraq that have been validated and verified in the ensuing years.
HH: Is it good that Saddam is dead?
SS: That’s, I mean, I really can’t say. That’s a tough question for me to answer. I’m certainly no fan of his. I’m certainly no fan of his.
HH: But you are ambivalent about whether it’s good that he’s dead? I’m glad that Stalin’s dead. I wish Castro were dead. Would you like Castro to be dead soon?
SS: Me? No, I wouldn’t.
HH: Do you admire Fidel?
SS: Not particularly, no.
HH: Well, in any way?
SS: Yeah, I do admire him in some ways, yeah.
HH: All right, we’ll have to find out what those are when we come back, America. Don’t go anywhere.
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HH: Professor, when we went to break, I was asking you about Castro, and you said there were some things you admire about him. What do you admire about Fidel Castro?
SS: I’m no historian of Cuba or the Caribbean. Let me just put out that disclaimer. But you know, some of his writings about social justice and equality have been quite compelling. And I think where I find interesting Castro is in the early moments of the revolution there in 1957-1958 in Cuba. There’s actually a fantastic book called Havana Nocturne by T.J. English, and in Havana Nocturne, English describes in glorious detail how in the 1950s, Cuba was largely run by the American mafia, you know. And these things are all represented, of course, in the Godfather II, a movie that everybody should watch if they haven’t seen it already. But you know, it was in that environment of profound corruption and profound inequality that the revolution, that the discourse of Castro and Guevara, and Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother, sort of gained traction among significant numbers of people. And if it hadn’t gained that significant traction, I don’t think that the revolution would have been successful. So when I look at Castro in that particular moment of history, he’s offering the people of Cuba a vision of life that for the majority of them is vastly superior to the one that they were currently living.
HH: Do you think they’re better off…
SS: Where part of Castro, when he assumes power, and starts jailing and killing dissidents, and looting wealth and these sorts of things, but…yeah, go ahead.
HH: Do you think the people of Cuba are better off now that he won? Or would they have been better off had the revolution of the late 50s failed?
SS: I don’t know. I can’t speculate on that.
HH: I think it’s pretty easy, but that’s a disagreement. Have you read Armando Valladares’ Against All Hope?
SS: No, I haven’t.
HH: Castro’s a monster, Professor. You really, he’s just a monster. He’s one of the evilest people in the world. How about North Korea? Would you like Kim Jung Il to be dead?
SS: You know, again, no fan of his, but Hugh, you’ve got to remember, you’re talking to an English professor. The first thing that immediately comes into mind when you ask that sort of question is, you know, good for whom, and you know, who gets to kill him, and what happens when he’s dead. For example, if the current Korean leader, if he gets killed, I’m not going to shed any tears, okay? I mean, I feel nothing for the guy. But what if, you know, a surrogate steps in and does the exact same thing? That doesn’t do anybody any good. We have to think on the level of transforming the society.
HH: Well, here’s why, I’m surprised at your hesitancy to make moral judgments, because when I was getting ready for the interview, I read one of your pieces from Jadaliyya, “Can A Muslim Truly Be An American,” from 2010, it concludes this way. “If America, in essence, if not in law, is in fact a Christian nation, then no crosses should be allowed in Panama, Iraq, Palestine, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Grenada, Lebanon, Haiti, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, East Timor, Somalia, Afghanistan, Mexico and Japan, for in these places, American violence caused extraordinary destruction. And in that destruction, all Christians are implicated. Indeed, given the countless atrocities committed against indigenous peoples directly in the name of Christianity and the so-called new world, it is certainly insensitive to build churches anywhere in the United States.” Now that statement makes lots of moral judgments, correct?
SS: Yes and no. It actually critiques a certain type of moral judgment that I’m against. That paragraph in the context of the broader article is completely tongue in cheek. I don’t believe, right, I mean, at all, right, that the construction of churches should be limited in any way. People should worship freely and you know, do whatever they do, you know. That’s a basic American right.
SS: But what I’m saying is based on the same discourse by which Muslims are often judged, if we turned around that same discourse and applied it, right, to Christians, this is the kind of rationale that would ensue. It’s the way of showing how the discourse towards Muslims is highly problematic.
HH: Oh, I got that point. But in there is included the argument, the premise for making your ironic statement.
HH: …is that we have committed great violence in the Philippines, Grenada, Lebanon, Haiti, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, East Timor, Somalia, Afghanistan, Mexico and Japan. Do you think that’s true?
SS: It is true. It’s either committed or directly supported, absolutely.
HH: But was it moral violence?
SS: What do you mean by moral violence?
HH: Like the invasion of Normandy. Was that moral violence?
SS: I mean, I guess every type of violence, right, has a morality attached to it, right?
HH: But I mean, was it an unequivocal…
SS: It’s a morality you can either accept or not accept, depending on the circumstances.
HH: Was it unequivocally good to kill Hitler?
SS: What’s that?
HH: Unequivocally good to kill Hitler?
SS: Once again, it depends on what happens in the wake of his death, right?
HH: All right, we’ll be right back with Professor Salaita on the Hugh Hewitt Show.
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HH: Let’s turn to Israel, Professor. In an article that you wrote in April of 2009, renouncing Israel on principle for Dissonant Voice, you concluded, “I am happy, eager, even, to affirm the right of Jewish people to live in peace and security, wherever that may be, a right that all humans deserve in no particular order of worthiness. But I won’t celebrate Israel’s bloody founding, and its goal of retaining a juridical ethno-centrism. Ultimately, when Zionists demand that you affirm Israel’s right to exist, what they are really asking for is your validation. Don’t give it to them. Until Israel treats the Palestinians equally and humanely, it won’t have earned the right to a celebrated existence.” Now I am just a talk show host, and I ask simple questions. But when I read that, I think to myself you really wouldn’t be upset if Israel went away completely as a state.
SS: I wouldn’t necessarily be upset at the abolition of nation-states in general. I tend towards anarchism in that regard. But I would not be upset at all if Israel as a legally Judeo-centric state transformed into a genuine democracy for all of its citizens, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Druze alike.
HH: Now in 1948, Israel received the sanction of the United Nations as a state. Was that a legitimate action by the United Nations?
SS: It depends. It was a legitimate action in the framework of the international legal governing body, but it wasn’t a legitimate action in the sense that it was founded on the dispossession of an entire population. And that population deserves and will have to have redress in order for the conflict to end.
HH: That could very well be true, but the United Nations did act to recognize the state of Israel. So if you believe in the United Nations’ authority, the state of Israel has a right to exist. It’s just, that’s why I don’t understand why you would hesitate to say of course it has a right to exist. I wish they would change, I understand that argument, but the right to exist is written in international law, isn’t it? And are you against international law?
SS: No, it’s, we don’t ever hear about other states having a right to exist. That’s something that’s largely particular to Israel. And it’s raised, that point is raised in a specific context where they’re asking us to accept Israel’s right to exist in a particular way.
HH: Well, no, no, actually, that’s not…
SS: That’s what I’m thinking. And in that particular way…
HH: We hear about Kurds being agitating for their own state often. We hear about East Timorans…
HH: …agitating for their state often. But they haven’t been granted the United Nations’ recognition, as, for example, the former states of Yugoslavia have been. So we often hear about the debate. And I haven’t seen anything where you’ve written that any of those actions should be reconsidered. But I do get the sense you wish to reconsider Israel’s existence.
SS: I wish to reconsider Israel’s existence again as a legally-inscribed Judeo-centric state that has a two-tiered legal system that is completely unjust. Yeah, and also, speaking of the United Nations, it’s also in the United Nations resolution that says Israel needs to return the territories it conquered by war, and implement the right of return, or at the very least, offer compensation, neither of which it’s offered to do. And Israel has run afoul of so many U.N. resolutions that it’s kind of silly for Israel, then, to turn around and rely on the U.N. for legitimacy when it pretty much ignores dozens and dozens of U.N. resolutions that ask it to rein in its behavior.
HH: So you don’t think Israel is a legitimate state?
SS: I don’t understand the question.
HH: All right, let me put a different subject, because we’re running low on time.
HH: Hamas controls Gaza, correct?
HH: Is Hamas a terrorist organization?
SS: Yes and no. Hamas now is more accurately recognized as, for better or worse, and in my opinion, for worse, a democratically-elected government. Just like the Muslim Brotherhood was elected in Egypt, the people of Gaza elected Hamas, which is you know, has a similar ideology to the Brotherhood.
HH: What do you think of that ideology?
SS: But there have been, there have been actions by Hamas in the past that can rightly be conceptualized as terrorism, yes.
HH: What do you make of the ideology of the Brotherhood?
SS: Oh, I am absolutely not a fan.
HH: But what does that mean? What aren’t you a fan of?
SS: I’m not a fan, first of all, of religious rule, you know, I’m a secularist. I’m an adamant secularist, first of all. And second of all, in Egypt, there are profound problems with how the Brotherhood historically, and in the present, has treated its Coptic minorities. So those are my main objections to the Brotherhood, one philosophical, one practical.
HH: And have you read Qutb’s work?
SS: Parts of it. I don’t read Arabic, so I’ve read some of his work in English translation, but I’m not very familiar with him.
HH: What was your opinion of the decision to remove Morsi by the military?
SS: Again, I think of Egypt similarly to how I think of Syria. It’s a little bit too complicated for me to form a black and white opinion about. I’m sort of at the stage where I’m listening to people, you know, on Facebook and on Twitter, and on various forums on the internet argue over it. And again, I have very dear friends and colleagues who take vastly different positions on it. At base, I would say that the Brotherhood was elected in a, and by all accounts, a fair and democratic process, and that they deserve to carry out their term until the next election.
HH: Did President Morsi act counter to the Egyptian constitution?
SS: It seems like he has, yes.
HH: Did that justify, then, his removal?
SS: In a sense. In the abstract, yes, it justifies his removal, but there are problems with handing over, right, the authority and the power to the military. That’s what I have a problem with, again, on the ground, right, because I think that was a troublesome move. And so Barack Obama, you know, has trampled all over our Constitution, right? I think that’s one area where you and I probably agree, right? And so does that justify his removal?
HH: I will be right back. Again, it’s an interview, not a debate.
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HH: I want to thank my guest, Professor Steven Salaita, associate professor of English at Virginia Tech, for spending the hour with me. You’ve been very gracious with your time, Professor. Now this is a very serious question.
HH: I’ve read some of your stuff, and I know you have big arguments with America’s government, its military, its industrial policy, its imperialistic, in your view, actions. Virginia Tech is a taxpayer-funded institution, by the people of Virginia, and it receives a lot of federal money. And indeed, it receives Pentagon money. It receives a lot of money from the Pentagon. Is it moral for you to be paid by them?
SS: Yes. They are paying me to provide a particular service, if you want to put it in commercial terms, and that is to teach my students, conduct my service for the department and for the university, direct theses, and also to produce research. There’s nothing in there about producing research or sharing opinions, right, if you want to get outside of research, that is going to please the establishment.
HH: Oh, absolutely not. And I would never had suggested that. I believe in the 1st Amendment completely.
HH: But given what you’ve written about American imperialism, Virginia Tech is a creature of the state.
HH: In particular, the Department of Defense. So you are accepting the very money which I think in other circumstances you might call blood money.
SS: I don’t see it that way.
HH: Well, I’m looking, it took me five seconds to find that the Virginia Tech Arlington Innovation Center just got a $2.2 million dollar contract from the Department of Defense.
SS: Oh, well, Virginia Tech is awash in DOD money. There’s no question about that. But I don’t think that DOD money is necessarily funding my salary.
HH: No, but I mean, it’s all fungible. You are clearly the recipient of a university check from a university that is, probably couldn’t even operate the way that it operates, or serve the number of students, or pay you what you’re paid, without the blood money from American militarism and Department of Defense. So I just wonder if the question has ever occurred to you that you’re actually participating in that which you condemn.
SS: Yes, I will concede that. Yes, you’re making a good point. It has occurred to me. I’ve thought much about it, and it’s something that I dislike tremendously, which is one of the guiding moral principles I have about writing what I write. So yeah.
HH: So have you ever considered resigning and working for a non-state institution?
SS: Yeah, I have.
HH: Do you think you will do that?
SS: I don’t think so. I mean, if the opportunity presented itself, I would think about it seriously, but I think it’s important for all of us, no matter what our profession is, to think about the ways that we are implicated in the very things that we claim to be against. You know, that’s sort of the hallmark of a very basic humanism.
HH: So with 30 seconds left, you don’t want us to support the troops, but you do want us to support you.
SS: No, I want us very much to support the human beings who comprise the military. I want us to question and challenge the platitude, support the troops, and think about who that platitude, whose interest that platitude actually serves.
HH: Like the DOD, and Virginia Tech. Professor Salaita, it’s been a pleasure. I hope you’ll come back.
End of interview.