Tuesday, December 13, 2011

AT THIS POINT I WAS ORDERED TO STOP SPEAKING

TALK FOR THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES, DECEMBER 7, 2011 - SUNY Nassau Community College on Long Island
Mr. Chair, Mr. President, Members of the Board:
My name is Barry and I am addicted to the truth. I am a professor of English and coordinator of Jewish Studies.
I was raised in an atmosphere which had zero tolerance for lies and hypocrisy and maximum distrust of power.   You see, we lived in a period of great tension in which J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI director, told us school children that there were communists among us and they looked just like you and me.  But the message was redundant and unnecessary since we already knew that: they were our friends and relatives.  And they suffered for their beliefs.
What, you may ask, would create this atmosphere of vigilance on all sides, those who tenaciously supported the existing order as well as those who tenaciously clung to the vision that that order would be overthrown to be replaced by pure economic and social democracy, a classless society?
The answer is that we took two different messages from the war which had ended just before our childhood, WWII.  Those on the right gathered that the threat from Hitler had been the general threat of totalitarianism everywhere, of Big Brother, and that we were therefore obligated to eternal vigilance against the totalitarianism of our day, no matter what the cost.  But those on the left ascertained that Hitler had come to power in the traditional capitalist manner:  manipulating the buying public, buying cheap and selling dear.  They focused on his method of using nationalism, ‚Äúservice,‚Äù and ‚Äúduty‚Äù to the Homeland to justify setting classes against one another and sparking a crusade against ‚Äúracial inferiors‚Äù which ultimately led to the genocide known as the Holocaust.
Hitler became the paradigm for all monstrous evil.  But one thing all of us caught the gist of:  Hitler demanded and got total control over the means of communication. [NOTE: AT THIS POINT I WAS ORDERED TO STOP SPEAKING AND SIT DOWN.]  In his regime the media were reduced to puppetry; they were tamed parrots of the state, of the SS, of the Nazi Party.  As for those who disagreed, they were quickly eliminated first by being objectified and then by being executed.  The first step was the muzzling of free speech; all else followed.  As Heinrich Heine had said a century earlier, ‚Äúwhere they burn books now they will someday burn people.‚Äù  And so it was!
Members of the Board, we see the same first step being taken by the administration you have hired and rehired,the muzzling of today‚Äôs organ of free speech, email.  Pres. Astrab tells us that the argumentative and unreasonable interchanges on the campus intranet are somehow connected with threatening and even criminal activity.  Alas, absent any substantive proof, we can only view this explanation as an excuse for shutting us down, as the Reichstag fire was an excuse, as the staged Polish attack on the German border post was an excuse.  And most of us now know that the ‚ÄúSaint‚Äù Oskar Schindler was the businessman who provided the props for the ‚ÄúPolish attack‚Äù escapade, which led immediately to the greatest war in history.  Corporate greed, unless and until put aside in favor of humanity, can lead to this!
But threats to our basic liberties do not have to pass through Hollywood central casting.   Those who seek to muzzle free and open discussion of the issues vital to our professional, personal, and civic lives do not have to dress in black or brown and wear swastika armbands.    They can wear suits and speak the language of American corporate business.  But when they act to cut our tongues out, the result is the same as if they had been wearing the swastika and giving the stiff-arm salute!
Thank you,  Members of the Board.  You saluted the American flag before starting your session, the flag that stands for freedom of thought, speech, press, and peaceful assembly.  I know you will agree that these sacredrights should be upheld, by any means necessary!    I salute them!  I hope that you do too! 
Barry Fruchter

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