Friday, February 23, 2007
Murder is the premeditated unlawful killing of a human being. Glenn Reynolds, the well-known University of Tennessee law professor who authors one of the Internet's most popular blogs, recently advocated the murder of Iranian scientists and clerics.
"We should be responding quietly, killing radical mullahs and Iranian atomic scientists . . . Basically, stepping on the Iranians' toes hard enough to make them reconsider their not-so-covert war against us in Iraq," Reynolds wrote.
Of course Iran is not at war with America, but just as Reynolds spent years repeating Bush administration propaganda about Iraq's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, he's now dutifully repeating the administration's claims about supposed Iranian government involvement in Iraq's civil war.
Moreover, even if Iran were at war with the United States, the intentional killing of civilian noncombatants is a war crime, as that term is defined by international treaties America has signed. Furthermore, government-sponsored assassinations of the sort Reynolds is advocating are expressly and unambiguously prohibited by the laws of the United States.
How does a law professor, of all people, justify advocating murder? "I think it's perfectly fine to kill people who are working on atomic bombs for countries - like Iran - that have already said that they want to use those bombs against America and its allies, and I think that those who feel otherwise are idiots, and in absolutely no position to strike moral poses," Reynolds says.
Now this kind of statement involves certain time-tested rhetorical techniques. First, make a provocative claim that happens to be false. In fact, no Iranian government official has ever said Iran wants to use nuclear weapons against the U.S. Then use this claim to defend actions, such as murdering civilians, which would remain immoral and illegal even if the claim happened to be true. Finally, condemn those who object to using lies to justify murder as "idiots," who don't understand the need to take strong and ruthless action when defending the fatherland from its enemies.
The use of propaganda to help bring about the murder of people you would like to kill has been especially favored by fascists. Fascism is marked by, among other things, extreme nationalism, contempt for legal restraints on state power, and the worship of violence.
And while it would perhaps be an exaggeration to call people like Reynolds and his fellow law professor Hugh Hewitt (who defended Reynolds' comments) fascists, it isn't an exaggeration to point out that these gentlemen sound very much like fascists when they encourage the American government to murder people.
All this raises several interesting questions. For instance, does academic freedom insulate a law professor from any institutional consequences when he advocates murder? Reynolds and Hewitt, after all, certainly didn't object when University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill's celebration of the murder of American civilians raised serious questions about why the university had chosen to employ and tenure such a person, and led to an investigation of Churchill's academic record.
Indeed, Hewitt and Reynolds both went out of their way to publicize the Churchill affair, as an example of left-wing extremism in our universities.
Why does right-wing extremism in our universities, as represented by such things as law professors calling on the Bush administration to commit murder, get so much less attention?
Certainly, it's worth asking Reynolds' administrative superiors at the University of Tennessee what limits, if any, the terms and conditions of Reynolds' employment put on his behavior. After all, if the American government were to follow Reynolds' advice, his employer would have an accessory to murder on its payroll.
That seems like an especially peculiar item to find on a law professor's résumé.
Paul Campos is a professor of law at the University of Colorado. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.