[Ben Whitmer is a long time supporter of Indigenous struggles and has been at the forefront of the local campaign to support Ward. Currently, he maintains the Ward Churchill solidarity blog, wardchurchilltrial.wordpress.com]
I’ve spent four years defending Ward Churchill in every way I could think to do so. And not because of any esoteric principle of academic freedom. If my time in universities has taught me anything, it’s that trying to inject principle into academia is as worthwhile as trying to train geese to shit indoors. Likewise, though I’m about as vehement a proponent of the human right to free expression as you’re likely to meet, I find the idea that it’s routinely abrogated – both by the right and the ‘left’ – about as shocking as the daily sunrise.
I defend Ward Churchill because he was the first to write the obvious about the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks on September 11, 2001. That the technocrats on the upper levels of the World Trade Center weren’t targeted because they provided some symbolically metaphysical representation of American power; they were targeted because they made their living on the bodies of Arab children. This is not to say that everyone in the World Trade Center was a “little Eichmann”, a point Churchill made clear. He used a different term for the service workers and children in the World Trade Center, one popularized by the US military. They were “collateral damage”, a miraculously precise and objective term that, as the reaction to Ward Churchill’s essay evidences, is divested of all precision and objectivity when one is staring at the corpses of their own dead.
In other words, I defend Ward Churchill because, not in spite, of his little Eichmann metaphor. It does everything a good metaphor should do. It manages to convey new meanings to both the subject and the object, and to expand the discourse surrounding both. From Churchill we learned a new way to perceive the technocrats at the top of the World Trade Center, just as we learned a new way to perceive Eichmann. And from these perceptions, many of us learned something indispensable about the bureaucratic functioning of power.
Churchill’s essay captured the national discourse in a way I can’t remember a piece of writing doing in my lifetime. That conservative talk shows from O’Reilly on down spent a three-month chunk of airtime feverishly denying Churchill’s metaphor, only speaks to its uncomfortable aptness. And one wasn’t able to open a leftist publication for months after the scandal broke without finding dozens of essays, letters to the editor, and opinion columns that (1) stated general agreement with Churchill on principle, (2) provided a typically tepid criticism of US foreign policy, and then, (3) moved to eviscerate him for the imperfection of his metaphor. Of course, these betrayed more about the authors’ misunderstanding of metaphor than Churchill’s misuse of it. A metaphor is imperfect by its nature. That’s the point. A perfect metaphor, after all, would be a synonym.
That’s why I defend Ward Churchill, because his imperfect metaphor that was far more apt than any of the grotesque gibbering about heroism and innocence that flooded the nation after 9/11. Because his was the only voice to question the sanctification of the economic interests that the World Trade Center represented. To quote Mumia Abu Jamal, “it is not enough for us to merely, dumbly intone that Churchill has the right to write what he does. No we must do more, we must insist that Churchill is right, and no one, not some rabid talk show parrot, nor political whore like governor Bill Owens, has a right to demand what is wrong.”
In other words, I defend Ward Churchill because, as RAIM has so eloquently put it, I defend the right to call little Eichmanns little Eichmanns.