August 31, 2017

Academics come out in support of Antifa author Mark Bray


Earlier this week, we wrote about developments at Dartmouth, whose president, Phil Hanlon, had recently published a statement distancing the university from Mark Bray, author of Antifa: The Anti-fascist Handbook. Bray—presently a visiting scholar at Dartmouth—has been really pounding the pavement, and Hanlon thought it important to clarify that “we condemn anything but civil discourse in the exchange of opinions and ideas.” As we wrote on Tuesday, more than 100 Dartmouth faculty responded with a letter of support, requesting “that Dartmouth remove the statement on Professor Bray; apologize to him for exposing him to entirely predictable possibility of physical harm; and initiate a review of peer-institution norms and recommended procedures on how to react when such a situation arises again — as it most certainly will.”

We weren’t the only ones to notice. In a write-up at the Washington PostDerek Hawkins highlighted a few points from the faculty support letter:

In their letter, Bray’s colleagues said that Dartmouth officials effectively threw him under the bus when they responded to Campus Reform’s piece. They argued that Bray had not called for violent protest but noted that normal channels such as public debate and electoral politics had not thwarted fascism historically. Nothing in his remarks violated Dartmouth’s free speech and academic freedom policies, they said.

In the Chronicle of Higher EducationColleen Flaherty offers some additional context on the story:

Bray, a lecturer in history, said Monday that he was disappointed Dartmouth hadn’t reached out to him before publishing its statement, since it’s unclear to him how much Hanlon and others know about his research and the degree to which his comments reflect his scholarship, not personal opinion.

For the record, Bray said his work is sympathetic to antifa, but that he approaches the movement as a scholar and writer, not a participant. His scholarly opinion on antifascists’ use of violence, in particular, is that it’s “a legitimate response, historically founded in the inability of liberal solutions to halt the advance of Naziism” in 20th-century Europe.

Like other scholars who have spoken out recently on matters of race and politics, he’s received death threats and been the subject of targeted online harassment — some of it anti-Semitic (Bray is Jewish). The faculty letter implies that Dartmouth’ statement has enabled some of that harassment. Asked if he agreed, Bray said that he didn’t know what was motivating his harassers, but that he’d observed an “escalation” in the attacks against him since Hanlon weighed in.

In the meantime, support from colleagues in various quarters continues to roll in. The Campus Antifascist Network has released a statement in support of Bray:

Such a condemnation needs to be examined for its misconceptions and implications. To begin with, as the faculty letter states, Bray has become one of the most interviewed and cited scholars in the United States, based not only on his authoritative grasp of anti-fascism, but also because of his remarkable prescience with regard to the likely usefulness of such a comprehensive scholarly book during our perilous times, wherein a president has acted to stifle dissent, discredit the free press, and encourage our police forces to use “more violence.” Yet Dartmouth’s admin letter shows an astounding lack of nuance — collapsing in the term “violent protest” so many types of action that the term could well include acts of civil disobedience, the blockage of roads, or even lunch counter sit-ins.

Perhaps more remarkably, the American Association of University Professors has also put out a statement calling on Dartmouth to “speak out clearly and forcefully in defense of the rights of faculty and students generally, and Bray specifically, and to condemn the targeted harassment of Bray.” (That organization, which boasts nearly 50,000 members, was founded in 1915 with a mission to “advance academic freedom and shared governance; to define fundamental professional values and standards for higher education; to promote the economic security of faculty, academic professionals, graduate students, post‐doctoral fellows, and all those engaged in teaching and research in higher education; to help the higher education community organize to make our goals a reality; and to ensure higher education’s contribution to the common good.”)

Individual professors have spoken out on Bray’s behalf as well, including McGill political science professor William Clare Roberts, who took to social media to write:

 [Dartmouth’s] condemnation of Bray’s statement is self-contradictory on its face: if Dartmouth “embraces free speech and open inquiry in all matters, and all on our campus enjoy the freedom to speak, write, listen and debate in pursuit of better learning and understanding,” then how can they possibly go on to say that “the endorsement of violence in any form is contrary” to the college’s values. Open inquiry into the advisability of violence is apparently not welcome, but morally anathema. But, of course, it is simply not true that Dartmouth’s values are opposed to any endorsement of violence. Are we supposed to believe that no Dartmouth professors have ever endorsed a war? They are all unequivocally opposed to the police?