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Barbara Weinstein: AHA president under attack from conservatives

Barbara Weinstein is the newly elected president of the American Historical Association. A professor of History at New York University specializing in 20th Century Latin America, Weinstein has “emphasized her desire to pursue an agenda that includes ensuring that scholars in ‘underrepresented’ fields (such as Africa, Asia, and…Latin America) both feel welcome, and that they have a stake in the continuing vitality of the AHA as an organization.” In her first month in office, Weinstein made clear that supporting scholars in “underrepresented fields” means becoming an advocate for academics barred from entering the U.S. by the Department of Homeland Security.

In her inaugural column for the professional journal of the Historical Asssociation,[1] Weinstein condemned the State Department’s decision to refuse a visa to professor Waskar Ari (Chachaki), a Bolivian activist who has been offered a position at the University of Nebraska. This is one of several cases since 9/11 in which professionals in academia have been barred from entering the United States because of security issues. According to a State Department spokesman, Ari was declared ineligible for a visa on the basis of intelligence data. Without knowing the facts in the case, Weinstein defended Ari, and took the opportunity to express sympathy for other suspected terrorists, whom she regards as victims of injustice and governmental prejudice. “Who among us,” Weinstein asks, “has not written or lectured with some sympathy about historical actors whose actions might be classified as ‘terrorist activity’ by the current personnel in charge of homeland security?” Quite a comment on her academic colleagues.

Although the Government has not made public its specific reasons for denying Ari a visa, some have speculated that the ban on the professor may stem from his connections to Evo Morales, the current Bolivian president. Morales is the leader of the Movement for Socialism, and has political ties to the leftist dictatorship in Cuba and the anti-U.S. regime in Venezuela. Morales has referred to himself as “a nightmare for the United States,” and has opposed the U.S. war on drugs. He is currently head of the “cocalero movement” – an alliance of coca leaf farmers who oppose U.S. efforts to eradicate coca cultivation in Southern Bolivia, a global center of cocaine production. Professor Ari is himself a founder of the Kechuaymara Foundation, which also supports production of coca.

In her presidential column, Weinstein draws comparisons between Ari and Tariq Ramadan, who was hired as a professor by the Joan Kroc Institute for Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, but was denied a visa by the State Department because of his links to terrorism. “The barring of Waskar Ari and Tariq Ramadan,” writes Professor Weinstein, “is occurring at a moment when the historical profession is becoming more international in its structure and more transnational in its thinking.” Apparently thinking transnationally includes turning a blind eye to the terrorist threat.

Weinstein fails to acknowledge Ramadan’s numerous connections to the Islamic jihad against the West. For example, according to Spanish judge Balatasar Garzón, Ramadan had regular contact with Ahmed Brahim, an Algerian man believed to be both the financial chief of al-Qaeda and the financier of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya. And according to the French daily newspaper Le Monde, Ramadan is believed to have organized a 1991 meeting between al-Qaeda second-in-charge, Ayman al Zawahiri, and Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted in the 1993 bombing of the first World Trade Center.

Weinstein has also lionized other leftwing terrorists, such as Castro’s executioner, Che Guevara. “Some call him a murderer because he was involved in violent struggle, but do we call George Washington a murderer? They are ‘murderers’ in the same exact way,” Weinstein said in a 2004 article on the Cuban Marxist. In other words, the American founders were the terrorists of their time. At the same time, Weinstein expressed no sympathy for Cuban academics, imprisoned in Castro's gulag without freedom to conduct research, without academic freedom to teach free of censorship by government agents, and without liberty to travel abroad unless explicitly permitted to do so by the Communist dictatorship.

Professor Weinstein is also a member of Historians Against the War, which defines itself as a group of “radical scholars and intellectuals…deeply concerned about growing repression [by the U.S. government] and, in particular, its impact on critical thought and expression.” HAW has condemned what it calls “the current empire-building and war-making activities of the United States government at home and abroad.” In 2003, the organization issued the “Historians Against the War Statement on the U.S. Occupation of Iraq,” which read: “… we oppose the expansion of United States empire and the doctrine of pre-emptive war that have led to the occupation of Iraq.” In the first meeting of 2007, the AHA sought to enact its own anti-war resolution. The statement, titled “Resolution on United States Government Practices Inimical to the Values of the Historical Profession,” requests that members “take a public stand as citizens on behalf of the values necessary to the practice of our profession, and to do whatever they can to bring the Iraq war to a speedy conclusion.”

Weinstein received her B.A. from Princeton University and her Ph.D. from Yale in 1980. She is currently a Professor of History at New York University, and she had a recent post at the University of Maryland, where her courses included “U.S. Latin American Relations” and “Slavery and Emancipation in the Americas.” She is author of the books The Amazon Rubber Boom, 1850-1920 (Stanford U. Press, 1983), and For Social Peace in Brazil: Industrialists and the Remaking of the Working Class in Sao Paulo, 1920-1964 (UNC PRESS 1996); co-editor of the Hispanic American Historical Review; an editor of the Radical Perspectives series for Duke University Press; and an editor of Duke University’s Radical History Review.

The AHA claims to define “ethical and professional standards” within the profession of historical studies. Defending academics that pose potential security concerns to U.S interests and taking on the role of an anti-war activist organization is neither ethical nor professional.

[1] “The AHA and Academic Freedom in the Age of Homeland Security,” January 2007

Read entire article at Thomas Ryan at FrontpageMag.com