Letter to the editor response: Rally was “important part of … democracy”3 min read

Rich Wood

Scott Peterson’s letter asserts that the Students for Justice!/Muslim Students Association rally on May 1 was a new “low” (?) for the students and their faculty “leaders” and recommends that students and others consider various conceptions of justice, not just the views of people who protest the War in Iraq, the plight of undocumented immigrants, or who support a new trial for Mumia Abu Jamal.

Despite Scott’s unfortunate habit of moral condemnation of SFJ activists and faculty, such as myself, whom he views as its “leaders” in these pages over many years, I agree completely with his assertion that many perspectives on what constitutes justice exist and need to be investigated. I am confident that the students, staff, and faculty who rallied on campus would also agree. I would suggest Giorgio Agamben’s work on the law in his recent work, The State of Exception, as well as the work with the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and on torture, and habeas corpus by the scholars and activists at the Center for Constitutional Rights, in New York.

Students for Justice! and Muslim Students Association rallied on campus to highlight issues they consider important in order to invite and persuade others to join their efforts. I joined their rally in part to address the moral aspects of policies on the war and immigration, but I will avoid judg- ing Scott Peterson’s morality concerning his views on the War in Iraq, his views on immigrants, or because he agrees with juries and judges who have decided that Mumia Abu Jamal killed a policeman.

I do not have enough knowledge of Scott Peterson’s views or morality to judge him, nor do I seek such knowledge, even though I suspect that I would disagree with him profoundly on these and other issues.

What is the persuasive power of ad hominem attacks on student activists and faculty who join their efforts? Why does Scott Peterson cast judgment on our moral status, rather than just disagree? We may be wrong and Peterson may be right, but our differences of perspective or emphasis do not imply moral culpability. These efforts are an important part of the process of democratic assembly, public debate, civic engagement, and a thoroughly legitimate aspect of life on a college campus.

Scott Peterson says the rally on May 1 supported a vicious murderer, avoided the homicidal activities of some immigrants and presented an inane critique of U.S. imperialism. But as any thoughtful or fair assessment would illuminate, the support of Mumia Abu Jamal has not been the result of any desire for the murder of policemen.

The support of immigrants’ rights does not imply that violent crimes by some immigrants should be ignored.

Criticism of U.S. imperialism or alarm at the deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan is not inane, but just as worthy of consideration as Peterson’s views. As the neo-conservatives in Washington scramble to avoid indictments and public repudiation, opprobrium seems more appropriately aimed at them, rather than De Anza student activists.

If Scott will organize a public event to defend these in- creasingly marginal views, I would be happy to attend, listen carefully as his views are challenged, and if I disagree, I will do so in the spirit of academic collegiality.

I recognize that political debate, action and even the con- tent of education often involve moral judgments, as well as exposure to diverse sources of analysis, but I hope Scott will someday refrain from his public attacks on the morality of student activists with whom he disagrees.

As for the students who rallied on behalf of others who face war, exclusion, deportation, and Death Row, seize the day!

Rich Wood is a sociology instructor at De Anza College.

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