Contributing editor Mark Oppenheimer reminds us that now would be a good time to revisit the four-part series he wrote last year in Tablet Magazine about Holocaust denial, given that it has cropped up in the form of a professor at Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, a historically black college not far from Wilmington, Delaware.
Kaukab Siddique, an associate professor of English and journalism, said at a rally last month, “I say to the Muslims, ‘Dear brothers and sisters, unite and rise up against this hydra-headed monster which calls itself Zionism.’” He has also cited the work of David Irving—the notorious denier, whom Nextbook Press author Deborah Lipstadt effectively proved distorted and lied about history to try to minimize the Holocaust—as well as various vicious Allied bombings during World War II to argue, “We can’t just sit back in judgment and say those guys were bad and we were the good guys. I always try to look at both sides… . That’s part of being a professor.”
The “part of being a professor” aspect has become the real issue, as Siddique has claimed the protection of academic freedom. Anti-Israel comments, even vicious ones that border on anti-Semitism (“hydra-headed”?), are one thing. But because Holocaust denial is not just maliciously false but objectively, empirically false, and in a way that reveals either breathtaking ignorance or a shocking willingness to allow an (in this case, disgusting) ideology to corrupt one’s understanding of the facts, it calls into question Siddique’s ability to be a good professor. “Were he an engineering professor speaking off campus, it wouldn’t matter,” says Cary Nelson, the president of the American Association of University Professors and a longstanding defender of professors taking unpopular positions. (It’s worth pointing out that I personally think it still would matter, but nevermind.) “The issue is whether his views call into question his professional competence. If he teaches modern literature, which includes Holocaust literature from a great many countries, then Holocaust denial could warrant a competency hearing.” Indeed it could!