© 2023 Aspen Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Israel-Hamas war provokes some intense responses on U.S. college campuses

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Hamas attack on southern Israel and the weeks of Israeli bombardment that followed have provoked some intense responses, and some of the most attention-getting reactions have occurred on a few college campuses. But students and educators elsewhere are also sorting their way through the emotional, moral and ethical questions provoked by the crisis. I spoke with Eddie Glaude Jr. about this. He is a scholar, theologian and professor of African American studies at Princeton University.

EDDIE GLAUDE JR: One of the big questions I've been asking is how do we respond to evil, right? How do we make sense of an evil act like October 7? And how do we understand it, even as we are horrified by what happened? What are the moral constraints that follow from this, right? How are we to contextualize this within the broader history of the relationship between Palestinians and Israel? How do we understand the nature of resistance, the discourse of decolonization? So we've been grappling with all sorts of things, but it's hard. Obviously it's hard.

MARTIN: There are - what? - 4,000 college and university campuses in the United States.

GLAUDE: At least, yeah.

MARTIN: At least. But some things that have happened on a couple of campuses have gotten a lot of attention. Some people are very angry about some of the statements that some of these students have made. And it has to be said, a lot of these are students of color. And it just - some people feel like, well, that's just kind of - that's what, you know, kids do. Kids do too much, and they need to learn to be more careful in their thinking and in their words. But other people see something else in it. I'm just wondering, what do you see?

GLAUDE: You know, I see a very complicated moment. Before the Israeli-Hamas war, there was this general characterization of universities and colleges as these hotbed spaces of illiberalism, that political correctness had run amok, that, you know, wokeism (ph) has overrun universities and colleges. And I think that's just wrong. I just think the moral panic that has been induced over some horrific moments, the overreach of protest - it is a manufactured panic because people are having difficult conversations every single day on college and university campuses.

MARTIN: There are so many strong feelings, and rightly so, about what is occurring right now - I mean, a massacre that we all saw unfold almost in real time, and then subsequently a military response that has caused, you know, tremendous suffering among people who have no voice in the matter. Right?

GLAUDE: Yeah. I mean, I hear it. I mean, you know, you reach out to your Jewish friends, and you know that they are horrified, some of whom lost people that they love. And what does it mean to sit with that, if you really understand what friendship is, right? But it also - you know, the question of moral clarity can be a red herring, because it seems to me in moments like these, if you refuse to invoke context, then the passions - revenge can overwhelm, can overrun everything. Sometimes we have to invoke historical context as a way to ensure a measured response.

If evil has happened to you - and that's all we can describe the killing of innocents, right? Evil is never justified. But if evil happens to you, does the experience of evil then allow you to act with impunity outside of international law without moral constraint? My answer to that is no, period, because to me, a Palestinian baby is just as valuable, just as innocent, just as cherished - people cherish them and love them - as an Israeli baby. And if you lose sight of that, that's the beginning of the corruption of the soul. You can become the monsters that you despise if you lose sight of that.

MARTIN: Do you feel any particular responsibility in this moment as a scholar, as a scholar of color, and also as a public intellectual?

GLAUDE: You know, I have been very hard on myself, Michel, because you have to engage in all of this calculation because I feel an obligation to speak, to be morally consistent as best I can, to call attention to - I mean, the images of the dead are just horrific, you know? And then I find myself wondering, should I say this?

MARTIN: Why wouldn't you say that?

GLAUDE: Well, think about what's happening to some of these young students who are protesting. They're having jobs rescinded. They're being doxxed. You know, some Jewish students are feeling unsafe. You have the information of students who are engaging in protest against the state of Israel and its execution of the war in Gaza - they're living under threat. And, you know, even as a professor with tenure, you are kind of reflecting on the consequences of just stating your moral position.

MARTIN: A lot of people feel afraid right now. A lot of people feel unvalued. People feel silenced. There's a - there's just a lot of strong feelings in this country right now. And I'm just wondering, what do you think your responsibility is?

GLAUDE: I think my responsibility in this moment is to keep track of the humanity of people, so that people don't lose it in the face of their efforts to respond to the horror of October 7 and to keep track of the humanity of those who bear the brunt - right? - of the response. So what does it mean to bear witness to the conditions under which human beings can become monstrous? And I have to do that without hesitation and without fear. And I keep reminding myself of that.

MARTIN: Professor Eddie Glaude, thanks so much for talking with us about this - obviously a very complicated and fraught subject, so thank you so much for trying to help us make sense of it.

GLAUDE: No, it's my pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: For more coverage of the war between Israel and Hamas and differing viewpoints and analysis, you can visit npr.org/mideastupdates.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.