This piece is dedicated to comrades Asako, Avrilage and Snuggie, without whom we would not have been able to catch Petraeus on the streets. Also to comrades Maosoleum and Neftali, whose own diatribes have inspired this piece.
For the last two weeks, a specter has been haunting CUNY. The specter of David Petraeus, ex-director of the CIA and retired army general. Hired as a visiting professor with a one year contract, Petraeus arrives at CUNY at the same time that ROTC is making a return to our campuses. In this way the military industrial complex is slithering into CUNY, but that is not unchallenged. Students and professors have responded by protesting ROTC and Petraeus’s classes and managed to gain international recognition through one of their protests.
Protesters managed to catch Petraeus walking to his car after his first class, and confronted him with shouts of “war criminal!” and “murderer!”. The video of the event went viral internationally within a few days, and there was a huge backlash against the protesters. We were told that we are stupid immigrants who can’t appreciate what the US has done for us, that he is a hero protecting our freedoms, that we need to watch our backs (the personal information of many comrades has been compromised by patriotic liberals and reactionaries, over the internet). The prevalent argument seems to be that we are violating his academic freedom, his right to free speech because we disagree with his ideas. The University Faculty Senate of CUNY released a statement against us, saying they defend his right to teach.
I call shenanigans.
There are plenty of plenty of professors who teach ideas that we disagree with, but we are not protesting their classes and demanding their removal. This is because though their ideas may be reactionary, they have not executed these ideas and materialized them into oppression as Petraeus has done. Petraeus oversaw an illegal war, took advantage of female subordinates, authorized torture and death squads, gave a thumbs up to a bombing campaign that is still producing deformities in newborns, ordered drone strikes, etc. the list goes on and on. It is for his crimes that we are calling for his removal from our university, not for his ideas. His ideas are an extension of his actions, and the actions of the system in which he was a top player.
Thus, anyone who claims we are violating his right to free speech is being disingenuous. The executive committee of the UFS which claims we are violating his right to teach is being disingenuous AND hypocritical. His right to teach must be a special right, since it is denied to so many adjuncts who are unemployed.
While liberals and reactionaries alike claim we are suppressing free speech, they jump at the chance to do just that. Earlier this year the SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) at Brooklyn College wanted to host a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign event against Israeli colonialism at their campus. For this action they came under heavy repression from individuals making violent threats, to the pro-Israel NYC government threatening to cut public funding to the college.
In essence, they acted on the same impulse as us: Petraeus represents murderous US imperialism, and we want him out of our college, just as the pro-Israel camp wanted to shut down the SJP’s event because it represents a material challenge to Israel’s colonial occupation. Ultimately it boils down to a question of power. Rights are an abstract concept, they exist insofar as we define their parameters. In order to define those parameters, power is necessary. The pro-Israeli camp is able to curb free speech under the guise of protecting Israel because the forces in society that hold power are pro-Israel. Within the framework of institutions that exist under that bourgeois imperialist power, we can make small gains, but ultimately the point is to sieze power to create a world where the masses are not oppressed. Without power, we are subject to the rules of the game as set up by our enemy.
The campaign against Petraeus is a concrete practice of anti-imperialism, and as time goes on and our movement builds, we build power. As time goes on, the revolutionaries driving this campaign must organize students on campus, and the oppressed people in our communities. Taking power is not an abstract concept to play around with in our heads; it is a concrete task and a necessary step to create a new world. There are precise targets to be identified, specific social bases to tap into, forces to unite with and strategies to be formulated. The struggle to remove Petraeus from CUNY will not end with his removal, because that struggle exists within the context of oppressed nationalities and working class people struggling against the global hegemony of capitalist-imperialism. In placing Petraeus in CUNY, the ruling class has handed us a golden opportunity to build a movement that will lead to their downfall.
At the end of the day, we are not going after Petraeus because we want to silence his views (and anyone who insinuates that we could do such a thing is fooling themselves; Petraeus can have every news outlet ready to broadcast his words in a heartbeat, whereas I, a Muslim/revolutionary student organizer am under surveillance and have to watch everything I say and do) but because he is guilty of crimes against humanity. As long as his friends are in charge of the world, the lives and well being of billions of people are in constant danger. Our love for the masses will drive us to kick him out of CUNY, the imperialists out of power, and open the doors for humanity to live in a world free of oppression!