December 04, 2006

Lecturer fears for tenure over terror stand

From: The Australian, by Hedley Thomas, December 04, 2006

Three months after accusing university lecturers of dishonestly skewing the study of terrorism to blame the West for carnage wreaked by suicidal fanatics, a senior Queensland academic believes he is the latest casualty of a campus purge.

Merv Bendle, an expert on militant religion and a senior lecturer at James Cook University, has been at the centre of a debate over how terrorism, its origins and outcomes are taught on campuses since he attacked fellow academics for what he saw as their anti-West bias.

In his writings, including several published in The Australian, Dr Bendle describes a crisis in history education and criticises academic elites for distorting teaching on fanaticism and avoiding "any facts that might disturb (their) comfort zone".

He now suspects his outspoken views will lead to the loss of his position at the university he has worked for since the early 1990s.

A proposal, part of a restructure by Colin Ryan as head of the new School of Arts and Social Sciences, would lead to the scrapping of six of the seven subjects Dr Bendle teaches at the Townsville university. "Why strip me of my teaching load? I'm not toeing the right political line. I'm not anti-American and I'm not anti-West," he said.

"The main reason for the antipathy against me is my stand on the teaching of history and my anti-terrorist stand.

"People should look at terrorists in the same way they look at pedophiles. How many lecturers do you see defending pedophiles? They don't. But they defend terrorism. I have an intense antipathy to the romanticisation of terrorism. I don't see anything romantic about blowing people to bits because of an ideology that a suicide bomber has become fanatical about."

Dr Bendle's concerns over his tenure were dismissed yesterday by the faculty's pro-vice chancellor, Janet Greeley, who said more than 150 subjects were being reviewed for possible deletion to reduce workload.

"We have undergone a restructure and reduced some staff, so we have to remove some of the teaching burden for lecturers," said Professor Greeley, who is married to Dr Ryan.

"Unfortunately, it happened that a number of the subjects were Dr Bendle's subjects, but it has absolutely nothing to do with what he has published. Dr Bendle will be given every opportunity to teach and be part of research initiatives that the new school will put forward.

"He offers so many subjects across quite a range and that's probably why he might have been hit more than others.

"I may or may not disagree with all of his positions but that has no influence on the subjects that he teaches."

Professor Greeley, who said her husband managed the school at arm's length from her role as faculty head, said she hoped to persuade Dr Bendle that the proposal to take away about 85per cent of his teaching load was not a conspiracy.

But Dr Bendle said he was singled out for adopting a politically incorrect position at odds with the mainstream.

He said he had been previously targeted by two colleagues in an "act of bastardry", leading to an investigation, which found insufficient evidence to support complaints that Dr Bendle or others in the sociology discipline at JCU had been bullying and intimidatory. "Townsville is a Labor Party city and the side of the university that I'm dealing with is radical Labor, far left. But I'm not going to go quietly," he said. "I'll scratch and fight the whole way. All I want to do is get back to teaching what I'm well qualified and good at teaching."

In a paper titled Don't Mention The Terror, Dr Bendle says academic contributions frequently have a political agenda. Academic forums are used to denounce the war on terror, the US, Israel, Australia and their leaders, while insisting that Islam is a religion of peace and is being unfairly targeted, he says.

In response, academics including Macquarie University's Goldie Osuri and Bobby Banerjee of the University of South Australia said in a published article: "Australian academe may be better served by Merv Bendle's silence on terrorism."

However, the University of Queensland's Carl Ungerer and David Martin Jones, who lecture in the School of Political Science and International Studies, said the "polysyllabic howl of outrage" from the academic lobby was predictable.

They said Australian Research Council funding of social sciences was skewed "to maintain the fashionable line that, despite empirical evidence to the contrary in the form of attacks on Western civilian targets, it is all our fault".

"In this Alice in Wonderland world of ... journals read only by participants in this mutually reinforcing discourse, the focus of study is not Islamist ideology and its propensity to violence, but our own long-repressed responsibility for the cause of Islamist rage," they said.

Professor Greeley denied the university had a position on the controversy that arose from Dr Bendle's published stand three months ago. "I was a bit concerned for Merv because he was harshly criticised in the national media by his colleagues," she said. "We all like to see our staff engage in public debate, but one does not like to see them criticised too harshly.

No comments: