WASHINGTON, September 4, 2013 — Steven Salaita, an associate professor at Virginia Tech wrote an op ed column on Salon.com calling for American’s to stop saying “support the troops,” calling the phrase “trite and tiresome”.
Salaita’s motivation for his tirade against what he sees as blind support for the military came after he went to a convenience store in the south and made a purchase for $1.82. After he paid with two one dollar bills, the woman working the register asked Salaita if he would “like to donate your change to the troops?”
Next to the register was a jar with “support our troops” written on the outside.
The professor’s response to the request to contribute his 18 cents to the military was a firm “No, thank you.”
“In recent years I’ve grown fatigued of appeals on behalf of the troops, which intensify in proportion to the belligerence or potential unpopularity of the imperial adventure du jour,” Salaita wrote.
“Such troop worship is trite and tiresome, but that’s not its primary danger,” Salaita continued. “Numerous veterans have returned home to inadequate medical coverage, psychological afflictions, unemployment and increased risk of cancer. The free market and corporate magnanimity are supposed to address these matters, but neither has ever been a viable substitute for the dynamic practices of communal policymaking.”
Salaita admits in his write up that he did not bother to ask about where the donations were going because he says that the answer would not have made any difference to him and would not have affected his decision about contributing. He states that he would not have contributed regardless of the specific organization.
The Virginia Tech’s instructor’s statements have sparked a backlash against both him and the institution he works for.
Salaita has said that his point has been misinterpreted as being anti-military, when he was actually trying to argue for better treatment of veterans.
The school has come out saying that it supports Salaita’s right to make the comments even though it might not agree with them. Despite calls for the school to fire Salaita, the University has assured him that such action will not happen.
In addition to calls for him to lose his job, there have also been calls for his deportation and his death.
Campus police are aware of the threats and are investigating them. University spokesman Larry Hincker publicly announced that numerous calls and emails had been directed to President Charles Steger and other university offices. And although they were not willing to classify the severity of the threats, the police at Tech take every threat seriously.
As for deportation, Salaita is the son of immigrants from Nicaragua and Jordan, but was raised in Bluefield, West Virginia and is a United States citizen.
“Well, I come from Bluefield, so if I follow their advice and go back to where I came from I’ll merely be an hour from where I am now,” he said in an interview with The Roanoke Times. “As to the suggestion that I shouldn’t teach at an American university, my job is to write critically and teach critical thinking. Why should I be fired for doing my job?”
Salaita is the author of six books and writes frequently about Arab Americans,Palestine, Indigenous Peoples, and decolonization. His current book project is entitled Images of Arabs and Muslims in the Age of Obama. He is a graduate from RadfordUniversity and has taught at Virginia Tech since 2006 where he holds tenure. He teaches classes at Virginia Tech in American literature, ethnic studies, Indigenous Studies, and critical theory.
While the university stands behind their professor, Spokesman Hincker, himself a Vietnam War Navy veteran, issued a statement calling accusations that the university is anti-military for the support they are showing toward their faculty member “extremely hurtful.” To support his belief that those accusations are not true he points to its 1,000-strong Corps of Cadets, efforts to hire ex-military and expanding support for student veterans.
Hincker went on to say that even though the university may “disagree with associate professor Salaita’s opinions, we also recognize one of this nation’s most cherished liberties ensconced in the First Amendment to our nation’s Constitution and embedded in the principle of academic freedom. He has a right to his opinions just as others have a right to disagree.”