George Lakey “honored” by inclusion on YAF’s “Dirty Dozen”

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

The Sociology and Anthropology and Peace and Conflict Studies course “Nonviolent Responses to Terrorism” recently landed Swarthmore a place on the Young America’s Foundation annual “Dirty Dozen” list of “the most bizarre and troubling instances of leftist activism supplanting traditional scholarship in our nation’s colleges and universities.”

Lang Visiting Professor George Lakey, who created the course and will be teaching it this semester, said of the nomination that “I would definitely consider it an honor… to me, one of the functions of higher education is to be creative and to teach subjects in ways that can be controversial. This is a testimony that Swarthmore is doing their job right.”

This isn’t the first time Lakey has crossed the YAF. He was very active in the civil rights movement and in the peace movement as a graduate student at Penn, and he remembered that “I would do street speaking out in the quad… we’d have grand dialogues, and crowds of people would gather to watch me take them on.”

Lakey also adopted the Quaker faith during college, which is one of the sources for his pacifist beliefs. He thinks that his course was singled out by the YAF as “bizarre and troubling” because “there’s a fondness on the right for military solutions… anyone who looks for creative non-violent ways of handling problems is problematic for them.” He continued, perplexed: “It seems that violence is actually a positive value for them. If there’s any place in the country where that’s still maintained, it’s on the right.”

In the course, Lakey and his students will be taking what he describes as “a pragmatic approach” to the material. “We’ll be looking for hard-nosed approaches that can convince skeptics that non-violent protests can be effective in repsonse to terrorism.”

The first part of the course will focus on historical examples of non-violent resistance. “Europeans have dealt with terrorist gangs since the sixties,” said Lakey, citing as an example Britain’s struggle against the IRA, “and they’ve evolved some ways of dealing with terrorism that are more effective than others.” The course will also look at “what black people in the United States have done in responding to the Ku Klux Klan and other terrorist groups… they’ve been up against more terrorism than any other group in this country, so we’ve got to learn from that.”

After looking at these case studies, students will also “spend a lot of time looking at who terrorists are and what they are trying to get–it pays in any struggle to know your enemy, and after we find out more about what they are, then we’ll be in a better position to look at non-violent responses.”

For their final papers, students will choose a terrorist threat in the world today and will “come up with a plausible response to that threat using non-violent tools.” Lakey hopes to see a lot of creativity in the course, joking that “we’re meeting in the Hicks Engineering building… hopefully that will inspire students to think outside of the box, because this course will be all about invention!”

Twenty-eight students are currently enrolled in the course, and they seem just as excited as Lakey. Reid Wilkening ’10 saw the course as “a unique opportunity to learn about different ways of thinking about an important issue of our day.”

Joel Swanson ’10 agreed. Looking at Iraq and Afghanistan, he concludes that “our use of violence has just engendered more hatred and turned the country into a breeding ground for more terrorists. I think we as a nation need to have a serious discussion about alternative means of dealing with the threat of terrorism, given the failure of our current strategy.” Upon hearing that the YAF had blacklisted the course, he said, “the fact that the right-wing hates the class just makes it more appealing to me!”

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