How to Be Utterly Unreasonable (Corey Robin Edition)

Those who are closely tracking the Steven Salaita affair know that Corey Robin–who is a “political theorist” at Brooklyn College–has perhaps been Salaita’s most ardent defender and champion. This article profiles Robin. Note the following:

In the Salaita case, Todd Gitlin faults Mr. Robin for failing to engage with the substance of Mr. Salaita’s tweets, at least as far as Mr. Gitlin has seen. Mr. Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, points to this Salaita tweet from July: “There’s something profoundly sexual to the Zionist pleasure w/#Israel’s aggression. Sublimation through bloodletting, a common perversion.” As Mr. Gitlin views it, “Salaita crossed the line from incivility to rank hatred.”

Mr. Robin has actually blogged about one of the most potentially offensive tweets. More broadly, though, he acknowledges “deliberately not engaging in the content.”

As he explains why, he seems on the verge of exploding.

“Todd Gitlin and I could go back and forth for days,” he says. “Parsing tweets! Like, tweets! Tweets!”

For those keeping score, Todd Gitlin is not exactly the type of person to strike one as a right-wing academic, so it is probably safe to say that Gitlin has no ideological axe to grind when it comes to dealing with Robin. (It is probably also safe to say that Gitlin has no ideological axe to grind when it comes to dealing with Salaita.) As I read the excerpt above–and I certainly do believe that this is a fair reading–Gitlin was/is intellectually offended by Salaita’s substance-free, tasteless, unqualified pronouncement regarding “Zionist” sexual “pleasure[s],” and is less than pleased that Salaita would debase himself and the rhetoric concerning Israel in such a manner. Additionally, Gitlin appears to be less than pleased that Robin won’t acknowledge that the tweet in question is, at best, juvenile.

And you know what? Gitlin is right to be less than pleased. After all, when it comes to commenting on juvenile tweets by Salaita, how hard would it be for Robin and other Salaita-defenders to say something along the lines of “yes, some of these tweets are tasteless, offensive, and over the line. Yes, some of them betray a lack of maturity. But that doesn’t change the fact that Salaita’s speech is protected by the First Amendment, and that he likely has a valid breach of contract claim against the University of Illinois for suddenly deciding to revoke a job offer”?

But Robin can’t even say that. He can’t even make a small concession in favor of decency, tact, common sense, and civility–not even when doing so will cost him and his side nothing in terms of the legal claims they make in Salaita’s defense.

It’s a wonder to behold this kind of obtuseness in action. And I for one can do without such wonders.