A Tweet by Deepa Kumar, an associate professor of media studies at Rutgers University, had tweeted — “Yes ISIS is brutal, but US is more so, 1.3 million killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.” She linked that tweet to a story which ran on the left-leaning radio station Democracy Now, which interviewed authors of a new report on casualties in those regions and estimated the deaths at 1.3 million.
That was in March this year. Now, months later, her tweet has led to a virtual ideological war about freedom of expression after Deepa Kumar likened the brutality of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL, to war casualties from the U.S. involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
As per reports here, Fox News in its popular day-time show “Outnumbered” on July 27, featured a discussion on Kumar’s tweet where Judge Andrew Napolitano, Fox’s senior judicial analyst, and several panelists panned Kumar, but agreed she had the right to hold and express her views. The comments however, went further, questioning whether it was right for a publicly funded university to hire professors with these seemingly anti-American views, a paradoxical argument for and against free speech. The commentators also accused Kumar of leading the charge against inviting former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice as commencement speaker in 2014. Rice withdrew in the face of opposition from sections of the faculty and students.
Following the high profile Fox News coverage, Kumar provided her defense to the journal Inside Higher Ed, which in its July 29 report, “Targeted for Tweets” says things were pretty low key after Kumar’s March tweet, until “far-right” blogs and Fox News ran with it. “Now Kumar is being flooded with hate mail and even violent threats,” it says. Kumar did not respond to News India Times request for an interview.
Kumar, however, did speak to Inside Higher Ed. “This is not the only case of a professor being targeted by Fox News and by the right — in fact, there’s a long history here of trying to silence and intimidate faculty who have dissenting opinions on the U.S. government and policies in the Middle East,” she said. “The only way to push back and defend myself is to be public about it.”
She also countered Fox News discussants’ assertions that she orchestrated the charge against Condoleeza Rice. Her defense – faculty wanted to “engage” Rice in a “dialogue” rather than hear her commencement speech. “They distorted a bunch of things about what I’ve said and done,” Kumar complained. According to the Inside Higher Ed piece, responses have contained racist and sexist slurs. A fellow professor at Rutgers accused Fox News of presenting a tweet out of context months after it was made, and argued that the public could not understand the comment in a “larger context.
Kumar is no stranger to vitriol on the Web. On Sept. 11, 2013, after she gave an interview to a relatively obscure web news channel, “breakingtheset” which had a few thousand listeners, one apparent Rutgers alumna fumed, “She just lectured that America is more brutal than ISIS, and Rutgers is funding this …. I’ll have to remember it on the next Rutgers alumni fund drive when they call me begging for money.” Kumar said Fox News coverage of her tweet followed after a far-right group called SoCawlege published her Twitter history after a June conference on terrorism studies where she spoke and made a slide presentation.