Brett de Bary is a professor of Asian Studies and Comparative Literature at Cornell University. She specializes in modern Japanese literature and film and is the former director of Cornell’s Visual Studies program. Her current areas of research are: post-modern criticism, Japanese film, translation of Karatani Kojin, subjectivity in early postwar Japanese literature, and the construction of the body in Meiji poetry and naturalist fiction. De Bary received a B.A. from Barnard College and a Ph.D. in East Asian languages and cultures from Harvard University in 1978. She also is an associate editor of Traces: Multilingual Series of Translation and Cultural Theory.
A faculty member in the Cornell Forum for Peace and Justice (CFPJ), de Bary has taught a course titled “Empires and Imperialisms,” which she says encouraged “historical and cultural analyses of prior empires and colonial regimes, as well as work on any aspect of the Bush administration’s military, economic, and environmental policies, the dismantling of civil liberties, detentions and racial profiling, and so forth.”
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, CFPJ sponsored numerous activities and seminars that “focused on issues related to September 11.” One of these was an October 21 film screening of In the Name of the Emperor, which was followed by a panel discussion featuring Brett de Bary and three other participants. This film deals with the horrors of war, focusing specifically on what the Japanese military did in 1937, when it invaded the Chinese capital of Nanking and slaughtered some 300,000 people. CFPJ selected this film so as to make the point that by launching the War on Terror, Americans were themselves preparing to commit similar atrocities “in the name” of their own “emperor,” George W. Bush.
De Bary was a signatory to an October 4, 2001 statement entitled “Join a New Anti-War Coalition: International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism).” Heralding the birth of International ANSWER, this statement, issued in the very wake of 9/11, condemned the United States as an aggressive, imperialist power infested with racism. Moreover, it characterized Arabs and Muslims as victims of widespread American bigotry and intolerance, but said nothing about Americans being victimized by the bigotry and intolerance of the Islamic killers who had just slaughtered 3,000 people. The statement appeared in the Workers World newspaper, a publication of the Communist Workers World Party. It read, in part:
“Unless we stop President Bush and NATO from carrying out a new, wider war in the Middle East, the number of innocent victims will grow from the thousands to the tens of thousands and possibly more. A new, wider U.S. and NATO war in the Middle East can only lead to an escalating cycle of violence. War is not the answer.
“We must also act against racism. Arab American and Muslim people in the United States, in Europe and elsewhere, as well as other communities of color, are facing racist attacks and harassment in their communities, on their jobs, and at mosques. Anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism is a poison that should be repudiated.
“The U.S. government is attempting to curb civil liberties and to create a climate in which it is impossible for progressive people to speak their minds. The Bush administration is attempting to take advantage of this crisis to militarize U.S. society with a vast expansion of police powers that is intended to severely restrict basic democratic rights.”
De Bary co-edited Michael Dummet’s book “Race” Panic and the Memories of Migration, a collection of essays examining the theme of racial and ethnic identities. This screed asserts that when a nation refuses to accept an individual as an immigrant, its government has the burden of proving why it is justified in doing so; in short, that the onus is not on the immigrant to prove why he or she is worthy of admittance, but rather on the government to prove otherwise. The book further impugns the alleged practice of wealthy nations making “racist and xenophobic claims” that they are being “swamped” by newcomers from other lands. It minimizes any negative influence that immigration could have on a nation’s social and political climate, and charges that restrictive immigration policies are generally founded on racism. It also accuses Western governments of making it increasingly difficult – through the use of detention centers, unfair tribunals with punitive assessment terms and processes, stringent criteria for qualification, and restriction of legal recourse – for foreigners to immigrate there. The book alleges that this state of affairs is the root cause of the large number of illegal immigrants “who are forced to lead extremely precarious lives and often fall prey to all kinds of extortionate and inhuman exploitation.”
De Bary supports the late Professor Edward Said’s concept of Orientalism, which holds that it is impossible for Westerners to write valid accounts of affairs in the Middle East and elsewhere because their ideas are tainted by cultural biases and a misplaced sense of cultural and intellectual superiority.
Part of this profile was adapted from the article “Indoctrination at Cornell,” written by Joe Sabia and published by FrontPageMagazine.com on June 23, 2003.