Americans Should Hear Whole Iran Joke College Professor Got Fired Over - He's Actually Right
It’s difficult to get conservatives to mourn the firing of a member of academia who cracks a flippant joke about America during a sensitive time. Whatever modicum of sympathy may have existed would probably vanish, too, if I told you the terminated faculty member’s job title was director of sustainability.
Here’s the thing, though: Babson College professor Asheen Phansey was kind of right.
If you haven’t heard of Phansey’s case, this will take a bit of explaining.
As you likely know, President Donald Trump came under fire when he tweeted he was considering strikes against Iranian cultural sites depending on how Tehran would respond to the airstrike that claimed the life of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
“Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD,” Trump tweeted on Jan. 5. “The USA wants no more threats!”
….targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2020
Those tweets got a lot of attention because targeting cultural sites is a war crime, but they also inspired a lot of jokes, some in questionable taste. Phansey’s Tuesday comment on his private Facebook page, at first glance, seems to fall into that category.
“In retaliation, Ayatollah Khomenei should tweet a list of 52 sites of beloved American cultural heritage that he would bomb,” Phansey wrote.
“Um… Mall of America? Kardashian residence?”
The comments were originally reported in a vulgar little corner of the internet called Turtle Boy Sports, a place where a solid portion of the headlines can’t be repeated here in good conscience, even when asterisked out. Despite the relative obscurity of the source, Phansey’s post quickly gathered attention from publications of more august provenance.
Phansey deleted the post and apologized for his “bad attempt at humor” in a statement Wednesday, according to the Boston Herald. He added that he was “completely opposed to violence and would never advocate it by anyone.”
He’d originally been placed on paid administrative leave while an investigation was ongoing. It didn’t take long for an investigation to find reason to do away with him, with the Wellesley, Massachusetts school announcing Thursday that Phansey was “no longer a Babson College employee.”
“Babson College conducted a prompt and thorough investigation related to a post shared on a staff member’s personal Facebook page that does not represent the values and culture of the College,” Babson said in a statement.
“Based on the results of the investigation, the staff member is no longer a Babson College employee,” the statement continued, with the school adding it “condemns any type of threatening words and/or actions condoning violence and/or hate.”
Phansey said he was disappointed.
“I am disappointed and saddened that Babson has decided to abruptly terminate my 15-year relationship with the college just because people willfully misinterpreted a joke I made to my friends on Facebook,” he said via a spokeswoman on Thursday.
“I would have hoped that Babson, an institution of higher education that I love and to which I have given a great deal, would have defended and supported my right to free speech,” he added.
“Beyond my own situation, I am really concerned about what this portends for our ability as Americans to engage in political discourse without presuming the worst about each other.”
If Phansey was disappointed, many conservatives on Twitter weren’t.
Babson College professor suspended after urging Iran to list American cultural targets https://t.co/n0KoHe92NN ANYONE KNOW THIS BUM’S NAME?
— Howie Carr (@HowieCarrShow) January 8, 2020
In retaliation, Ayatollah Khomenei [sic] should tweet a list of 52 sites of beloved American cultural heritage that he would bomb,” Babson College Professor Asheen Phansey wrote in a since-deleted post. “Um… Mall of America??” @FBIWFO https://t.co/czkYza8XWY
— pamela ?? ??? (@pamela12632553) January 10, 2020
Keep America Great !: Babson College Professor Asheen Phansey Fired After Saying https://t.co/3MyaL4qvao
— C S (@cjstocksup) January 11, 2020
Professor #asheenphansey tweeting that #Iran should bomb “mall of America” how is this ok ?! Your hate for trump doesn’t excuse this https://t.co/Rj2BNVk00V
— AH331 (@ahluv2) January 8, 2020
Todd Starnes seemed to get the temperature of the conservative side of the room right when he said — in response to Phansey’s statement that he was “concerned about what this portends for our ability as Americans to engage in political discourse without presuming the worst about each other” — that “Americans should be really concerned about professors and Hollywood celebrities who encourage foreign countries to attack American soil. And so should the Department of Homeland Security.”
He’s wrong, though.
First, let’s deal with the obvious point here: This wasn’t a serious invitation for the Iranians to strike on American soil. If you read this as a Babson College professor rooting for the ayatollahs to approve a strike on Kim Kardashian, you need to take a vacation from outrage.
This is the kind of piling on that we ordinarily associate with the excesses of cancel culture where, if any joke crosses into the foggy gray area of unapproved thought, you can find yourself out of a career. Is this the kind of behavior we want to emulate?
Second, he didn’t exactly make a bad point here about American culture.
He’s not the first person to have made it, as anyone who watched the “South Park” movie will attest to. (To save you the trouble, in response to an American aggression against Canada, the Canadians bomb the manses of American movie stars.)
However, the point he was making wasn’t that Iran ought to strike the United States — and anyone who confused the issue was being deliberately dense.
Why do we react so viscerally to a professor saying that the Iranians should strike American pop culture iconography when they clearly have no capacity to do so? The obvious joke here is that we take pop culture too seriously.
More people can recite the plot to “Avengers: Endgame” beat-by-beat than can recite the first sentence from the preamble to the U.S. Constitution.
More people can list all of Kim Kardashian’s boyfriends and husbands than can name the first first lady.
We’ve gotten to the point where these really are “sites of beloved American cultural heritage,” whether you want to admit it or not.
The joke may have been ill-timed, but it wasn’t ill-targeted. Our national obsession with the subjects of photos in glossy gossip magazines is profoundly unhealthy.
Phansey may have been taking a swipe at the president, but he managed to make a salient point while doing so.
Getting someone fired for telling an uncomfortable truth, even if he’s not on your political side, is still accommodating cancel culture in a way that should make us exceptionally uncomfortable.
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