Monday, November 22, 2004

The State of Middle East studies

Martin Kramer reports on the Middle East Studies Association conference that took place in San Francisco last week:
This evening, the participants in the annual Middle East Studies Association (MESA) conference in San Francisco will assemble in plenary session, to hear an address by MESA's president, Laurie Brand. The title: "Scholarship in the Shadow of Empire." (Presumably that's the American empire, not the Abbasid.)
In the spring of 2003, Brand was in Beirut on sabbatical leave. As Operation Iraqi Freedom got underway, she penned an anti-war letter (scroll to last item) addressed to Secretary of State Colin Powell, on behalf of "Americans living in Lebanon." The letter cited various far-out predictions (e.g., over a million Iraqis might die because of damage to Iraq's water supply), added that "'regime change' imposed from outside is itself completely undemocratic," and ended in these words: "We refuse to stand by watching passively as the US pursues aggressive and racist policies toward the people around us. We reject your claim to be taking these actions on our behalf. Not in our name." Seventy Americans signed it.
There's irony here too, since Brand may be the most taxpayer-subsidized academic in Middle Eastern studies. She's held four Fulbright fellowships, for research in Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and Tunisia, and she's received at least three major U.S. government regrants, mostly for work in Jordan. She's been on government-funded lecture junkets to Kuwait, Jordan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Oman. And her own bio lists her as a past consultant to the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of State, and the U.S. Information Agency. Support for U.S. policy isn't a prerequisite for any of these subsidies and perks, and Brand didn't sign away her rights when she took them

And The New York Sun is reporting on how the chairman of the Middle East studies department at Columbia, Hamid Dabashi, responds when a student criticizes an essay he wrote:
Mr. Dabashi published [an essay] in an Egyptian newspaper, Al-Ahram, implying that Israeli soldiers from Africa suffered from racism.

... Mr. Dabashi describes his encounter in East Jerusalem with a "white soldier in a position of obvious authority and two black soldiers beholden to him."

After he asked the white soldier a question, "We were like three mesmerized pigeons now under the spell of a cobra - waiting for his move," he wrote.

In the essay, Mr. Dabashi also says Israel has "melted" the humanity of Muslims "in this fearful furnace into nullity beyond human recognition."

He continues: "What they call 'Israel' is no mere military state. A subsumed militarism, a systemic mendacity with an ingrained violence constitutional to the very fusion of its fabric, has penetrated the deepest corners of what these people have to call their 'soul.' "
Victor Luria, a graduate student, sent an e-mail to Mr. Dabashi criticizing his essay:
In his letter, Mr. Luria accused Mr. Dabashi - whom the student said he has never met - of "lying" about racism in Israel.

"I served in the israeli army, and I was under the command of a black officer (although such racist terms and categories are entirely a product of your mind - we never refer in Israel to whites and blacks)," his e-mail reads. "I have rarely seen such a revolting excerpt of anti-semitism as your article in Al-Ahram."
Mr. Dabashi's response:
The following day, according to the date stamp on an e-mail obtained by the Sun, Mr. Dabashi forwarded the student's letter to several top Columbia officials, including Mr. Brinkley [Columbia's provost].

"Given the military record of this person, I also feel physically threatened," he wrote. "I would be grateful if Columbia Security were also to be informed of this slanderous attack against my character and appropriate measures taken to protect my person from a potential attack by a militant slanderer."

The professor concluded that "for the time being," he would refrain from contacting the police. Mr. Brinkley apparently dismissed Mr. Dabashi's concerns about security. In his response, sent to the professor and the student, he said he found "nothing threatening" in Mr. Luria's message.

Mr. Dabashi is so wrapped up in his loony world view that because Victor Luria has served in the Israeli army he is a militant who might attack him. This is what Israeli students are experiencing in our Universities. It's disgusting.

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