THE SPINE APRIL 23, 2009
Joseph Massad, one of Edward Said's more sleazy epigones, is again in the news. Once more, the news is about a particular question: whether he will be granted tenure at Columbia University. The last time around it was whether he would be simply given a promotion. I have written about Massad several times, and--as you may expect--I do not like him. But that is not the point. The point is that, given his expected confirmation by Columbia's board of trustees, the study of the Middle East has been officially devolved on an aggressive monopoly of academics with contempt for Jews and their national movement, hostile to the United States and overweening in the certainty of what is, after all, mere and sheer dogma. I know that trusteeship is now contrived as being as passive as possible. Is the professoriat as a whole so wise as never to be questioned at all? I daresay not. And I know something about universities. At Columbia increasingly, departments and schools in the social sciences behave in the process of hiring like gangs admitting new members. Let me state my particular beef. Columbia has become the very center of Arab academic extremism in the country. This cannot be doubted. Even Georgetown has made some accommodations to a variety of views (and histories) of the region. Here and there around America there are also small beach heads of Arab and Muslim fanaticism but, intellectually, they amount to nothing, a few of them becoming headquarters for terrorism. At some respectable place like Michigan you have a dumpkopf like Juan Cole parading himself as a sage at a campus where the demography assures him of stuffed lecture halls, people who know little confirmed in their views by someone sure of his dogma. That's education, alright.Allow me a comparison of the intellectual and political diversity--not between Arab universities and Israeli universities, it would be silly--between Columbia and any and all universities in the State of Israel. For years I sat on the board of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was on its executive committee and served as vice chair of the academic affairs committee. During the years I've also been close to Tel Aviv University. I know a little bit about Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheva. No department or scholarly center dealing with the near east, with Arab history and politics, with Zionism, with the present Jewish state is so intellectually and politically inbred as is Columbia University. In fact, Israel's universities are at the very core of ideological dissension in the society. It is a matter of pride to Israelis that their universities are not centers of dogma, something that Columbia's president, Lee C. Bollinger, would never be able to say about the school over which he has so painfully and awkwardly presided.Now back to Massad: He, by the way, is not your ordinary Palestinian ultra-nationalist. He calls the Palestinian Authority the Palestinian Collaborationist Authority and Mohammed Abbas the chief Palestinian collaborationist. His most tragicomic book is Desiring Arabs published by the University of Chicago after a conflict between the author and the Harvard Press. The book jacket is of a leering middle-aged Arab man, obsequious and provocative at once. Its meaning is unclear since Massad's argument is very clear: homosexuality came to the Arab world through western imperialism. Oh, well...Anyway, here is a judicious New York Post piece by Jacob Gershman, who covered Massad's tempestuous but otherwise suck-up career for the late-lamented New York Sun.
P.S.: Be sure, also, to read Jamie Kirchick's devastating review of Desiring Arabs here.
P.P.S: In addition, I would be remiss in not noting that the College Art Association, publisher of Art Journal, recenly shelled out $75,000 to an Israeli scholar, Gannet Ankori, who had threatened to sue the publication for libel after it published a review by Massad of Ankori's book, Palestinian Art. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:
In [the review], Mr. Massad alleged that Ms. Ankori had appropriated the work of a Palestinian artist and art historian, Kamal Boullata, without giving him proper credit. In a letter to the association, Ms. Ankori’s lawyers countered that the review contained false and defamatory statements and threatened to sue. The lawsuit was threatened in Britain, where her book had been published and where libel laws are more favorable to plaintiffs.
As part of the deal to resolve the dispute, the association issued an apology to Ms. Ankori and sent a letter to its institutional subscribers, stating that the review “contained factual errors and certain unfounded assertions.” It asked them to withdraw the relevant portions from circulation.
This is a man that Columbia University trusts to educate its students?