Middle East studies in the News
Professor Fearful of Attack
by Jacob Gershman
After receiving an e-mail from a Columbia University graduate student accusing him of anti-Semitism, the chairman of Columbia's Department of Middle East and Asian languages and cultures told university officials he felt physically threatened by the student and urged them to alert school security.
Columbia's provost, Alan Brinkley, told the professor, Hamid Dabashi, he was overreacting, and declined to notify security about the letter from the student, according to an e-mail obtained by The New York Sun.
Mr. Dabashi, whose department at Columbia has come under public scrutiny for its promotion of anti-Israel sentiment and its alleged harassment of Jewish students, was responding to an e-mail he received in late September from Victor Luria, a Ph.D. student who works in a Columbia genetics lab.
Mr. Luria, who is originally from Romania and served in the Israeli army for six months in 1998, wrote to him expressing anger over a long essay Mr. Dabashi published in an Egyptian newspaper, Al-Ahram, implying that Israeli soldiers from Africa suffered from racism.
In his essay, a tribute to Edward Said, a prominent Palestinian who taught at Columbia until his death in September 2003,and an account of his trip to Israel to take part in a Palestinian Arab film festival, 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.' "
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."
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.
"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.
"I'm sorry this attack has occurred, but you are no stranger to controversy and have encountered such ad hominem criticism before," the provost wrote. "This is one of the unhappy prices of a public life, and I would recommend ignoring Mr. Luria (whom I do not know)." The message was signed: "Yours, Alan."
Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, has since tapped Mr. Brinkley to lead an internal investigation into whether faculty members in Mr. Dabashi's department have intimidated and harassed Jewish students in their classes. The investigation, which has attracted national attention, was prompted by the release of a documentary film in which Columbia students alleged abuses by Columbia professors.
In an interview with the Sun, Mr. Luria said Mr. Dabashi, a scholar of Iranian history, was attempting to "silence" him.
"As a member of the university, I have the right to tell him he's wrong," he said. "I see someone who denies the right of Israel to exist as anti-Semitic."
As chairman of the Middle East studies department, Mr. Dabashi has a large influence over the direction of the department and the awarding of tenure. He has also expressed support for an assistant professor, Joseph Massad, a scholar of modern Arab politics, who is a chief target of student complaints.
Mr. Dabashi and Mr. Brinkley did not answer requests for comment.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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