Middle East studies in the News
Intellectual Corruption of Intersectional Academics: Ted Swedenburg's Palestinian Anthropology
by Richard Landes
In the Phyllis Chesler case, one of the three authors of the letter (fisked here) that got her disinvited was Ted Swedenburg. The letter embodies everything about the current field of post-Oriental Middle Eastern Studies that leads me to conclude that most of its denizens are proleptic dhimmi – the fear of offending Islam, the use of terms like "Islamophobia" to silence dissenting infidels, their invocation of "safe spaces" and allusions to potential violence as a reason to drop a speaker. In turns out, Swedenburg has been at this for a long time.
In an article he wrote in 1989, Swedenburg lays out his methodology, which coincides quite remarkably with the hegemonic discourse across the "humanities" and "social 'sciences'" of today. How much headway have they made in the last two decades! (HT: YM)
Earlier anthropologists, who risked far more serious assaults in far less controlled environments – no recently annexed offices and registrations for Napoleon Chagnon, or any of those working a century ago. If an anthropologist wants to understand up close a culture in which violence is a quotidian presence, then he or she needs to be ready to experience some of it. No serious anthropologist feels entitled to safety (talk about white privilege).
Precisely. When Alan Johnston was kidnapped, the cry went up from some, "why kidnap him? he was on the Palestinian side." It makes absolutely clear that the way that information professionals of the last generation have dealt with the violence of Palestinian society (and how many others) has been to cry out, "but we're on your side!" No wonder top (NYT)journalists like Jodi Rudoren and Ethan Bronner (and so many other journalists I've spoken with) say, without a trace of irony or self-awareness, "there's no intimidation." As one photographer said to me when I raised the issue of intimidation: "They don't threaten us. They welcome us." The appeasement is so pervasive, there is no need for violence.
Interestingly, as he might have guessed, he was not alone in this experience of information professionals who think that the people they champion will be appreciative.
Swedenburg apparently does not know that he has just given us a good description (from the perspective of a triumphalist Muslim), of good dhimmi behavior: do everything to appease them (dress, public behavior, conversation – plus palestinien que les palestiniens), reject, criticize, and attack their enemies (Israel). From his point of view (and theirs) he's just showing respect. The key here is the intellectual failure: it's one thing not to gratuitously offend (dress, behavior), it's another to put your scholarship in the service of their irredentist cause.
Robert Fisk suffered a much more seriously violent attack in Afghanistan, three months after 9-11. His description and analysis resemble those of Swedenburg's.
I've been on their side, depicting them as victims, telling their story the way they want it told, and now the turn on me?
In classic humanitarian racist style, "they," the victim colored people, have no agency. Anything they do wrong is our fault. They shouldn't have done it (attack me) not because they shouldn't be violent, but because I was on their side. (Apparently if it weren't for the West, Afghanistan and Palestine, not to mention the rest of the victim world, would be thriving civil societies.)
Uncanny. Without using the term "intersectionality" (which only made its appearance on the scene the year this paper was published, 1989), he has pre-articulated the current hegemonic paradigm. "We were all, not matter how 'good,' still Westerners, still guilty of connections to power that we either denied or tried to disown, but that fatally corrupted us." The West owns it "original sin."
Rephrased in Islamic terms:
Either way (as PoCo activist or as proleptic dhimmi), this is a pathetic show of systemic appeasement – indeed a surrender to a 1400 year-old intersectional system of Muslim oppression of infidels. When Swedenburg thought more about his dilemma, it wasn't to realize that there was something intellectually dishonest about it, that he needed to open up his lens and take in a larger picture rather than adopting the war ("national resistance") narrative of a violent culture (not their fault) that readily lies to outsiders (not their fault). On the contrary, in his mind all this dhimmi behavior, including taking the Palestinian side completely, is "not... incorrect." He, like Fisk, just needed to meditate further on his intersectional sins of white privilege.
No wonder we Western infidels can't figure anything out in the Middle East! Since Edward Said, our information professionals have systematically blinded us. With Ted Swedenburg we have a fine example of the long haul – from Palestinian lacky in the late 20th century, to academic enforcer of Muslim blasphemy laws in the 21st.
The letter opposing Phyllis Chesler's invitation boldly states:
Thank you, King Fahd Center for the study of the Middle East at Arkansas University.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.
Campus Watch contact e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org