Middle East studies in the News
Is There A New Blacklist? A Speech on Columbia University Debacle
by Monique Dols
Campus Watch Editor's Note: Campus Watch wrote about the event at which this talk was given. Please see Columbia's Anti-Jewish Conspiracy Theorist by Alyssa A. Lappen.
The following is the text of a speech given by Monique Dols at a discussion panel in NYC which also featured Joseph Massad, Tariq Ali, and Amy Goodman. Monique Dols is a Columbia University student in the School in the school of General Studies and a member of the Campus Antiwar Network. She's been active in the campaign to Stop McCarthyism at Columbia and in Palestine Solidarity work. Her writings appeared is SW, Counterpunch, Electronic Intifada, and Znet. She is also a member of the International Socialist Organization. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some of you may have heard about the intense crackdown that's been happening at Columbia University recently. But if you haven't, I am going to give you a little bit of background.
Last semester there was a film that was produced by a number of pro Israel students on campus with the support of an outside, pro Israel group called the David Project. This film brought together a number of accusations from students who claimed that they were intimidated in the classroom by a number of Middle Eastern Professors. They made this film, they called it a documentary, these screened it with upper level administrators, and with press. And what the film really amounted to was a series of unsubstantiated allegations mixed up with stories of anti-Semitism that was picked up by media and in particular by the right wing media and created a firestorm of debate around the Middle Eastern Studies department at Columbia.
What's important to point out is that the students who put forward these allegations claim to be working on behalf of students' rights and on behalf of academic freedom. But their campaign was funded by an organization called the David Project, which came into being in the spring of 2002. What happened in the spring of 2002? Well, in the spring of 2002 a pro Palestine movement emerged on campuses around this country. A divestment movement emerged on campuses around this country. This is when the massacres happened in Jenin. This is when the IDF launched an incursion into the West Bank and Gaza. And the David Project was created to counter the progress of this movement. It explicitly came into being to narrow the terms of the discussion on campuses.
The David Project is not an organization that fights fearlessly for academic freedom or student rights around the country. Simply put it is an organization that goes from campus to campus actively marginalizing the pro Palestinian view. And they even helped to de-fund an Islamic studies chair at one university.
Now, in the midst of all this President Bollinger set up an investigative panel of professors to look into these allegations. What this did is it set a bad precedent. It set a precedent that said if you disagree politically with your professors, you could get the media, you can get these outside politically motivated rightwing organizations on your side. And you could get your professors hung out to dry by the administration. Now, the findings of this investigation found that there is no systematic anti-Semitism at Columbia University and that there's no systematic intimidation of students. Anyone could have seen this months ago, years ago. But what the report did was that it isolated a few incidences that they claimed were "credible." And in particular it isolated Professor Massad who is speaking with us tonight. And it scapegoated him. And said that "Yes, maybe he did go a little bit too far."
But what no one will talk about is that Professor Massad has been the target of a systematic attack at Columbia University for the past several years. No one will talk about the spy rings in his classroom where auditors come into the classroom and interrupt and disrupt the class. And circulate petitions to get him fired simply because he stands up and is a fearless defender of the rights of Palestinians to return to their land and not to live in ghettoized conditions.
I am just going to speak quickly about one example that I can recall from the Spring of 2001 when I took Professor Massad's class on Israeli and Palestinian politics and cultures. It was the first time that I was introduced to such a depth of criticism of both Israel's claim to the land also of Palestinian nationalism. Like many people who grew up in this country I was led to believe that the Israeli Palestinian Conflict was simply an "age old ethnic rivalry" that is simply to complicated to understand and certainly impossible to resolve. But this class broke through that for me and introduced me to a range of debate that I had never heard before on the issue. But one particular class incident stands out in my memory that I think is worth telling.
I took that class with one of the most outspoken pro Israel students at Columbia who just recently graduated named Noah Liben. He is featured in this film, Columbia Unbecoming that I referenced earlier that was produced by the David Project. In this film he claimed that Massad disrespected and humiliated him in class. But this couldn't be farther from the truth.
One day, during a lecture on Israel's racism against non-European, Asian and African Jews, Noah Liben defended these practices. He claimed that the Ashkenazi, or European Jews played a civilizing role in the lives of non-white Jews in Israel. He claimed that these Jews lacked Jewish culture and that they needed to be modernized and cultured by the Ashkenazi Jews. This defense of the white-man's burden cause the class to gasp in outrage and many even laughed at Liben's outright contempt for the culture of non-European Jews. In other words Liben humiliated himself in class with his own defense of the civilizing project of colonialism as well as his own defense of Israel's racist policies.
But this is what is at stake today: In some small enclaves in the university there still exist some places where anti-colonialism and anti-racism are the starting point. The fact that a racist comment would be met with awe and disgust from fellow students is a threat to the entire project of empire building today. And they want to change this. At a moment where the entire framework of the white man's burden is being resurrected to justify a war on Iraq, a war on the Palestinian people and a broader war on terror throughout the world, it is only natural that they would attack anyone who resists this.
Now judging by the current state of politics in this country today, it is pretty clear that they have plenty of mechanisms in place to control the political sphere, the terms and breadth of the political debate in this country. It is a prerequisite to sit in the White House that you will be tough on terror. There is a consensus in Washington to support Israel's brutal occupation and relentlessly crush the Iraqi's determination to run their own country. This entire project is predicated on lies about weapons of mass destruction, and excuses of democratization and humanitarianism. But it's the professors and scholars who have come under attack who are shooting holes into these arguments and exposing them.
Professor Massad's class is a perfect example. Because he always allowed people who disagreed with him to voice those opinions and raise questions and create debate, he was able to show how those arguments fall apart in the face of scrutiny, historic facts and real debate. And these are the kinds of people coming under attack today. This is what Washington and Tel Aviv are afraid of: A real debate, which allows people to make up their own mind when confronted with the realities of occupation and dispossession. Today they want to reach into and regulate the terms of the debate in the universities. And narrow the range of scholarship to what is considered acceptable by the needs of empire.
But this isn't new. In April 1965, Student for a Democratic Society called the first national demonstration against the war in Vietnam. They expected a couple thousand people. But 20,000 people, mostly students, came out. The president of SDS at the time made a speech that I want to quote from quickly. He said:
Most of us grew up thinking that the United States was a strong but humble nation that...respected the integrity of other nations and other systems; and that engaged in wars only as a last resort....
If at some point we began to hear vague and disturbing things about what this country had done in Latin America, China, Spain and other places, we remained somehow confident about the basic integrity of this nation's foreign policy....
The incredible war in Vietnam has provided the razor, the terrifying sharp cutting edge that has finally severed the last vestige of illusion that morality and democracy are the guiding principles of American foreign policy.... The further we explore the reality of what this country is doing and planning in Vietnam the more we are driven toward the conclusion that the United States may well be the greatest threat to peace in the world today.
And so much of that is true today. Today we can see the beginning stages of this process again. But we have our own political challenges. SDS broke through the stalemate of McCarthyism and the Cold War era by rejecting the very logic of Anti-Communism and this strengthened their ability to more effectively counter the war in Vietnam. Today we need to reject the racist logic that is coming out of Washington. The racist logic of the war on terror, which has thousands of Arabs locked up in detention centers, tortured and disappeared. We have to reject this logic because it is the driving force for the US's destruction and occupation of Iraq. And it is the driving force behind the new McCarthyism and the new blacklist today.
It is not a coincidence that the professors who have come under the most vitriolic attacks are Middle Eastern. The problem with the campaign from the right is that they claim students' rights and they claim intimidation. But if we are going to talk about real issues of students' rights we are going to talk about real cases of racism that happened at Columbia University last year against African American students that were swept under the rug by the administration. We're going to talk about the graduate student unionization drive that the university is doing everything in its power to undermine.
If we're going to talk about real students rights than we are also going to talk about professors' rights. We need to talk about what real justice would look like. In no case should it be considered OK that a Middle Eastern Professor today face the racist characterization that he or she is waging "Jihad in the classroom". Or that he or she is a "terrorist sympathizer," which is one of the characterizations that Professor Massad and many others have faced. In no case should we stand by while this happens. We have to call this out for what this is. Its simply, straight up, racism.
Professors should be able to structure their class however they want. They should be able to put anyone on the syllabus that can actually exposes the reality of what it means to be a Palestinian, of what it means to be an Iraqi living under US bombs. And that is what they are there for. And we need to stand up against these racist characterizations.
I am going to close by letting people know about the campaign to Stop McCarthyism at Columbia (SMAC). It's come a long way and I have been really excited to be working with a number of people that have gotten involved. Right now the campaign is working on putting out a newsletter, a pamphlet that can bring together the criticism and expose the role that the Columbia University administration has played in actively persecuting these professors and actively scapegoating them and hanging them out to dry. We are wrapping up the semester but we are going to continue into the future because it is not going to end here as much as the university would like us to think. There is a table set up outside. People can go by. We are not only Columbia students. We desperately need the support of people in this room and we desperately need the support of the million people who came out to oppose the war. Because what we are seeing is a new level and escalation of the war.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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