Middle East studies in the News
What the UAE Bought [on Rashid Khalidi]
Columbia University tells us that it intends to keep the $200,000 that the government of the United Arab Emirates donated to help fund the Edward Said chair in Arab studies. It's going to do this even though Harvard announced last week that it is giving back a $2.5 million donation from the president-for-life of the United Arab Emirates. Harvard acted after its students blew the whistle on the UAE's sponsorship of anti-Israel, anti-Jewish, and anti-American propaganda.
The professor that Columbia's new president, Lee Bollinger, hired to fill the Said chair is Rashid Khalidi. So it's reasonable to ask just what the United Arab Emirates is getting for its money at Columbia. One answer can be found in Professor Khalidi's newest book, his first since joining the Columbia faculty. Published in May by Beacon Press, its title is "Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America's Perilous Path in the Middle East."
One thing the UAE is getting is sloppy scholarship. Mr. Khalidi launches an attack on what he calls "a group of neoconservative policy intellectuals" — including Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and David Wurmser — who were part of a study group that produced in 1996 a report on Israeli strategy. Writes Mr. Khalidi:
Much about this extraordinary document is worthy of comment, not least of all the ignorance of the history, politics, societies, and religions of the Middle East that pervades it. The lack of basic knowledge about the Middle East exhibited in the report goes beyond misspellings of names and places to its core recommendations. Thus Perle, Feith, Wurmser, and others, part of a group that often seems to have virtually exclusive access to the top decision-makers in the Bush administration, make the suggestion in this report that putting a member of the Hashemite royal family back in control of Iraq would wean Shi'ites in Lebanon and Iraq away from Hezbollah and Iran. This master stroke is possible, the report claims, since "Shia retain strong ties to the Hashemites: the Shia venerate foremost the Prophet's family, the direct descendants of which — and in whose veins the blood of the Prophet flows — is [sic] King Hussein."
Mr.Khalidi writes,"Perle and his colleagues were here proposing the complete restructuring of a region whose history and religion their suggestions reveal they know hardly anything about.As beginning students of Middle East history would know, the Shi‘ites were known as ‘shi‘at ‘Ali" or the party of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, and their loyalty was exclusively to him and his line, not to other lineages descended from the Prophet's larger family and his tribe. Other such lineages, for example those of the Umayyads, the Abbasids, or the Hashemites, while directly or indirectly related to the Prophet Mohammad, are in fact execrated by highly religious Shi‘ites."
Mr. Khalidi returns to this issue of the Shiites and the Hashemites later in the text, describing it as "gross misinformation," and asserting,"If such people could get these sorts of basics wrong,there was precious little in the Middle East that they could be said to be experts about."
Well, please regard the family tree in the adjacent columns.Taken from the official Jordanian government Web site, kinghussein.gov.jo, it shows, as the Web site explains, that the Hashemites are "the direct descendants of the Prophet through his daughter Fatima and her husband Ali bin Abi Talib, who was also the Prophet's paternal first cousin and the fourth caliph of Islam." What this means is that rather than being the "other" lineages like the Umayyads or the Abbasids that Mr. Khalidi says the Shiites disparage, the Hashemites are — or at least claim to be — descendents of Ali, whose line is, as even Mr. Khalidi acknowledges, venerated by the Shiites.
The New York Sun reached Mr. Khalidi this week at a phone number in France. He flatly denied the Hashemite claim to be descended from Ali. "They are not related through Ali," he told us, before launching into a lecture on the unreliability of Internet sources, advising us to consult an encyclopedia, expressing an unwillingness to answer questions from the Sun, and then hanging up.
We can't prove the paternity of the Hashemites. But Mr. Khalidi's claim that a belief in the Shiite-Hashemite connection demonstrates "ignorance" of the Middle East is absurd.King Hussein,after all, ruled Jordan for more than 45 years. He was many things, but ignorant of the Middle East was not one of them.
Another person who can hardly be accused of ignorance about the Middle East is Bernard Lewis, Dodge professor of Near Eastern studies emeritus at Princeton University. Mr. Lewis co-authored an article in the October 29,2003,Wall Street Journal that said, "The Sunni Hashemites,being able to claim direct descent from the Prophet Mohammed, have historically been respected by the Shiites, who constituted a majority of the people of Iraq, though the latter recognize a different branch of the family. It is the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia, not the Hashemites, who have been the Shiites' persecutors."
And we did run down the entry on the Hashemites in the Encyclopaedia of Islam edited by C.E. Bosworth, which describes the Hashamid line as — just as the Jordanian government Web site family tree says — "descended from Musa I al-Djawn (‘The Black'), a great-grandson of al-Hasan." Al-Hasan, the encyclopedia says, is the "elder son" of Ali.
As both Mr.Khalidi and the neo-conservatives recognize, this is affects the Battle of Iraq. When the Hashemite prince, Hassan, the brother of the late Hashemite king, walks into a mosque in downtown Amman that is full of Iraqis, or when Hassan appears as he did in London in July of 2002 at a conference of Iraqi opponents to Saddam Hussein,he is treated with veneration by an enraptured audience.
While deriding his opponents' "ignorance," "misspellings," and "lack of basic knowledge," Mr. Khalidi displays plenty of his own.
He misspells George Shultz's name as George "Schultz."
He describes Daniel Pipes as "head of the Foreign Policy Institute, which sponsors a website, Campuswatch." Mr. Pipes is not and was never head of the Foreign Policy Institute, which is part of Johns Hopkins University. Mr. Pipes was from 1986 to 1993 head of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, which is based in Philadelphia. But Mr. Pipes has had no connection with the Foreign Policy Research Institute since January of 1994, and the Foreign Policy Research Institute has nothing to do with Campus Watch.
Mr. Khalidi writes in a footnote, "The idea that the neocons and Likud are joined at the hip is reinforced by a revealing piece of intellectual affinity: University of Chicago professor Leo Strauss, the revered mentor of Paul Wolfowitz, his deputy in the Pentagon Avram Shulsky, and many other neocon leading lights, was a great admirer of Vladimir Jabotinsky, founder of the extreme ultranationalist Revisionist branch of Zionism from which Likud has grown. Strauss talks about being a follower of Jabotinsky, with whom he met several times, in an autobiographical interview in: Leo Strauss, Jewish Philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity: Essays and Lectures in Modern Jewish Thought, edited by Kenneth Green (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997), p.31." But page 31 of that book contains no mention of Jabotinsky. A section of the book that does mention him comes hundreds of pages later and is not an "autobiographical interview" but rather a lecture. Moreover, it's inaccurate to describe Strauss as Mr. Wolfowitz's "revered mentor." Much as Mr.Wolfowitz admired Strauss, his mentor at Chicago was Albert Wohlstetter. The correct first name of Mr. Shulsky is "Abram," not "Avram." Mr. Wolfowitz told Vanity Fair magazine about the Strauss connection, "The idea that this has anything to do with U.S. foreign policy is just laughable." Mr. Khalidi's book is written as an attempt to explain the Bush administration's policies in the Middle East. But he seems to have an oddly skewed or uninformed view of how the administration works.
Mr. Khalidi describes "Perle, Feith, Wurmser, and others" as "part of a group that often seems to have virtually exclusive access to the top decision-makers in the Bush administration." Mr. Perle has resigned from the Defense Policy Board, a part-time advisory panel.Mr.Feith is the undersecretary of defense for policy, but for all his supposed influence,he has been unable to get the Bush administration to implement the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 that he championed as an adviser to Senator Kyl. Mr. Wurmser was an aide to an assistant secretary of state and now works for Vice President Cheney.
The fact is that many aides have as much or more access to President Bush as Messrs.Feith,Perle,and Wurmser.The national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, for example, rates not a single mention in Mr. Khalidi's book, while Mr. Perle makes appearances on six pages, according to the book's index. Mr. Bush hears from plenty of advisers who are not the "neoconservative policy intellectuals" or "zealots" alleged by Mr. Khalidi. The chairman of the president's foreign intelligence advisory board is Brent Scowcroft. The secretary of state is Colin Powell. Mr. Bush's top political aide is Karl Rove and his chief of staff is Andrew Card. The deputy secretary of state is Richard Armitage. There are other, lower-level aides that influence the Bush administration's Middle East policies, including William Luti of the Pentagon and Stephen Hadley of the National Security Council. But
Khalidi does not mention them. Charles Fairbanks Jr. was a member of the same 1996 study group whose report Mr. Khalidi makes so much of — but Mr. Khalidi does not mention him.
Yet for some reason, Mr. Khalidi dwells on Perle, Feith, Wurmser, Shulsky, and Wolfowitz. It is hard to understand why. One might speculate that it is because Perle, Feith, Wurmser, Shulsky, and Wolfowitz are Jews, while Luti, Hadley, Armitage, Rice, Rove, Card, Scowcroft, Fairbanks, and Powell are not.There is a long and dangerous conspiratorial tradition of attributing to a few Jews vast influence over world events, and it is hard to believe that here in 2004 in New York City an Ivy League university would tenure a professor to engage in such mythologizing. In any case, one need not ascribe a motivation to Mr. Khalidi's account to recognize that it distorts reality.
"Resurrecting Empire" wasn't published by a university press but by Beacon, which is an arm of the Unitarian Universalist church. It says its publishing program emphasizes "African-American studies, anthropology, essays, gay/lesbian/gender studies, education, children and family issues, nature and the environment, religion, science and society, and women's studies." Not, in other words, history, foreign policy, or the Middle East.
After all this, it is natural to wonder: Why is Rashid Khalidi holding a tenured professorship at Columbia? Does his latest work enhance the university's reputation for solid, careful scholarship, or does it stain it? Would he be there were not the United Arab Emirates paying the bill? Remember, the United Arab Emirates is a nation that Freedom House calls "not free." It has a formal policy of denying entry visas to Israeli nationals. The American State Department's human rights report says of the UAE, "there are no democratic institutions, and citizens do not have the right to form political parties… The law does not entitle workers to form or join unions."
Harvard had the integrity to give the UAE president's money back, but Columbia accepted the $200,000 from the government to fund Mr. Khalidi. Does it run counter to Columbia's interest to accept this kind of gift and provide a platform for Mr.Khalidi's sloppy work? There are some serious people on Columbia University's board of trustees, including the New York lawyer Evan Davis, Judge Jose Cabranes of the Second United States Circuit; the general counsel of Goldman Sachs, Esta Stecher, and the Nobel laureate Harold Varmus.They could provide a useful service to their university and to the public by pressing President Bollinger for some answers to these questions.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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