Middle East studies in the News
MEALAC Department Has Been Blatantly Defamed
by Hamid Dabashi
To the Editor:
It was with an astonished sense of incredulity that I read in Ben Casselman's report of the John Jay Awards ("Five Notable CC Alumni Receive John Jay Awards," March 6, 2003) that during the award ceremony, John Corigliano, CC '59, singled out my department for what he considers to be its "enormous anti-Israeli policy." This is a malicious defamation of my department with no basis in truth.
One source of such atrocious misrepresentations of MEALAC is a set of fabricated lies that Rabbi Charles Sheer, Director of Hillel at Columbia, has attributed to Dean Lisa Anderson of the School of International and Public Affairs and published in an interview in The Jewish Week (Jan. 31, 2003). In this interview, the Rabbi reports to the reporter that according to Dean Anderson, "Columbia is not a healthy place to study the Middle East." In the same article, the Rabbi is quoted as having said that "he met last week with Lisa Anderson, dean of the School for International and Public Affairs," and that "Anderson agreed with him that the department is 'one-sided.'" Then the Rabbi adds, "She was in agreement that right now one cannot find courses that present Israel in a balanced historical context." Eric J. Greenberg, the reporter from The Jewish Week, further elaborates that "Rabbi Sheer said Anderson also agreed that the problem of biased Middle East departments 'is endemic to the field [of Middle East studies] and not just at Columbia.'"
These are all fabricated lies. In an e-mail addressed to Professor Amy W. Newhall, the Executive Director of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), of which Dean Anderson is currently the President, Dean Anderson was baffled by the attribution of such statements to her, the President of an organization duty-bound to safeguard the dignity and integrity of departments such as mine. In her e-mail, Dean Anderson categorically denied having ever said anything remotely resembling what the Rabbi has attributed to her. Dean Anderson copied both me and the Rabbi on this e-mail, and that is how I came to know about the article in The Jewish Week.
These pernicious lies have now surfaced in official University functions and from the mouths of our honored alumni. I find it particularly distasteful that as we are honoring our alumni they can muster such rude audacity to discredit the very institution that is honoring them.
In an official letter to Dean Quigley I have requested a response to the report in the Spectator. Did he or anyone else from Columbia College publicly defend the good name and the dignity of my colleagues who have served generations of Columbia students honorably with the fruits of their teaching and scholarship? My department is home to one of the most robust programs in Hebrew and Israeli studies. Currently, the most comprehensive programs of Hebrew language and literature--including courses on the cultural history of Zionism--are taught by world-renowned scholars in my department. The Rabbi's fabricated lies and Corigliano's misguided accusations are insults to the dignity of my colleagues and shamelessly defame my department.
Such malicious misrepresentations of my department are a deliberate attempt at silencing voices of civilized dissent and civil discourse in these extremely troubling times. They have created undue anxiety among our alumni on one hand and on the other unleashed scores of death threats against me personally, and against my colleague Professor Joseph Massad, by lunatic thugs. None of these intimidations will be effective. We will not be silenced.
The author is chairman of the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures Department.
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