Sara Roy: The Harvard Professor Who Cried Censorship
by Cinnamon Stillwell • July 10, 2007
Unfounded claims of censorship are exceedingly common in the field of Middle East studies, where, all too often, having one's work criticized or rejected on its merit is equated with being silenced.
Sara Roy, a senior research scholar at Harvard University's Center for Middle Eastern Studies, is the latest to jump on the censorship bandwagon. Tufts University's Fletcher Forum of World Affairs recently rejected her book review of Matthew Levitt's Hamas: Politics, Charity and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad (2006), an act that, according to Roy, constituted a "blatant…case of censorship."
Despite the "censorship" allegedly being visited upon Roy's review, it is now posted at the journal for the Middle East Policy Council for all to read. And Roy's sob story is available via her preface.
In it, she recounts how the Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, after commissioning and initially accepting her book review, later rejected it for being biased. More than a few members of the editorial staff had problems with Roy's review, as evidenced in her description of the "difficult…exchanges" she had with them over a two-month period. The editor-in-chief, however, proved to be a supporter and led Roy to believe that the review would appear in the next issue of the journal.
It was at this point that more discerning heads prevailed and the editor-in-chief (who remains unnamed) e-mailed Roy informing her that her review had failed the evaluation for "objectivity." What's more, he explained, "all reviewers found the piece one-sided."
Upon Reading Roy's book review, this conclusion is unavoidable. She spends most of it condemning Levitt, a senior fellow and director of terrorism studies at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, for taking a justifiably hard stance on Hamas and, instead, trying to forge the mythical idea of a "New Hamas." A Hamas unencumbered by terrorism, the implementation of Sharia law, opposition to a two-state solution, and the type of chaos and violence recently seen in Gaza.
Considering Roy's apologetics towards radical Islam, her review is predictably unfavorable. In fact, she urges "anyone wishing to gain a substantive, reasoned and critical understanding of Hamas…to look elsewhere."
Those in search of actual cases of censorship might also consider looking elsewhere, for, clearly, the actions of the Fletcher Forum of World Affairs do not qualify. This hasn't stopped Roy, who, incidentally, is a great supporter of another devotee to claims of censorship, DePaul University's soon-to-be former political science professor Norman Finkelstein, from playing the victim card.
This is by no means Roy's first foray into such overwrought territory. Regarding the David Project film "Columbia Unbecoming," which documented cases of intimidation and harassment against students who objected to their Mideast studies professors' anti-Israel vitriol, Roy had this to say: "Columbia Unbecoming is intended to silence critics of Israel."
In a 2004 article for the London Review of Books in which Roy attacks Campus Watch, Daniel Pipes, Martin Kramer, and Stanley Kurtz for their efforts to hold Middle East studies departments responsible for their work, she put it thusly: "What all this boils down to is an attempt to silence criticism of US policy, and put an end to disagreement with the neo-conservative agenda. It is not diversity that is being sought but conformity."
But it is in fact figures such as Roy who demand conformity to their politicized views of the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy, not those who seek to uphold standards of veracity in higher education.
The truth is that under the banner of preserving "academic freedom," scholars such as Roy object to any and all efforts to hold their work accountable. But accountability does not equal censorship.
In concluding her paean to suppression, Roy notes that, "In more than 20 years of writing and publishing I have never experienced such behavior." In the view of those of us working to restore balance to Middle East studies, this may be a good sign.
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