Steven Salaita Heads to Beirut, While Malcolm Kerr Spins in His Grave
by Winfield Myers • Jul 6, 2015 at 4:13 pm
Salaita is Said's equal when it comes to producing polemical revisionist history that relies more upon postcolonial victimization studies than upon rigorous research. Although Illinois expected him to teach American Indian studies and he'll teach American studies at AUB, all six of his books deal with modern Arab studies, Arab Americans, or Israel. In the through-the-looking-glass historiography of Salaita and his academic allies, these disparate fields are connected by a typology of the victim that is easily transferred from antiquity to the present, so that Canaanites are Native Americans and ancient Hebrews are modern Zionists. It's a handy way of attacking the entire history of a people or civilization without having to bother with facts, research, doubt, unanswerable questions, or the human agent at the heart of all genuine historical research.
In 1980 Malcolm Kerr, the distinguished Middle East studies scholar who served as AUB president, wrote a gentlemanly but devastating critique of Orientalism in which he mentions almost forty excellent scholars whose work Said ignored because noting their contributions would undermine his thesis that Western scholarship on the Middle East was uniformly reductionist and racist. Four years after writing his review, Kerr was assassinated near his AUB office by members of Islamic Jihad. If he could know that a chair named for Said now exists at AUB—and that next occupant will be a man as dedicated to politicized, vindictive scholarship as its namesake—he would be spinning in his grave.
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