Many of the useful stooges we’ve examined on this site have been university professors or – like the so-called “Cambridge spies” – have been radicalized while they were university students. As it happens, New York’s Columbia University has figured prominently in the annals of useful stoogery. And of all the departments at Columbia, the one whose faculty has, in recent times, arguably provided more instances of world-class useful stoogery than any other is the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures, known familiarly as MEALAC. During the next couple of weeks we’ll meet some of the stars of that department.
First up: Hamid Dabashi, now 65 years old. Born in Iraq, Dabashi was an undergraduate at the University of Tehran, earned a Ph.D. in the sociology of culture and Islamic studies from the University of Pennsylvania, and pursued a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University. He was a protégé of Edward Said, whose blanket indictment of Western scholars of Islam, Asia, and the Middle East as “Orientalists” incapable of shaking off colonial-era attitudes toward colonized peoples became dogma for experts in those areas of study. Now 65, Dabashi been at Columbia for many years, holding the title Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature.
During his tenure, he’s made more than his share of highly charged remarks and racked up more than his share of controversies. He’s called Israel a “racist Apartheid state” and equated Gaza with Auschwitz. In 2004, a Columbia graduate named Scott Schonfeld who had been a student of Dabashi’s two years earlier told the New York Sun that Dabashi had canceled a class on Israeli Independence Day “so that the students could attend an anti-Israel demonstration.”
Half a century of systematic maiming and murdering of another people has left its deep marks on the faces of these people…the way they talk, walk, the way they greet each other….There is a vulgarity of character of character that is bone-deep and structural to the skeletal vertebrae of its culture. A subsumed militarism, a systemic mendacity with an ingrained violence constitutional to the very fusion of its fabric, has penetrated the deepest corners of what these people have to call their “soul.” No people can perpetrate what these people and their parents and grandparents have perpetrated on Palestinians and remain immune to the cruelty of their own deeds.
These lines might have been writing by Hitler himself. Quoting them, Jonathan Rosenblum wondered at the fact that “no one has suggested that Debashi might be fired or even reprimanded for speaking non-scientific nonsense” – even though an Ivy League professor who had written, say, “that black teenagers have distended ears from prolonged exposure to ghetto boomboxes held close to their ears, and wide lips from eating too many watermelons,” would surely have been “summoned for a disciplinary hearing and sensitivity training,” not to mention subjected to boycotts and sit-ins.
After the publication of Dabashi’s article on Israel, he received an email from a Columbia Ph.D. student, Victor Luria, a Romanian and a former IDF member. “I have rarely seen such a revolting excerpt of anti-semitism as your article in Al-Ahram,” wrote Luria, who is now a research fellow at Harvard Medical School. Instead of replying to Luria’s email, Dabashi forwarded it to Columbia’s provost, historian Alan Brinkley, as well as to other university officials, claiming that Luria’s remarks represented a threat to his physical safety and demanding that university security officers take “appropriate measures” against this “militant slanderer.” Brinkley refused, saying that Luria had made no threats against him.