Last week we med Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian Studies at Columbia University who – well, just scroll down and you’ll see what he’s been up to over the years. Today we’re moving on to one of his colleagues in Columbia’s Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC). His name: Gil Anidjar.
Anidjar’s anti-Israel credentials are manifold. In 2009, he took part in a pro-Palestinian “teach-in” that called for “divestment from the Israeli occupation.” In 2014, he joined several other prominent professors of Middle Eastern Studies (including Dabashi) in pledging to boycott Israeli institutions of higher education.
From time to time, Anidjar has taught a course called “Hate.” The course’s premise is that European history can be understood as nothing more or less than a series of persecutions of “The Other,” notably Jews and Arabs, and that these persecutions are responsible for the hostility between those two groups.
To analyze the relationship between Jews and Arabs in this manner, of course, is to reduce all relationships between non-Western cultures to – and to blame all the problems in those relationships on – Western imperialism and colonialism. This is, needless to say, a thoroughly ahistorical way of explaining the relationship of Jews and Arabs, or, if you will, Judaism and Islam. It erases the destructive role of violent Islamic conquest during the immediate post-Mohammedan era, which in today’s academy is (shall we say) an unwelcome topic, and replaces it with a generic, academically acceptable Orientalism on the part of Europeans.
Anidjar has also taught a class called “Semites: Race, Religion, Literature.” In it, he argues that Arabs are “the last Semites and the only Semites,” which is basically a slick way of trying to delegitimize Israel. Anidjar further argues that while Arab Muslims are still attached to their religion, Jews “have in fact become Western Christians,” and have thereby wiped out their own religious and ethnic identity – thus rendering them undeserving of their own nation.
What, then, to make of Israel? Isn’t it the ancient homeland of the Jews? Well, not as far as Anidjar is concerned. In his view, it’s nothing more or less than “a colonial enterprise, a colonial settler state.” In other words, an outpost of Europe, an inappropriate Western incursion into Arab territory.
By contrast, Anidjar fully rejects the idea that there’s anything whatsoever wrong with Islam: “Can anyone seriously claim,” he asks, “that the problem with Islamic countries is Islam?” While pressuring Columbia University to divest itself of any financial connections to Israel, Anidjar has urged his colleagues and students to align themselves more strongly with the Palestinian cause.
There’s more. In 2005, Hugh Fitzgerald wrote a savvy piece about Anidjar’s notorious “Hate” course. We’ll get to that tomorrow.