Defending Ahmadinejad

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Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran from 2005 to 2013, called the Holocaust a “myth” and a “lie” and maintained that AIDS was a Western plot to destroy the Third World. He banned Western music from Iranian radio and TV and severely limited Internet access for most Iranian citizens. Even more than his predecessor, he cracked down on protests and tortured dissidents. He persecuted women and academics and forced scientists into retirement. Oh, and he promised to “wipe Israel off the map.”

On September 24, 2007, at the invitation of Columbia University’s then president, Lee Bollinger, Ahmadinejad delivered a speech at Columbia as part of its annual World Leaders Forum. While some members of the university community publicly criticized the invitation, others cheered Ahmadinejad on his arrival. For them, it appeared, hailing the Iranian leader was yet another way to express their contempt for then U.S. President George W. Bush.

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Lee Bollinger

Ahmadinejad’s speech received a mixed reception. Audience members laughed when he insisted that there were no gays in Iran, but applauded his negative remarks about Bush and the U.S. government and his insistence on the need to study “the root causes of 9/11.” The introduction to Ahmadinejad’s speech was given by Bollinger himself, who took the opportunity to call him “a petty and cruel dictator.” Bollinger may not have been the most hospitable of hosts, but his remarks were nothing less than factual.

But Hamid Dabashi, the Professor of Iranian Studies at Columbia whom we’ve been discussing this week, was outraged. Writing in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahran, he condemned Bollinger’s remarks in the harshest terms. Bollinger, he maintained, was a “white supremacist” whose remarks exuded “mind-numbing racism.” They echoed “the most ridiculous clichés of the neocon propaganda machinery, wrapped in the missionary position of a white racist supremacist carrying the heavy burden of civilizing the world.” They were, indeed, nothing less than examples of “propaganda warfare…waged by the self-proclaimed moral authority of the United States.”

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Hamid Dabashi

A columnist at the New York Sun suggested that Dabashi’s article was “perhaps the most severe public indictment yet of Mr. Bollinger’s behavior.” Judith Jacobson, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia, called Dabashi’s article “sheer demagoguery,” adding that “attributing President Bollinger’s remarks or behavior to racism is absurd.”

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Ward Churchill

Then along came Ward Churchill, a professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder who attracted national attention in 2005 because of an essay in which he’d described those killed at the World Trade Center as “little Eichmanns.” Charged soon afterwards with plagiarism and other types of professional misconduct, he won support from fellow radical academics around the U.S. One of them was Dabashi, who in a published statement compared himself and other professors who had rallied around Churchill to the members of the slave army in the 1960 movie Spartacus who, when a Roman general demands that they identify their leader so that he can be executed, refuse to do so and instead stand up and say, one after the other, “I am Spartacus!” “Today,” wrote Dabashi, “every single professor teaching in the remotest parts of this country with an abiding conviction in the moral duty of democratic dissent is Ward Churchill. In the company of that magnificent chorus of hope for the democratic future of this country, I too am Ward Churchill.” Churchill was fired anyway.

Hating on Western culture: Hamid Dabashi

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Hamid Dabashi

This week we’ve been discussing Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian Studies at Columbia University who has long been notorious for his vigorous defense of Islamic regimes and his pronounced anti-Israel bias.

In 2006, Dabashi took on the 2003 bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. In an article for the National Post, Canadian journalist Robert Fulford wrote that Nafisi’s book “depicts literature as a liberating and healing force.” Originally a supporter of the Iranian revolution that overthrew the shah and installed the Ayatollah Khomeini in power, Nafisi turned against the new government when it turned out to be an oppressive theocracy that required her to wear the veil and forced her out of her professorship at the University of Tehran, where she taught English literature.

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Azar Nafisi

After she lost her job, Nafisi continued to teach privately at her home in Tehran. While bombs fell outside and the Ayatollah’s thugs carried out a brutal reign of terror, beating and torturing women who failed to knuckle under to the new rules, Nafisi secretly gathered around her a group of young women whom she introduced to such books as Wuthering Heights and Madame Bovary and Daisy Miller and Pride and Prejudice. In these books, as Fulford puts it, “they found a breath of freedom and a world where individualism was celebrated rather than damned.” The books “helped free their imaginations.”

Millions of readers around the world were moved by Nafisi’s book. “This book,” wrote the reviewer for Publishers Weekly, “transcends categorization as memoir, literary criticism or social history, though it is superb as all three…Lolita becomes a brilliant metaphor for life in the Islamic republic. The desperate truth of Lolita’s story is… the confiscation of one individual’s life by another, Nafisi writes.” In the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani called it “resonant and deeply affecting” and “an eloquent brief on the transformative powers of fiction – on the refuge from ideology that art can offer to those living under tyranny, and art’s affirmative and subversive faith in the voice of the individual.” Novelist Cynthia Ozick called it “glorious.” Salon called it “poignant” and “searing.”

readinglolitaintehranBut Dabashi did not find Nafisi’s book admirable. On the contrary: for him, it wasn’t an affirmation of women’s rights or individual liberty or the power of literature; it was a disgusting betrayal by Nafisi of her own people and a tribute to their former colonial masters. In an article for the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, Dabashi compared Reading Lolita in Tehran to “the most pestiferous colonial projects of the British in India” and pronounced Nafisi an agent of colonialism. “Rarely,” he wrote, “has an Oriental servant of a white-identified, imperial design managed to pack so many services to imperial hubris abroad and racist elitism at home – all in one act.”

He even added: “To me there is no difference between Lynndie England and Azar Nafisi” – Lynndie England being a U.S. soldier stationed at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad who had become notorious for her abuse of inmates. As evidence of the repulsive nature of Nafisi’s book, Dabashi noted that it had won Bernard Lewis’s approval. Now, Lewis is perhaps the most distinguished living scholar of Islam in the world – but for Dabashi, he is “the most diabolical anti-Muslim neo-con alive.” (In fact, Lewis’s massive oeuvre attests to a great sympathy for Muslims as a people; to call him a “neo-con,” meanwhile, is anachronistic in the extreme, Lewis having formed his views on Islam decades before the “neo-con” movement even existed.)

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Robert Fulford

Fulford made an important point about Dabashi’s smear of Nafisi. “Like a Stalinist, he tries to convert culture into politics, the first step toward totalitarianism. Like the late Edward Said, he brands every thought he dislikes as an example of imperialism.” Fulford further observed that while “Nafisi believes that great novels heighten our sensitivity to the complexities of life and prevent us from ‘the self-righteousness that sees morality in fixed formulas,’” those novels had apparently never had such an impact on Dabashi.

More tomorrow.

Lies, bullying, and Jew-bashing: Hamid Dabashi

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Hamid Dabashi

In 2004, a Boston-based group called the David Project produced a 40-minute video, Columbia Unbecoming, in which fourteen Columbia University students and recent graduates recounted classroom encounters with anti-Israel “bias and intimidation” on the part of various faculty members in the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC). Among the three professors who were considered most guilty of this offense was Hamid Dabashi, whom we met yesterday and who, as Israeli-British historian Ephraim Karsh later reported in Commentary, “was accused of, among other things, canceling classes to attend, and to permit his students to attend, a pro-Palestinian rally on campus that featured a call for Israel’s destruction.” In Dabashi’s view, wrote Karsh, “Israel not only has no legitimate place but can hardly be said to exist, except as an unnamed Dark Force.”

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Ephraim Karsh

In 2002, a Columbia University student named Aharon wrote an op-ed critical of Dabashi in the New York Post. Three years later, Dabashi claimed in a radio interview that he’d “stopped speaking publicly” after Aharon’s Post piece “because of a rash of threatening phone calls” that he had received from readers of it. During the radio interview, Dabashi played a recording of one of the phone calls, in which the caller said the following: “Mr. Dabashi, I read about you in today’s New York Post. You stinking terrorist Muslim pig. I hope the CIA is studying you so it can kick you out of this country back to some filthy Arab country where you belong, you terrorist bastard.” Aharon pointed out that three years earlier, in an article for the Times Higher Education Supplement, Dabashi had cited the exact same phone message. “This double use of the same call, years apart,” wrote Aharon,

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Edward Said

spurs several thoughts:

  1. It confirms my doubts about the onslaught of threatening calls he supposedly received due to my critique. The call he received is indeed vile and inexcusable, but it is not a threat. (Meaning, law enforcement would not find it actionable.)
  2. The recycling of this call years apart confirms how few calls he received – or why else would Dabashi keep coming back to the same old one?
  3. Dabashi falsely presented a call from 2002 as though it happened in 2005.
  4. His claim in the March 6, 2005, radio interview that he “has stopped speaking publicly” because of threatening phone calls is untrue. [Aharon proceeded to list several occasions since 2002 on which Dabashi had, indeed, given speeches in public.]
  5. Dabashi’s inability to get the facts of his own life correctly emulates his mentor, Edward Said, who famously lied about his childhood, as Justus Weiner so remarkably exposed in a September 1999 article, “’My Beautiful Old House’ and Other Fabrications of Edward Said.”

But all this is just prologue to Dabashi’s more egregious offenses. More tomorrow.

The Ivy League’s poisonous Iran apologist

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Low Library, Columbia University

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.

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Hamid Dabashi

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.

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Edward Said

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.”

9-11-attackIn January 2005, reacting to the American response to 9/11, Dabashi told the New York Times that “these are the dark ages….This is not the United States I moved into in 1976. I don’t recognize it. I’m in sort of moral shock.” We’ve tried without success to find any example whatsoever of Dabashi expressing shock over Islamic terrorism – for example, over the train attack in Madrid that, only a few months before his comment to the Times, took the lives of 192 people. Nor did Dabashi seem to recognize that the repulsive remarks he made about Jews in an article published later in 2005 might plunge his own readers into a “sort of moral shock.” In the article he describes a visit to Israel, which he depicted as “a military base for the rising predatory empire of the United States” and a “miasmatic mutation of human soul into a subterranean mixture of vile and violence.” He painted a nightmare picture of Israeli streets full of soldiers “with very long machine guns hanging from their necks.” Ben-Gurion Airport? It was “a fully fortified barrack” where all and sundry were “treated like hazardous chemicals.” On the flight home, he was made “nauseous” by the sight of a Jewish mother and father and their five boys in yarmulkes. Once back in New York, he concluded that

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.

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Jonathan Rosenblum

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.

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Victor Luria

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.

More tomorrow.

Jack Stauder: a radical’s disillusionment

A professor of cultural anthropology named Jack Stauder made headlines last fall when he made a remarkable admission: he was no longer smitten with Marxism.

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Jack Stauder

Stauder, who teaches at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, told a website called The College Fix that he’d been a radical socialist ever since his undergraduate days at Harvard. The son of a Colorado and New Mexico rancher, Stauder had gone to Harvard, where he started off as an American history and literature major, direct from Las Cruces High School. He was not a typical Harvard boy, taking off a year after his freshman year to do construction work and serve in the Marine Corps reserves. Returning to Harvard, he studied under the great historian Perry Miller and completed his undergraduate degree in 1962.

stauder-bookHe then pursued graduate studies at Cambridge University on a Marshall Scholarship. Having shifted his area of interest to cultural anthropology, he did several years of field work in Ethiopia, receiving a Ph.D. in 1968 with a dissertation about an Ethiopian tribe, the Majangir. He then returned to the U.S. to teach at his alma mater, where a course he taught, entitled “Radical Perspectives in Social Change,” engendered massive controversy. The year was 1969, and Marxist radicals had not yet taken over American college faculties. Stauder, in the words of a profile that appeared that year in the Harvard Crimson, had a very clear identity: he was “[t]he instructor with the radical course.” The course “split both the Soc Rel Department and the University community” and led to his arrest. Yet he kept his job, becoming one of the founders of what can now fairly be described as the ideological establishment that rules the humanities and social sciences in American universities.

stauder2Years after his season of scandal, however. Stauder actually began traveling to nations in which Marxism had been put into practice. The result? “I gradually became disenchanted with Marxism by visiting many of the countries that had tried to shape their societies to conform to its doctrines,” he told The College Fix. “I was disillusioned by the realities I saw in … socialist countries – the USSR, Eastern Europe, China, Cuba, etc.” He added: “I came to recognize that socialism doesn’t work, and that its ‘revolutionary’ imposition inevitably leads to cruelty, injustice and the loss of freedom….By combining actual travel with the historical study of socialism and revolution, I succeeded in disabusing myself of the utopian notions that fatally attract people to leftist ideas.”

In all, he visited scores of countries over the decades, Marxist and otherwise. And he also began to spend a great of time in his native Southwest, where a return to his roots “helped my transition away from the leftist ideology that exists in the intellectual atmosphere of university life….By spending my summers in the Southwest in the company of rural working people, farmers and ranchers, I developed perspectives on the real world very different from those that prevail in the academic world.” Stauder’s observations and conversations convinced him that human beings “feel the need to believe in something, and when intellectuals abandon traditional religion, as most have done, they tend to seek substitutes” – and, all too often, find them in virulent ideologies.

Well, he’s right there. Too bad he didn’t wake to all this decades ago. But better late than never. Congratulations on your awakening, professor, and may you spread your insights to many students in the years to come.

Meet Kenyon’s violence-happy anarchist

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Matytsin wrapped in a US flag

His CV boasts a native fluency in both French and Russian, and he attended high school at the Washington International School, so presumably Anton Matystin is the son of immigrants or came to America himself in his youth. He went on to pursue undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania, receiving his Ph.D. in history in 2013. After spending a year as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford, he began teaching at Kenyon College, a small but storied institution in Gambier, Ohio. At Penn he won the prize for best undergraduate history thesis and two graduate fellowships awarded in recognition of academic excellence.

Unlike many professors in the humanities these days, he teaches a list of courses that sound legit: “Early Modern Europe,” “Imperial Russia, 1547-1917,” “History of the Renaissance and the Reformation: 1300-1648,” and so on. Last year he published his first book, The Specter of Skepticism in the Age of Enlightenment, which “explores the ways in which eighteenth-century thinkers responded to the challenges posed by the revival and spread of philosophical skepticism and details how the debates about the powers and limits of human understanding led to the making of a new conception of rationality that privileged practicable reason over speculative reason.” Serious, solid-sounding stuff.

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Kenyon College

All of which makes it come as a shock to read Matytsin’s Facebook feed. Matytsin has had a Facebook page for years, but he was almost entirely absent from it until recently. The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States appears to have been the event that broke his silence. “If you voted for Trump, please do us both a favor and unfriend me,” he wrote on November 14. “Whatever motivated your choice, I cannot bring myself to respect it, and I find it morally reprehensible. I do not want to share the public sphere with you in either digital or physical form. I have no intention of interacting with you or spending money at your business. I prefer to stay in my echo chamber of sanity. This is miles beyond party politics. This is a moral, not a political choice.” He went on to encourage his Facebook friends to boycott firms that “supported” Trump, and helpfully linked to a list of those firms. He further suggested that “perhaps it’s time to bring back old partisan slogans and great each other with ‘Death to Fascism’ with a response ‘Freedom to the People.’”

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Matytsin: another day, another flag

How, one wonders, does he treat students in his classes who express support for Trump? Or do the Trump supporters who take his classes have to pretend not to be Trump supporters? It seems clear from his Facebook comments that he is incapable of seeing students who did not support his candidate for President as moral and sane. How can such students possibly expect fair treatment from him?

On February 3 he went even further than before, posting the following rant:

We cannot have a liberal democratic state that is run by a corrupt fascist cabal. We cannot have a secular multi-confessional republic when 30% of the population are Bible-thumping bigots who want to impose a Christian theocracy on the rest of us. We cannot have a racially inclusive, cosmopolitan, and multi-ethnic society when a large proportion of the population is composed of racists and white supremacists. We cannot have a functioning democracy when a majority of the population is politically, economically, and sometimes literally illiterate. We cannot have civil debates when our opponents are uncivilized human beings. We cannot remain idealistic lambs among hungry wolves.

In short: Trump people are so morally abominable, so barely human, that something must be done. But what? If Trump’s supporters are “hungry wolves,” and “we,” the people on the side of the good, “cannot remain idealistic lambs”…than what he is suggesting that “we” do?

A few hours later he got even uglier:

Apparently I was not abundantly clear earlier. I will continue the FB cull until there is no more fascist shit in my feed. I don’t care who you are or how far back we go. If you or your friends post racist, sexist, xenophobic, and otherwise ignorant garbage, I will take a big verbal shit on your wall and then block you on here and in real life. So if you are one of those people, spare yourself the cleanup and unfriend me.

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The Milo riot at Berkeley

Only a few hours later, after a violent anarchist riot broke out at the Berkeley campus over the planned appearance of Breitbart writer and Trump supporter Milo Yiannopoulos, Matytsin wrote: “Brother Anarchists, if you are going to engage in political violence, make sure to claim credit lest the fascists confuse you with the ‘liberal snowflakes.’” And he added: “Brother Anarchists, looking to volunteer.”

In other words, if we take him at his word, Matytsin was announcing his readiness to join the black-clad rioters, cover his face, and take part in the brutal beating of people whose only crime was their interest in hearing what Milo Yiannopoulos had to say. Contemplate the irony: a professor whose first book is all about the Enlightenment has taken his stand against freedom of speech and, in the name of opposition to fascism, is prepared to support a kind of violence that can only be described as quintessentially fascist.

The Rutgers prof who considers the US worse than ISIS

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Deepa Kumar

Then came the tweet.

On March 26, 2015, Deepa Kumar – a Rutgers professor of media and Middle Eastern Studies whose career we’ve been tracing this week – tweeted the following: “Yes ISIS is brutal, but US is more so, 1.3 million killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan #NoToWar.”

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Ayaan Hirsi Ali

In previous years, she’d already taken to social media to swipe at her class enemies. In one Facebook post, she encouraged her friends to use the word douchebag “to describe rich, white entitled males and their misogynistic, racist behavior!” In another post, she smeared Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim whose campaign for the rights of Muslim women has made her a terrorist target and obliged her to have round-the-clock bodyguards. To many people, Hirsi Ali is a heroine; to Kumar, however, she is nothing more or less than an “islamophobe [sic] and native informant” – the latter apparently meaning that by shedding a light on Islamic misogyny she’s ratted on her own.

But these Facebook rants hadn’t sparked worldwide attention. Nor had Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire – the 2012 book in which she spun her views on the topic into book length, and which received glowing reviews in such venues as the International Socialist Review, the Egyptian news site Al-Akhbar, and the website of the Florida branch of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

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Max Abrams

But the ISIS tweet was another matter. Suddenly Kumar, whose years of defending terrorists and demonizing Islamophobia in academic journals and left-wing rags had taken place entirely under the radar of the general public, was making international headlines. The Daily Mail rounded up a few outraged responses. Max Abrams, a professor of political science at Northeastern University, expressed sympathy for Kumar’s students: “Only a complete ideologue could claim the United States is more brutal than Islamic State.” Well, as we’ve seen, Abrams was certainly right there: there are few ideologues more complete than Deepa Kumar. As Abrams noted, the U.S., unlike ISIS, “isn’t in the habit of rounding up thousands of young girls to have them raped dozens of times…or throwing homosexuals off rooftops.”

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Marion Smith

Meanwhile, Marion Smith of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation responded to some of Kumar’s positive tweets about Marxism, saying that no professor should be teaching young people to admire the “deadly ideology” that had taken the lives of tens of millions in China, Russia, and elsewhere. It was also noted that the previous year, Kumar had helped lead a successful movement to keep former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from speaking at Rutgers.

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Sebastian Gorka

Perhaps the most withering response to Kumar’s tweet came from Dr. Sebastian Gorka, a counterterrorism expert and professor at Marine Corps University whose parents had fled from Communism in Hungary – in other words, a man with no fatuous illusions about either Communism or Islam. Commenting in a TV interview, Gorka deplored Kumar’s comparison of “ISIS, which is crucifying people; which is killing children who aren’t fasting during Ramadan; that has used detonation cord to decapitate their prisoners,” with the U.S., “a nation that saved Europe twice in the last hundred years, and even in the 1990s saved the Muslims of Bosnia.”

But the dust-up ended soon enough; and Kumar remains at Rutgers, where she continues to indoctrinate students some of whose parents are paying upwards of $40,000 for the privilege.