Downplaying jihad: Hamid Dabashi

This week our subject has been Hamid Dabashi, a Professor of Iranian Studies at Columbia University who is notorious for his anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism, and readiness to defend Islamic terrorism. We’ll wind up today with just a few representative items from recent years.

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Hamid Dabashi

In 2011, Dabashi condemned high-profile fellow Muslims and ex-Muslims who, living in the West, “inform…on their brothers and sisters…as a way of ingratiating themselves with their white masters.” He was referring to people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Ibn Warraq who “have undertaken their activities in the honorable name of defending human rights, women’s rights, and civil rights of Muslims themselves” but who in fact, he claimed, “have demonized their own cultures and societies” in order “to advance their careers” and thereby help “rationalize and justify US carnage in the Muslim world.”

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Mohsen Makhmalbaf

In 2013, Dabashi was one of many members of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement who signed an open letter to exiled Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf criticizing his participation in the Jerusalem International Film Festival, where he was to be awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award for Peace and Freedom. Three years earlier, Dabashi had published a book praising Makhmalbaf’s films. “We ask not only that Mr. Makhmalbaf stand with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement,” read the open letter, “but that he be a messenger of liberation for everyone, including both Palestinians and Iranians.”

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Cinnamon Stillwell

As Cinnamon Stillwell noted, this wasn’t the only open letter written in response to Makhmalbaf’s action: in fact, eighty Iranian academics and activists wrote in the Times of Israel praising Makhmalbaf’s “bravery for breaking the taboo of visiting the state of Israel and conveying the message of friendship between [the] Iranian people and [the] people of Israel.” As Stillwell noted, Dabashi is a film critic and self-described advocate of “art without border,” but for him apparently, “anti-Zionism trumps any alleged belief in the transcendance of art.”

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Clemens Heni

In 2015, Clemens Heni reported that Dabashi, after “a flurry of speaking engagements at German universities and organizations,” had “become the darling of German academe.” Explaining that “Germany is a hotbed of academic antisemitism, particularly in the fields of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies,” Heni observed that “Germans are particularly pleased with non-European scholars, such as Dabashi, who will defame Israel and downplay the crimes of the Holocaust.”’

In his 2015 book Can Non-Europeans Think? Dabashi promoted the idea “that Israel is committing an ‘incremental genocide’ of the Palestinians.” In fact the populations of Gaza and the West Bank are steadily climbing.

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Omar Mateen

After the jihadist Omar Mateen gunned down 49 people last year at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Dabashi responded by serving up a bunch of meaningless academic gibberish about “two people, Americans and Muslims, converging on the edges of their common destiny,” by equating “Islamophobia and homophobia,” and by trying to shift responsibility to the U.S. government for its invasing of Iraq. Dabashi argued that while there are “homophobic Muslims,” he added that there were also “homophobic Jews, homophobic Christians, homophobic Hindus, [and] homophobic atheists.” True, but what makes Islam different in this regard is that its scriptures contain passages calling explicitly for the murder of gay people and a great majority of its adherents refuse to distance themselves from those passages.

So it goes. And after all this, Dabashi is still poised comfortably on his perch at Columbia, shaping the minds of yet another generation of Ivy League students.  

 

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.

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.

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.  

Deepa Kumar: hating Israel, loving Hamas

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Deepa Kumar

We’re on day three of our excursion into the career of Deepa Kumar – who, by the way, holds a B.A. from Bangalore University in India and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh, and who teaches about media and the Middle East at Rutgers. We’ve seen how Kumar, after 9/11, was one of the louder voices decrying the West’s supposed Islamophobia. She doesn’t exactly whitewashing terrorism, but she rushes past it as quickly as possible in order to rail (a) that all this voice is a reaction to Western imperialism and oppression and (b) that the Western media and leaders have responded to it with a hysteria that has only intensified the general public’s irrational anti-Muslim bigotry.

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Hamas: a victim of bad PR?

We’ve already looked at a couple of pieces she wrote in 2006. Three years later came her essay “Behind the Myths about Hamas.” While containing a bit of mild criticism, it was essentially a love letter to that organization, which Kumar praised for rejecting the Oslo peace process and for “holding on to a vision of liberating all of historic Palestine.” She also defended Hamas from the charge of Jew-hatred, noting that “in 1990, it published a document stating that its struggle was against Zionists and Zionism, and not Jews and Judaism.” (Never mind the endless stream of anti-Semitic propaganda that Hamas has spewed out for decades, and the poisonous lies about Jews with which they fill their children’s heads from infancy onward.) Her main problem with Hamas: it’s insufficiently socialist, insufficiently concerned about the working class.

A gathering of Tea Party “lunatics in Lansing, April 2009

Then there was her 2010 essay, “Green Scare: The Making of the New Muslim Enemy,” in which she depicted 9/11 not as marking the start of a new phase of jihadist conquest but as laying “the basis for the emergence of a vicious form of Islamophobia that facilitated the U.S. goals of empire building in the 21st century.” Here as elsewhere, Kumar all but ignored jihad violence while focusing on the imperialist designs supposedly underlying the Western response to these acts. She also pushed the idea (popular among professors of her ilk) that there’s been a huge anti-Muslim “backlash” in the West, part of it taking the form of official probes of Muslims who are “charged with planning or being involved in terrorist activity.” (These authorities, Kumar proposed, should instead be policing “Tea Party lunatics.”) Her term “Green Scare” (green being the color of Islam) alludes, of course, to the post-World War II Red Scare, and in fact there’s a legitimate parallel: in the 1950s, there actually were Communists, on both sides of the Iron Curtain, who labored for world domination, just as today there are Muslims, both in the West and in the Islamic world, who seek to bring the whole of humanity into the House of God. But to Kumar, the Green Scare is, and the Red Scare was, utterly unfounded – products of pure paranoia and prejudice.

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Nidal Malik Hasan

What about such acts of terrorism as Major Nidal Hasan’s murder of 13 people at Fort Hood? Well, despite mountains of evidence that it was a jihadist act, Kumar insisted it was a reaction to racist harassment and overwork. Quoting media reports on a series of arrests of would-be “homegrown terrorists,” Kumar wrung her hands not over the terrorist plans themselves but over the media attention, which, she lamented, was laying the “groundwork…for the new ‘Green Scare.’” Her point, in sum: the problem isn’t Islamic terrorism but concern about it. Even President Obama’s constant readiness to praise Islam wasn’t good enough for Kumar: while he dropped some of Bush’s “worst Islamophobic rhetoric,” he “continued the project of imperial domination” – and exploited the public’s Islamophobia to pursue his imperial goals.

More tomorrow.

Deepa Kumar’s immoral lies on women and Islam

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Deepa Kumar

Yesterday we met Deepa Kumar, a Rutgers professor who, four years after 9/11, two years after the massive terrorist attack on the Atocha train station in Madrid, and just months after the July 2005 bombings in London, published a long, ardent essay in Monthly Review because she was irate. Not at the terrorists, mind you, but at the people in the West who were – among other unspeakable things – drawing cartoons of Muhammed.

For academics like Kumar, pretty much everything that happens in the world is simple to understand because it all fits into a single overarching paradigm: on the one hand there are Western imperialists and oppressors, and on the other hand there are their victims. Even the most violent acts of Islamic terrorism are by definition always a response – and perhaps even a defensible one – to Western imperialism and oppression; even acts by Westerners that might seem relatively innocuous acts, such as drawing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammed, are absolutely reprehensible because what’s going on is that a member of the oppressor class is spitting on the oppressed – celebrating his own privilege and cruelly reminding the oppressed of their subservience.

In a later piece responding to critics of her first article, Kumar largely repeated her argument, but she did add something new. A few of her critics had dared to suggest that a key difference between the West and the Islamic world is that the former has undergone an Enlightenment and the latter has not. But Kumar, as it turned out, was not so hot on the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment, she claimed, had “laid the basis for racism”; among its “legacies” were “slavery, colonialism, and racism.” While the premises for the English, French, and American revolutions “were no doubt progressive,” she added, the capitalist systems they ushered in were not “based on equality, justice, or liberty.” So much, then, for the Enlightenment, in the view of Deepa Kumar.

Kumar then turned to the subject of women – while, curiously enough, avoiding any explicit mention of the fact that women, in most of the Islamic world, are (at best) second-class citizens, are treated as the property of men, and can be raped, subjected to clitoridectomies, forced into marriages, and even killed with total impunity. Kumar dropped all that, then, down the memory hole. By way of demonstrating, however, that women have it bad in the West, she noted that the state legislature of South Dakota had recently banned abortion. (True – although the law, as it happens, was overturned a few months later.)

Her point: “the idea that the Enlightenment magically emancipated women in the West is nonsense.” But of course nobody says that the Enlightenment instantly freed Western women from servitude; the point is that it introduced ideas about freedom, justice, and equality that eventually, and inevitably, eventuated in women’s liberation. But Kumar had an addition claim in regard to this topic: she insisted that America’s “rulers…have never cared about the rights of women right here in the U.S.; they are not going to suddenly start caring about women’s rights elsewhere.” In other words, anyone in a position of authority in the Western world who actually professes to be disturbed by the treatment of women under Islam is just pretending. This is a standard assertion among academic leftists – because it’s pretty much the only position they can take in response to arguments that they don’t care about the brutal abuses of Islam.

Is there more? Of course there is. Tune in tomorrow.

The Rutgers prof who declares Islam off-limits for humorists

“I’ve just about had it,” she wrote in February 2006. Across Europe and the Islamic world, Muslims were rioting, committing acts of vandalism, and murdering innocent people in supposed outrage over the publication by a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, of a set of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammed.

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Deepa Kumar

What was it that Deepa Kumar, an Assistant Professor of Journalism, Media Studies, and Middle East Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey, had just about had enough of? No, not the utterly irrational violence on the part of all those Muslims. She was, she explained, “sick and tired” of people on the left and in the U.S. antiwar movement who failed, in her view, “to defend Muslims against all the attacks they have faced both domestically and internationally.” She was incensed by what she described as “the steady rightward drift among sections of the left since 9/11 on the question of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism.” While antiwar Europeans were rallying “in solidarity with Muslims outraged over the cartoons,” she complained, their American counterparts had “done little.”

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Sasha Abramsky

She cited some specifics. In October 2005, Sasha Abramsky, writing in The Progressive, had argued “that Al Qaeda, a ‘classically imperialist’ force, must be vanquished by the West because it hates the best points of the West, in particular ‘the pluralism, the rationalism, individual liberty, the emancipation of women, the openness and social dynamism that represent the strongest legacy of the Enlightenment.’” Kumar wasn’t buying it: “Never mind that the emancipation of women is far from a done deal, or that even small gains like universal suffrage had to be fought for by workers, women, and minorities, hardly the ‘legacy’ of Enlightenment.”

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Christopher Fons

Equally appalling to her was Christopher Fons’s February 2006 article in Counterpunch, in which he dared to suggest that when Scandinavian social democracies open their borders to millions of immigrants with “backward ideas, like sexism, religious superstition, belief in inequality, etc.,” it could mean the end of equality and social democracy.

And then there was a Sydney Morning Herald piece (republished in Counterpunch in February 2005) in which Richard Neville defended the Danish cartoons and wondered aloud why the “rampaging Muslims are so angry.” After all, Christians don’t riot over cartoons mocking their religion. A very irate Kumar had an answer to that: “making fun of Islam is not the same as making fun of Christianity.” Why? Because “Islam and Christianity do not occupy an equal position in a world dominated by US imperialism.” You can’t talk about “equal-opportunity” humor, she maintained, “when you are talking about oppressed and disempowered people, who do not have equal access to the mass media.” Bottom line: “Jokes are political. The jokes of the dominant poking fun at the marginalized, unlike those of the powerless satirizing the powerful, are a way of communicating to the world, first of all to the marginalized themselves: their oppression is acceptable…even funny.”

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Richard Neville

All this may sound ridiculous in the real world, but in much of the American academy it’s sheer common sense, the product of a postmodern academic ideology which sees all interactions in human society as boiling down to the relationship between groups – power vs. powerless, oppressor vs. oppressed. In today’s world, moreover, oppression only works one way. Europeans, people of European descent, Christians, the West, Israel: no matter what the facts on the ground may be, these folks are always the oppressors, the imperialists, the powerful. People of color, Muslims, Arabs, blacks, and so on: these are always the oppressed, the victims, the powerless. Even if the President of the U.S. is black, in some sense he remains an oppressed individual, while an unemployed white coal miner in West Virginia is his oppressor. Similarly, Muslims in the Islamic world who, in reality, viciously oppress the Christians and Jews in their midst are viewed by Kumar and her ilk as being oppressed by those whom they beat, abuse, torture, and murder.

But Kumar had only just started down this road. More tomorrow.