Sometimes it can seem as if the major institutions of higher education in the northern and southern parts of Manhattan, namely Columbia University and New York University, are locked in an intense competition – not to produce the most important scientific research or to turn out the best educated students, but to be the Big Apple’s undisputed hub of inane and anarchic academic radicalism.
On February 15, the New York Post reported that one of the co-founders and leaders of Decolonize This Place, a gang of misfits who created havoc in the New York subways on January 31 – “destroying turnstiles, stranding thousands of commuters and spray-painting ‘F–k Cops’ on station walls “ – is an NYU professor named Amin Husain. (In fact, Husain’s Wikipedia page identifies him as the “lead organizer” of the group.) The eloquently stated goal of this initiative was to “f-ck sh-t up,” and it must be said that they succeeded: damages came to around $100,000. Even Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is not exactly famous as a crime-fighter, pronounced himself “repulsed” by the group’s actions, the ultimate goal of which is to obtain free public transport with no cops.
To be sure, the group, which has been described as carrying out “direct actions targeting five issues: Free Palestine, Indigenous Struggle, Black Liberation, Global Wage Workers, and de-gentrification,” didn’t accomplish everything it intended to do. Communicating with one another on social media, members encouraged one another to bring knives and “blind police officers.” The group’s website, as the Post noted, features information on “How to Shut Down the City,” how to kick people “in the face and groin,” and how to make use of nails and glass bottles.
Who is Amin Husain? That Wikipedia page calls him “a Palestinian-American activist” whose courses at NYU focus on “resistance and liberation and postcolonial theory.” For example, he teaches a workshop called “Art, Activism, and Beyond” in which he “interrogates the relationship between art and activism.” (“Interrogates” is a currently fashionable academic synonym for “examines” or “discusses.”) Like many such academic radicals he has founded or been involved with a long list of activist organizations, publications, and movements, among them the Global Ultra Luxury Faction, the magazine Tidal: Occupy Theory, Occupy Strategy, NYC Solidarity with Palestine, NYC Students for Justice in Palestine, Occupy Wall Street, the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment movement. Oh, and Fatah. Yes, at a 2012 OWS rally, he stated that in the Palestinian territories, where he grew up, he was a member of Fatah and took part in the anti-Israeli “resistance” – throwing “rocks, Molotov cocktails, the like” at IDF members – after which “I came over here, searching for an American Dream that has never existed.”
The subway hooliganism wasn’t Husain’s first attempt to create mayhem in New York City. In 2006 he took part in a demonstration at the American Museum of Natural History that “demanded the removal of the now-controversial statue of a horse-borne Theodore Roosevelt flanked by two standing Native Americans at the entrance.” Last year he led a series of weekly protests at the Whitney Museum in an ultimately successful attempt to oust Whitney board vice-chairman Warren B. Kanders, whose company manufactures supplies for law enforcement and military uses.
Will NYU investigate, discipline, or fire Husain? Somehow it seems unlikely. The faculties of both NYU and Columbia are overflowing with haters of Israel, apologists for terrorism, and participants in violent protest. One can’t help getting the impression that it’s easier to get a teaching job at these places – and at many other supposedly distinguished American universities – with a rap sheet than with an award-winning work of scholarship. Husain, alas, is a very little piece of a very big problem that is infecting higher education from sea to shining sea.