Blowing up stuff

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J. Edgar Hoover

On March 6, 1970, the same day that bombs went off by mistake in a Greenwich Village townhouse, leveling the entire building and killing three members of the Weather Underground – who had supposedly been acting on their own, without the approval of the organization’s national leadership – unexploded bombs were found in an alley next to the headquarters of the Detroit Police Officers’ Association and in a ladies’ room in the 13th Precinct of the Detroit Police Department. The combination of the New York explosion and the discovery of the bombs in Detroit (which went unreported at the time in major newspapers) not only strongly suggested that the Greenwich Village bombers, far from being renegades, were in fact working in collusion with Weathermen in other cities, but also led J. Edgar Hoover to take the Weather Underground seriously as a domestic threat. (The discovery in late March of a “bomb factory” in Chicago only further emphasized the danger.) In the months that followed, the FBI hunted down leaders of the group, who went underground.

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Weatherman Mark Rudd

The Greenwich Village explosion was far from the beginning of the Weathermen story. On February 12, 1970, Weathermen set off pipe bombs next to police cars parked near the Berkeley, California, police department headquarters. One policeman’s arm was permanently mangled, and several other policemen suffered minor injuries. But some of the bombers were disappointed because nobody had died. On February 21, firebombs went off at several locations in New York – at the home of the judge in a then-ongoing Black Panther trial, at a police car, at two armed forces recruiting stations, and at the Low Library at Columbia University. On March 2, the group firebombed a policeman’s home in Cleveland. On March 12, three Manhattan skyscrapers were bombed, and 300 bomb threats phoned in; while there were no deaths, thousands of people were evacuated from office buildings. On June 9, eight policemen were injured in a bombing of New York City police headquarters. (One scary aspect of this crime was that the bomb had actually been planted inside the building.) And on August 24, a Weathermen-connected group of radicals in Madison, Wisconsin, destroyed the Army Mathematics Research Center in that city with a truck bomb, killing a researcher and injuring several others.

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Phil Ochs

Such was the spirit of the era, at least in certain circles, that many public figures saw the Weathermen not as despicable sowers of mayhem and destroyers of innocent lives but as heroic rebels. As Arthur M. Eckstein writes in his splendid history of the group, Bad Moon Rising, folk singer Phil Ochs, whose concert at Carnegie Hall on March 27, 1970, was disrupted by a bomb threat that was possibly phoned in by the Weathermen, was tickled pink by the prospect of that storied venue being leveled by a Weather Underground bomb. “It’s be great!” he said.

J. Edgar Hoover didn’t agree. He wanted to destroy the Weathermen. More on that tomorrow.

Alvin Bessie, Stalinist soldier

Dalton Trumbo and wife

We’re talking this week about the Hollywood Ten – a group of Hollywood scriptwriters who enjoyed ample rewards for their talents in capitalist America even as they espoused a political system under which the very jobs they thrived at didn’t exist and in which their own stubborn contrarianism would likely have landed them in front of a firing squad. We’ve already devoted a good deal of attention to the most famous of the Ten – Dalton Trumbo, the colorful hero of a 2015 movie starring Bryan Cranston. But the other members of the group, all of whom refused either to answer questions about their political history or, in the phrase of the day, to “name names,” are no less interesting in their own right.

Alvah Bessie

Take Alvah Bessie (1904-85). The son of a successful New York businessman, he attended Columbia University, spent four years as a member of Eugene O’Neill’s acting troupe, the Provincetown Players, then, in 1928, went to Paris to become an expatriate writer like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Returning to the U.S. the next year, he contributed stories and essays to most of the best American magazines of the day.

He did something else, too. He began moving in Communist circles, and in 1936 joined the Party. Two years later, like many other American Communists, he went off to Spain to fight against Franco and for the Republic. At the time, much of the left-wing media in the U.S. and elsewhere presented the struggle as a straightforward clash between fascism and freedom, but as George Orwell famously recorded in his classic Homage to Catalonia, the Republican side was strongly under Kremlin influence and was subjected to a great deal of pressure to toe the Stalinist line and to crush any hint of non-Communist dissent. In Orwell’s view, indeed, the Soviets in Spain oversaw a “reign of terror.”

George Orwell

Like Orwell, Bessie wrote his own account of the Spanish Civil War. His book, entitled Men in Battle, was published in 1939. In it, as the title suggests, he recounts everyday life at the front, in the heat of warfare. Unlike Orwell, however, he doesn’t complain about the Soviets. He was, as they say, a “good soldier.” He belonged to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, which was one of the International Brigades that, as Allan H. Ryskind records in his 2015 history Hollywood Traitors, were “a Stalinist creation.” Just to make sure there’s no doubt about the matter, Ryskind spells it out: Bessie “was fighting for the Stalinist wing in the civil war.”

It was during World War II – specifically, in 1943 – that Bessie began writing movies for Warner Brothers, notably Objective, Burma! , for which he received an Oscar nomination. As a big Hollywood name he had access to people at the top of the American Communist Party, including its president, Earl Browder. Ryskind reports a conversation that suggests that Bessie was even a more hard-line Communist than the head of the Party himself. Browder’s – and the Party’s – official position was that the U.S. should undergo a peaceful transition from capitalism to Communism. Bessie rejected this notion: he believed in nothing less than a violent overthrow of the U.S. system.

Albert Maltz

If Bessie was more of a Communist than Browder, he was also more of a Communist than at least one of his fellow Hollywood Ten members, Albert Maltz (1908-85). In 1946, Maltz, a veteran of  the New York theater, a Communist since 1935, and an Oscar nominee for Pride of the Marines (1945), published an article in the Party’s weekly New Masses complaining that the Party was too strict in policing writers, expecting them to cleave strictly to the party line and produce crude propaganda. Among those who savaged Maltz for his dissent was Bessie, who at a Party meeting, according to one witness, “denounced” his fellow screenwriter “with bitter vituperation and venom.” After HUAC and prison, Maltz moved to Mexico, where he resumed writing films, including the Cinemascope spectacle The Robe (1953).

As for Bessie, he didn’t last long at Warners. Two years after going to work for the studio, he was fired. The anodyne account of his career in the Hollywood Reporter says that he was dismissed for supporting striking studio workers – which, of course, makes Bessie sound virtuous and the studio bosses pretty rotten. In fact, there was a struggle underway at the time between two unions, one Kremlin-controlled and one anti-Communist, that sought to represent Hollywood workers, and Bessie was squarely on the side of the Stalinists. Called before HUAC in 1950 and subsequently imprisoned and blacklisted, he quit the Party in the 1950s and wrote about his Blacklist experience in a 1957 novel, The Un-Americans, and a 1965 memoir, Inquisition in Eden.

Sunsara Taylor’s perpetual revolution

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Sunsara Taylor

Sunsara Taylor, whom we’ve been discussing this week, is currently telling anyone who will listen that Donald Trump is a fascist, worse than Hitler, who will gradually introduce a cruel dictatorship and maybe even destroy the entire planet in a nuclear Armageddon. You might induce from this that Taylor cherishes American freedom and sees Trump as a disastrously departure from the previous occupants of the Oval Office. Um, no. Last year, long before the election of Trump as president seemed even a remote possibility, Taylor was on the warpath against the American system. Along with her Revolutionary Communist Party comrade Carl Dix, as we saw yesterday, she set out on a national tour of college campuses with a goal of recruiting revolutionaries and overthrowing the government. The press release announcing the tour read, in part:

bob-avakian-communist-columbia-micah_fleckThis world cries out for radical change….

A radically different and far better world is possible—getting rid of this madness and horror, and getting beyond a world of oppression, exploitation, and domination. This will take an Actual Revolution.

“Revolution” and “socialism” are in the air…But a real revolution—one that aims to change the world—is radically different and, yes, more demanding. A real revolution requires a scientific understanding of society and how to radically change it. That science has been qualitatively developed by the revolutionary leader, Bob Avakian. We’re coming to your campus to get into this with you.

The tour appears to have been something less than a spectacular success. Witness a report by Columbia University student journalist Micah Fleck. “Though flyers spangled the hallways and scaffolding of Columbia’s campus promoting Carl Dix and Sunsara Taylor for Months,” wrote Fleck, “fewer than two dozen students attended their April 13 talk in a room that can seat more than 200.”

But Taylor didn’t let the pathetically low turnout defeat her. Referring to the cause, quite simply, as “The Revolution,” she and Dix presented a “new constitution,” which the RCP had helpfully published in book form in 2010. (It can be read in its entirely – 104 pages – here.) Taylor told her cozy audience that her movement sought to bring about “a world without America and everything America stands for.”

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With fellow RCP leader Carl Dix

As we’ve noted, no matter what the name of the group or the specific cause du jour, Taylor has always been nothing more or less than an operative for the RCP. And her specific groups and movements and campaigns have never been anything other than efforts to enhance the RCP’s influence and power. And, above all, to raise the profile of Bob Avakian. Even a relatively sympathetic student, Pier Harrison, who attended one of her events at New York University in February 2010, was taken aback by the fact that she spoke “with cult-like reverence for party Chairman Bob Avakian.”

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Annie Day

Harrison reported that “[b]etween Taylor’s speech and the Q&A[,] staff sent around collection baskets, just like in Church, for donations to support her tour, and the goals of the RCP.” Harrison asked moderator Annie Day, also an RCP member, whether she, Taylor, and their comrades “intended to stage a violent or non-violent revolution. Her response: violent.

So, would there be bloodshed? Day replied: “Revolution is a serious business. This is not just the frustrations of individuals. We are not pacifists. So to answer your question, yes.” Harrison wrote: “The most mind-blowing part of this whole event was realizing that by ‘revolution’ they mean that they are willing to kill people.” He also suggested that “the RCP has hijacked the feminist agenda to further its own will to power, which, again, they do not hide.” He was certainly correct about that. Whether the issue is war or women’s rights or the Trump presidency, the business of the RCP – with Sunsara Taylor as its public face and voice – is hijacking, pure and simple.

Joseph Massad: betraying gays

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Joseph Massad

We’ve been discussing Joseph Massad, yet another Columbia University professor whose “teaching” consists largely of spreading Jew-hatred, spouting contempt for the West, and whitewashing the history of Islam. In these regards, he’s of a piece with his colleagues Hamid Dabashi and Gil Anidjar, whose careers we’ve already looked at. But Massad has one attribute that makes him stand out amidst his fellow propagandists in Columbia’s Middle Eastern Studies department: he’s gay. Now, you might think that as a gay man he would appreciate the freedom that gay people enjoy in the Western world and would look upon Islamic culture, with its harsh treatment of gay people, more critically than men like Dabashi and Anidjar.

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James Kirchick

Nope. Massad first laid it all out in a 2002 article, “Re-Orienting Desire: The Gay International and the Arab World,” and then elaborated on it in a 2007 book, Desiring Arabs. Now try to follow this: as Massad sees it, homosexuality exists in all cultures, but gay identity is a Western construct, and campaigns for gay rights in Islamic countries are therefore acts of colonialism. As James Kirchick put it in 2007, Massad views “the case for gay rights in the Middle East [as] an elaborate scheme hatched by activists in the West.” The efforts of those gay activists (whom Massad dubs the “Gay International”) to bring gay rights to the Muslim world are, in his view, not benign but malignant – just one more aspect of the American and Israeli effort to crush Muslim culture, Muslim values, and Muslim morality. “Massad’s intellectual project,” comments Kirckick, “is a not-so-tacit apology for the oppression of people who identify openly as homosexual. In so doing, he sides with Islamist regimes over Islamic liberals.”

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Two of the 52 men arrested on the Nile party boat

Nor is Massad’s position purely theoretical. In 2011, when Egyptian police arrested 52 gay men on a party boat on the Nile and then proceeded to torture and shame them, parading them in public and showing them on television, Massad sided with the authorities, dismissing the 52 men as “westernized” persons who got what they had coming to them because of their fraternization with gay Western tourists. For Massad, the 52 men, being Egyptian, couldn’t really be gay, even though many of them explicitly said they were; in Massad’s lexicon, they were “gay-identified” – meaning that they identified not with their own culture, and with the categories that are a natural part of that culture, but with the colonialist Western enemy.

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Tom Lantos

Massad also condemned the U.S. congressmen Barney Frank and Tom Lantos, who threatened to stop U.S. aid to Egypt unless the 52 men were set free. Massad defended his position in the following way: “It is not the same-sex sexual practices that are being repressed by the Egyptian police but rather the sociopolitical identification of these practices with the Western identity of gayness and the publicness that these gay-identified men seek.”

One of the 52 men described their arrest as “our Stonewall,” a reference to the 1969 riot in New York’s Greenwich Village that is generally viewed as marking the beginning of the modern gay-rights movement. But Massad rejected this claim, saying that while the Stonewall rioters saw themselves as gay, the 52 Egyptian men did “not seek publicity for their alleged homosexuality, they resisted the very publicity of the events by the media by covering their faces in order to hide from the cameras and from hysterical public scrutiny.” As Kirchick observed, “Massad does not pause to consider that perhaps the reason why these men covered their faces was because of the brutal consequences they would endure if their identities became public, repercussions far worse than anything the rioters at Stonewall experienced.” Massad further maintains that very few Arabs who have sex with other men think of themselves as “gay” or support the idea of gay rights.

massadbokIndeed, as Kirchick underscores, all 418 pages of Desiring Arabs are predicated on this claim. But Massad offers no evidence to support it; he doesn’t take into account that to openly identify as gay or engage in gay activism in much of the Arab world would be to risk instant death; and he ignores evidence such as that presented in a 2002 article by Yossi Klein Halevi, who had interviewed a number of young Palestinian men who lived in Tel Aviv. All of the men engaged in same-sex activity, all identified as gay, and all had fled from Gaza or the West Bank, where they stood a very good chance of being imprisoned or murdered by their own families or friends, in order to be able to live in the safety of Israel.

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Martin Kramer

If you think a man who holds such repulsive positions should not be on the faculty of Columbia in the first place, the fact is that he has come close to getting fired. Accused in 2004 of harassing pro-Israel students, he was exonerated by a faculty committee, although its “findings” were widely viewed as a whitewash. When he was up for tenure in 2009, a battle ensued. Fellow Middle East scholar Martin Kramer wrote that “Massad does Columbia no credit”; after Columbia President Lee Bollinger signed off on Massad’s tenure, the New York Daily News called on the university’s trustees to block tenure. Jacob Gershman wrote in the New York Post that “Columbia’s trustees must decide: Do they attempt to clean up after Bollinger and stop this absurdity—or do they confer academic legitimacy on Massad’s ideas and agenda? Hesitant to insert themselves in an academic matter, the trustees would be wise to consider the consequences of silence.”

Joseph Massad’s “blatant fabrications”

During the last week and more we’ve been strolling through Columbia University’s Hall of Shame. We’ve met Hamid Dabashi and Gil Anidjar, both of them Professors of Middle Eastern Studies who, hired to teach culture and history, have instead filled their students’ heads with outright lies born of ugly prejudice.

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Joseph Massad

Here’s a third member of that club: Joseph Massad. Not only is he a member of the Columbia faculty; he received his Ph.D. from that institution. Middle East expert Martin Kramer, indeed, has described Massad as “the ultimate mutant in the Columbia freak show” and as “a thoroughly Columbia creation. Columbia gave him his doctorate, Columbia University Press published it, and Columbia gave him his tenure-track job.” Kramer has also identified Massad as one of several Columbia professors who “have distinguished themselves in the black art of defaming Israel as a Holocaust emulator.”

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Gilead Ini

Born in Jordan in 1963, Massad has often been at the center of controversy owing to his statements about Jews. As Gilead Ini of CAMERA (the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) wrote in 2005, Massad “redefines anti-Semitism, Jews and Israel to suit his radical agenda.” For Massad, Ini noted, Israel is a “racist settler colony,” consistently brutal and sadistic; the Palestinians, however brutal and sadistic they may actually be, are in fact doing nothing other than pursuing their “legitimate rights…to resist.”

Ini summed it up as follows: “To Massad, it seems, everything about Israel is racist, whereas the notion of Arab ‘anti-Semitism’ – set in scare quotes – is mocked.” What about anti-Semitism directed at Jews, especially by Muslims? For Massad, there is no such thing; Jews have been transformed by their own modern history from the victims to the perpetrators of anti-Semitism, with Muslims and Arabs as the new victims thereof. Massad’s picture of anti-Semitism today is very clear and utterly divorced from reality: for him, Muslims who deny the Holocaust aren’t anti-Semites; Zionist Jews are.

massadbookIndeed, Massad has argued that today’s Jews aren’t really Jews at all – he denies that they descend from the Hebrews of the Bible. To claim otherwise, he has written, is “preposterous.” Instead, it’s the Palestinians who are the descendants of the ancient Hebrews. Today’s Israeli Jews, far from reclaiming their ancient homeland, are merely tools of “European white supremacy,” instruments of Western colonialism. He even dares to maintain that in the 1930s, while the Nazis were carrying out Kristallnacht against Jews in Germany, Jews in the Holy Land were eagerly taking part in “British colonial death squads that murdered Palestinian revolutionaries between 1936 and 1939.”

As Ini points out, this is a mirror image of the truth: “In 1936, Arabs launched a six month campaign of violence against Jews and their property.” Some Jews retaliated, but, as an official British report stated at the time, “in times of disturbance the Jews, as compared with the Arabs, are the law-abiding section of the population, and indeed, throughout the whole series of outbreaks, and under very great provocation, they have shown a notable capacity for discipline and self-restraint.” But this lie, according to Ini, is only one of innumerable instances in Massad’s writings in which he “relies heavily on quotes taken out of context” or on “blatant fabrications” in order to paint various distinguished Israelis as anti-Arab bigots.

But there’s more. Tune in tomorrow.

Gil Anidjar, serial liar

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Gil Anidjar

Yesterday we met Gil Anidjar, a professor at Columbia University who’s famous for his so-called “Hate” course. In 2005, Hugh Fitzgerald wrote that the “Hate” course was about two things. First, Europe’s creation of “the Other” in two forms, Arab and Jew. Second, Europe’s persecution of “inoffensive Arabs” and Jews, which, in Anidjar’s view, is the root cause of all current tensions between those two groups. “In other words,” wrote Fitzgerald, “Jew and Arab are equally victims – not of each other, except insofar as each ‘creates’ the other in imitation of the ur-villain Europe, that has ‘created’ both Jew and Arab as the enemy. In Gil Anidjar’s world, European history is replete with hatred – equal hatred – and persecution – equal persecution – of the Jew and of the Arab. This equality in suffering is central to his world view.”

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Columbia University

As Fitzgerald pointed out, the only problem with Anidjar’s concept of Jews and Arabs as equal victims of European prejudice is outrageously ahistorical. The Jews, a non-violent people, were in fact unfair victims, subjected to more than a millennium of hatred and oppression while trying to live peaceful lives in the midst of European societies. By contrast, the Arabs, “or rather the Muslims,” were an outside force, an enemy, that persisted in waging war against Europe “until finally Muslim power came to an end in 1492” in Iberia and 1683 in the Balkans.

Fitzgerald reminds us, moreover, that “for a thousand years, Arab raiders went up and down the coasts, not only on the Mediterranean, but as far north as Ireland and Iceland, and razed and looted whole villages, and kidnapped…about 1 million white Europeans (and killed many more) who were taken back to North Africa, enslaved, and forcibly converted.” Jews did no such things, needless to say.

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Ramallah, West Bank

Fitzgerald writes that Anidjar “fails to understand the threat that Muslims continued to pose, for roughly a thousand years, through these raiding and slaving expeditions,” all of them “impelled by the doctrine of jihad-conquest that is in Qur’an, hadith, and sira.” During those thousand-odd years, while Muslims were aggressors, Jews were universally victims of aggression. In Europe, they were tormented and oppressed by Christians; in the Maghreb and the Levant, including their own Holy Land, Muslim armies conquered Jewish communities in the same way that they conquered Christian communities, subjecting the inhabitants to slaughter, enslavement, or the systematic subordinate status known as dhimmitude. Is Anidjar, as Fitzgerald suggests, unaware of all this? We suspect not. Anidjar, we believe, is fully aware of all this history, and has chosen to replace the historical facts with his own fantasies in order to present Christian Europeans exclusively as colonial oppressors, to present historical Jews as the victims solely of Christian Europeans, to present modern Jews as calculating characters who, in the name of self-preservation, have sold out their own heritage in order to identify with the Western imperialists, and to present Arabs and Muslims as pure victims, then and now.  

In short, Anidjar is selling an outrageous set of historical whoppers – in Fitzgerald’s words, “a fiction, an ideological hippogriff, created only so that ‘the Arab’ may claim for himself, at the hands of Europe, a false victimhood, based on the real victimhood of Jews.” It is this set of lies that Anidjar has made a career of spreading throughout his tenure at Columbia University. That his propagandizing should be allowed to go by the name of teaching is nothing less than a disgrace; and that any of this should be happening at what is widely considered a great American university all but beggars belief.

Gil Anidjar: Ph.D. in hate

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Gil Anidjar

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.

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Columbia University

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.

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Jerusalem

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.

 

 

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.  

 

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

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH
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.