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.