Horrible Hamid

Hamid Dabashi

How vile an apologist for tyranny is he? So vile that in February 2017, we spent a full five days on him. We’ve discussed a good many professors of Islam or Arabic or Middle East Studies who have incredibly ugly things to say about Israel and Jews, but even in that crowd Hamid Dabashi stands out. A protégé of Edward Said and a longtime Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Said’s own longtime academic home, Columbia University, Dabashi was named by fourteen Columbia students and recent graduates in a 2004 video as one of the three most anti-Semitic professors they’d had. In a 2005 article, he wrote that Jews possess “a vulgarity of character that is bone-deep” and that “a systemic mendacity…has penetrated the deepest corners of what these people have to call their ‘soul.’”

Afar Nafisi

In 2006, he savaged Azar Nafisi’s widely praised book Reading Lolita in Tehran, about literature classes that she taught secretly to women in post-revolutionary Iran, calling her a postcolonialist tool and likening her to Lynndie England, the U.S. soldier notorious for mistreating inmates at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. In 2007, when the Iranian tyrant Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was asked to speak at Columbia, many observers criticized the university’s president, Lee Bollinger, for issuing the invitation, but what outraged Dabashi was Bollinger’s introduction, in which he called Ahmadinejad “a petty and cruel dictator.” Bollinger, wrote Dabashi, was a “white racist supremacist.” In 2011, he accused ex-Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Ibn Warraq of having “demonized their own cultures and societies” “to advance their careers” and “justify US carnage.”

Lee Bollinger

You’d think that at some point Dabashi’s job at Columbia would have been in danger. Nope. Complaints have been made over the years, but Dabashi has never even been rebuked, let alone disciplined, by any of the higher-ups at Columbia. Far from being a pariah in the academic community, in 2015 it was reported that Dabashi, after giving a series of talks in Germany in which he smeared Israel and minimized the Holocaust, was now “the darling of German academe.”

And we’re here to report that he’s still at it. On March 30, he took to Twitter to react to the U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which Israel had captured in the 1967 Six Day War and formally annexed in 1981. “What’s the difference between ISIS and ISRAEL?” Dabashi asked in his tweet. The answer: neither has a claim to the Golan Heights. “All of Syria belong to all Syrian people, not an inch it either to ISIS or to ISRAEL.” He also wrote that if ISIS doesn’t enjoy U.S. support, it’s because “ISIS does not have a platoon of clean shaven and well coiffured columnists at the New York Times propagating the cause of the terrorist outfit as the Zionists columnists do on a regular basis.” Unusually for Dabashi, he later deleted the tweets. It’s hard to imagine why, because they were hardly any more offensive than many of his other public statements about Israel.

Yet more anti-Semitism at Columbia University

Hamid Dabashi

In February of last year we wrote about Hamid Dabashi, a professor at Columbia University who had attained the distinction of being – in the eyes of students – one of the most anti-Israeli professors in the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC). He has accused Israel of committing “incremental genocide” of the Palestinians (in reality, the Palestinian population is steading climbing) and equated Gaza with Ausckwitz. He has called Israel a “miasmatic mutation of human soul into a subterranean mixture of vile and violence,” and after a visit to the country he wrote:

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 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.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali


Just a few highlights from his professional history: in 2011, he condemned ex-Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Ibn Warraq who have risked their lives to speak out about the lack of human rights in Islam. For Dabashi, however, these people are not heroes but traitors who “have demonized their own cultures and societies…to advance their careers.” In 2012, after Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad gave a lecture at Columbia University, Dabashi savaged university president Lee Bollinger – not for inviting the barbarian to speak at his college, but for including a few critical words in his introduction. (Bollinger’s remarks, wrote Dabashi, oozed “mind-numbing racism.”)

Lee Bollinger

In 2015, Clemens Heni noted that Dabashi, as the result of a speaking tour of German universities, had “become the darling of German academe,” where his readiness to “defame Israel and downplay the crimes of the Holocaust” found a receptive audience. In 2016, after the terrorist attack on the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando drew attention to Islamic gay-hatred, Dabashi was quick to respond – namely, by equating “Islamophobia and homophobia,” by trying to blame the massacre on the U.S. government, and by arguing that other religions are antigay, too. (Of course, there is a slight difference between committing a massacre in a gay club and refusing to bake a same-sex wedding cake.) 

During all this time, and despite all these outrages, Dabashi has kept his job at Columbia. There has not really ever been any question about him keeping his job, not even after he published those comments about Jews that might just as easily have been written by Goebbels. But he has continued to attract notice. On May 31, the Jewish Journal reported that Columbia was “facing pressure to discipline Professor Hamid Dabashi for referring to Zionists as ‘hyenas.” On May 8, Dabashi had written a post on Facebook that included the following statement: “Every dirty treacherous ugly and pernicious happening in the world just wait for a few days and the ugly name ‘Israel’ will pop up in the atrocities.” In the same post, he called critics of President Obama’s Iran deal “Fifth Column Zionists working against the best interest of Americans and for the best interests of Israelis.”

In response to this Facebook post, a group called Alums for Campus Fairness wrote to Bollinger asking him to do four things: “denounce Dabashi’s comments, make it clear that Jewish and pro-Israel students are welcome on campus, discuss how campus climate can be improved and not allow Dabashi to continue teaching at the school until he ceases his ‘anti-Semitic rhetoric.’” The letter was signed by several members of the Columbia faculty and staff, among others. At this writing, Bollinger has yet to respond to the letter. We will follow the story closely. We will not hold our breath, and we will not be betting any money that the despicable Dabashi will be disciplined, let alone fired.   

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.”

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.