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.
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.”
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.
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.
Indeed, 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.
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.”