On April 16th, Columbia University will celebrate a "25th Anniversary Silver Jubilee" of Orientalism, a book by Edward Said, emeritus professor and leading spokesman for a the Palestinian cause against Israel.
The event enjoys some high-level patronage; the university's provost, Jonathan Cole, will deliver the opening remarks. By celebrating Said's work in this manner, Columbia is endorsing its contents.
Why would it do this?
Because Said, although not himself a specialist on the Middle East, has laid down the rules on how the region is studied at his university (and on many other campuses too). His radical leftism, his apologetics for militant Islam, and his advocacy of Palestinian violence have become the norm. So paramount are his ideas at Columbia that an endowed chair has been named after him, virtually canonizing his views.
Said's influence — especially his obsessive hostility toward Israel — has indeed been pervasive at Columbia. Some examples from its lineup of Middle East specialists:
1. Nadia Abu El-Haj, assistant professor of anthropology at Barnard. In her book, Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society, she argues that Israeli archeology is but a tool to fabricate an "origin myth" to "efface Zionism's colonial dimension."
2. Hamid Dabashi, professor of Iranian studies. He organized a Palestinian film festival "Dreams of a Nation" that featured posters of a blood-red Palestine replacing Israel and several films calling for the destruction of Israel. Dabashi once cancelled his class to participate in an anti-Israel rally, and recently joined Ayatollah Khomeini in condemning novelist Salman Rushdie for his "demonizing" of Islamic civilization.
3. Joseph Massad, assistant professor of modern Arab politics. His entire body of scholarship consists of manic anti-Zionism. He labels Israel "a Jewish supremacist and racist state" (yet Columbia allows him to teach a course titled "Palestinian and Israel Politics and Society"). He defends Palestinian violence, "It is only by making the costs of Jewish supremacy too high that Israeli Jews will give it up." He criticized Yasser Arafat for "concessions" to Israel, thus undermining "the right of the Palestinians to resist the occupation."
4. George Saliba, professor of Arabic and Islamic Science. He defends promoting an anti-Israel rally in class, calling it a place to get "accurate information on the Middle East," yet fuels false rumors about Ariel Sharon, "committing his massacres in Jenin." One student warns, "Take this class if you want to hear total and utter nonsense." Another notes, "He only lectured 14 of the 24 class sessions; the other 10, he either cancelled to promote 'Palestine' or showed a movie or played music."
Joining this illustrious group in the fall will be:
Rashid Khalidi, the new Edward Said Chair of Middle East Studies. Khalidi is yet another obsessive anti-Israel scholar. When Palestinians lynched two off-duty Israeli officers in October of 2000, proudly displaying their bloodied hands, Khalidi found fit to criticize not the perpetrators of the crime but the "prostitute" and "cynical" media that reported it. He glorifies anti-Israel violence as "civil society" poking "its way up through the concrete." He portrays the PLO as democratic and Arafat as an "elected leader." He claims Israel's army has used "awful weapons of mass destruction in Palestinian cities, villages and refugee camps, a naked lie.
Delirious reactions to Khalidi's imminent arrival confirm the entrenched bias at Columbia. "Everyone in the Middle East area is thrilled," comments history professor Richard Bulliet. "There was a consensus that Khalidi would be the best for this chair," adds Lisa Anderson, dean of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs. "Rashid is probably the best scholar we could have gotten," agrees David Cohen, vice president for Arts and Sciences.
Such is what now passes for Middle East scholarship at Columbia University on the 25th anniversary of Orientalism. It would hardly seem worthy of a jubilee celebration.
John Corigliano, a well-known composer and a Columbia alumnus, recently called the Middle East-studies department to task for its blatantly anti-Israel outlook. "I do hope the [Columbia] administration has the courage — for it will take a lot of courage — to stand up to demagoguery of this nature."
No sign of that courage as of yet.