Former Virginia Tech professor Steven Salaita maintains that Israel's alleged excesses have transformed anti-Semitism "into something honorable."
How utterly appropriate: Steven Salaita will be the Edward W. Said Chair of American Studies at the American University of Beirut (AUB) for the 2015/16 academic year. A supposed expert on Native Americans whose anti-Semitic attacks on Israel cost him a job at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne, Salaita will assume a chair named for the late Columbia University English professor whose 1978 book Orientalism contributed more than any other work to the systemic intellectual decadence that still characterizes Middle East studies.
Salaita is Said's equal when it comes to producing polemical revisionist history that relies more upon postcolonial victimization studies than upon rigorous research. Although Illinois expected him to teach American Indian studies and he'll teach American studies at AUB, all six of his books deal with modern Arab studies, Arab Americans, or Israel.
In the through-the-looking-glass historiography of Salaita and his academic allies, these disparate fields are connected by a typology of the victim that is easily transferred from antiquity to the present, so that Canaanites are Native Americans and ancient Hebrews are modern Zionists. It's a handy way of attacking the entire history of a people or civilization without having to bother with facts, research, doubt, unanswerable questions, or the human agent at the heart of all genuine historical research.
In 1980 Malcolm Kerr, the distinguished Middle East studies scholar who served as AUB president, wrote a gentlemanly but devastating critique of Orientalism in which he mentions almost forty excellent scholars whose work Said ignored because noting their contributions would undermine his thesis that Western scholarship on the Middle East was uniformly reductionist and racist. Four years after writing his review, Kerr was assassinated near his AUB office by members of Islamic Jihad. If he could know that a chair named for Said now exists at AUB—and that next occupant will be a man as dedicated to politicized, vindictive scholarship as its namesake—he would be spinning in his grave.
Winfield Myers is director of academic affairs at the Middle East Forum and director of Campus Watch,