The New Yorker has published a lengthy history [link to abstract] of the Nadia Abu El-Haj controversy by Jane Kramer. Kramer does the dirty work of savaging the critics and giving El-Haj a more fawning history of events than she could possibly have hoped for. The piece retails all the leftist viewpoints you'd expect, even reaching back to the events leading up to the film Columbia Unbecoming. Sheltered Jewish kids are simply not ready to deal with opposing viewpoints, Right Wing ideologues are leading the rube-ish peasants on pitch-fork drives against the ivory walls of the Academy, a Jewish settler is leading a campaign against a simple Palestinian-American academic...you name it. El-Haj is portrayed as a retiring academic, unassuming and completely innocent, blindsided by a political controversy that comes at her out of thin air. This is nonsense, of course (she's signature #1 on this divestment petition). The critics aren't the ones who started politicizing the campus, and the "Oh golly me, why I didn't know I'd be causing all this fuss"-act (as emphasized by the illustration accompanying the article of a tiny El-Haj caught in the middle between pro-Arab and pro-Israel mobs) isn't selling to anyone but New Yorker readers who don't know any better.
I can see why, when I've been contacted by people from the academy, it's always with the double underline admonition, "Keep my name out of it!" Academic defenders of El-Haj are portrayed here as defending academic freedom, critics as the ones pursuing a political agenda who couldn't possibly have any rational concerns. From the article's conclusion:
...In February, Abu El-Haj went to a Barnard faculty meeting and met Alan Segal for the first time. "There he was, standing up and making a big pitch for academic freedom, saying that all those terrible outside attacks had made it impossible to have a real intellectual conversation about my work," she told me. "He came up to me on his way out, he introduced himself, he actually invited me to speak to his class. I was so mad. I could have killed him."...
Segal was one of the only people on campus to come out critically on the record, and her reaction to him just goes to prove his point. It became (was anyway) almost impossible to deal with the issue in an academic manner. One thing's for sure, if Prof. Segal is harmed for his exercise of his speech, it won't be El-Haj wielding the knife, it will be her petty allies around the campus doing the slicing.
Related, considering how strongly post-Modernism and post-Colonialism figure in El-Haj's work is this piece by John Leo in The Wall Street Journal about how treacherous simply insisting on fact and evidence based scholarship can be: The Hazards of Telling the Truth
...Outraged by the nonscholarly approach of Afrocentric writers, she [Mary Lefkowitz] somewhat naïvely imagined that facts would put their extreme theories to rest. She noted, for instance, that Socrates couldn't have been black, as alleged, because his parents were Athenian citizens and blacks, in classical Athens, were not eligible for citizenship. She noted, as well, that Aristotle would have had a tough time stealing his philosophy from the library at Alexandria, since he died before the library was built. Such arguments went nowhere, Ms. Lefkowitz writes, with those who saw Greek philosophy "as yet another case of a colonialist European plundering of Africa."
While Ms. Lefkowitz was being targeted by Afrocentrists nationally, she fell into a war on her own campus with Anthony Martin, a vituperative and litigious tenured professor of "Africana studies." It was an odd battle. Ms. Lefkowitz kept trying to make it a debate about evidence and truth. Mr. Martin made it personal and added a large helping of anti-Semitism. Eventually he turned out a book titled "The Jewish Onslaught," endorsed the crackpot theory that Jews had dominated the slave trade and demanded Jewish reparations to blacks...
In the end, Wellesley College did the right thing in the Lefkowitz/Martin case. Too bad Barnard couldn't do the same.