To the Editor:
It is surprising to me that a professor at a respectable institution would write an ad hominem and irresponsible review of another scholar's book like the one Vernon Rosario wrote of my book Desiring Arabs in the May-June issue of The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide. Dr. Rosario is of course free to disagree with the book academically and to lay out all his disagreements and criticisms for the reader, but to do so through defamation is utterly unprofessional and betrays an anti-academic political agenda that he clearly shares with Campus Watch whose files he consults directly or indirectly to write his review.
In his introduction to the review, Mr. Rosario knowingly neglects all the academic reviews of my first book, Colonial Effects (which was based on my dissertation which won the Middle East Studies Association's Malcolm Kerr Award for the best dissertation in 1998), and cites instead a Jordanian secret police agent who does not know English and who wrote a short piece on my book (which he could not and did not read) in a Jordanian government-owned and-run Arabic newspaper (to which I published a response, but Mr. Rosario seems not to know that) because Campus Watch and its associate Martin Kramer put that article (after they translated it) in the public domain without including my response. In doing so, Mr. Rosario is not practicing scholarly critique but yellow journalism. Indeed, such defamation does not constitute "background research" on his part but a malicious act of character assassination. It is a pity that a scholar has to rely on information provided by the most anti-scholarship and anti-university organization (Campus Watch) in order to defame another scholar with whom he disagrees. Rather than contextualize my academic production within the campaign launched by Campus Watch and allied organizations to deny me and other scholars our academic freedom (a very well documented affair in the academic and popular press since 2002), Mr. Rosario opts instead to ally himself with the McCarthyist attacks on the university and on academics and uses defamatory claims made by Campus Watch against me that he then presents to the reader as "background research."
My book The Persistence of the Palestinian Question has also received laudatory reviews in academic journals with not one single negative review anywhere; but you would not know this when you read Mr. Rosario's account. Instead of citing these academic reviews, Mr. Rosario cites the editors of the New York tabloid The Daily News (which he does not name), which attacked an article that I published in Cultural Critique (which he mistakenly thinks is a criticism of my book), as a scholarly judgment.
As for Desiring Arabs, which won the prestigious Lionel Trilling award, it has been praised by the most major scholars in the field (including Joan Scott, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Talal Asad, Marnia Lazreg, Khaled El-Rouayheb, Anne Norton, Rosalind Morris, Anton Shammas, et al.) and rave academic reviews are coming in every month (they are all available on the Amazon webpage of the book), even though some in the right-wing press have criticized the book as Mr. Rosario does (though left-wing writers in the gay press have also praised it, as has Bill Andriette in The Guide). Mr. Rosario need not agree with all (or any of) the positive academic reviews of my three books, nor need he agree that the awards my books received are well deserved, but it would behoove any honest scholar to cite them as part of his background research. To do so, however, would have demonstrated to the reader that mybooks are not controversial at all in academe, and that the extent that I am said to be "controversial" at all, I am so for the New York tabloid press and for Campus Watch, and now for some right-wing gay newspapers upset with my book. I will not discuss the massive misreading of Desiring Arabs in which Mr. Rosario engages in his review except to say that such a misreading can only be a deliberate exercise in dishonesty, scholarly carelessness, or a genuine blindness to the nature of arguments made by scholars he deems ideological enemies. None of these possibilities are the mark of responsible scholarship.
It is regrettable that a respectable publication like The Gay & Lesbian Review/Worldwide, would publish Mr. Rosario's review of my book, even though its defamatory claims are culled from the archives of Campus Watch. It is of equal concern to me that The Gay & Lesbian Review / Worldwide chose a scholar with no knowledge whatsoever of the Arab World (a term he mistakenly believes includes "Persians"!) to review a book about the region. Amazingly, Mr. Rosario seems also to be not up to date on the current academic debate within the discipline of Queer Theory. He is under the strange impression that the field is still engaged in the "essentialism versus constuctivism" debate (within which he places my book), which in fact had effectively ended almost two decades ago--at least since the publication of Eve Sedgwick's classic The Epistemology of the Closet in 1990. But if Mr. Rosario is ignorant of the fields of Queer Theory and Middle East Studies, what then is the basis on which he was chosen to review my book?
Joseph Massad, Associate Professor,
Vernon A. Rosario Replies:
As I pointed out in my review of Desiring Arabs, Prof. Massad is a passionate scholar who stirs controversy in every corner. I anticipated he might to react to my essay, which he has done with characteristic vigor. I am sorry he has misinterpreted my review of his book as a personal and political assault. My brief introductory paragraph was meant not to evaluate his career, but to highlight the inflammatory reactions to his work--as he further details. Hopefully, other readers of my essay appreciated that I largely agreed with Prof. Massad's central thesis that some gay activists and analysts are too facile in squeezing all manifestations of male samesex love into the Western construct of homosexual identity. This is indeed a point that has been made for more than a couple of decades by anthropologists; in 1935 Margaret Mead, writing about Papua New Guinea, cautioned against using "homosexuality" as a cross-cultural category.
My kudos to Prof. Massad for his many laurels, including the Lionel Trilling Award (selected by Columbia undergrads to honor a Columbia author), which was awarded after my manuscript had gone to press. If my review and our interchange here incites the broad readership of the Review to explore Prof. Massad's scholarly work, I'll have served everyone well.
Vernon A. Rosario, Associate Clinical
Professor of Psychiatry, UCLA
Since the writer impugns my editorial judgment in accepting Dr. Rosario's review, I'd like to respond as well. I addressed in the last issue a similar letter by an author who didn't like a review. So, one more time: is it really an editor's job to prevent a reviewer from expressing an opinion about a book? Isn't this what reviewers are supposed to do--even in this age of "the gentleman's B" and the polite pass--namely, to offer an honest appraisal of a book as he or she calls it?
Of course a review must be responsible and well-reasoned to pass muster; this is where an editor comes in. I happen to be a pretty hands-on editor, and on rereading Rosario's lengthy review of Desiring Arabs, I find it a model of moderation. I can't for the life of me see what what would prompt so passionate a reaction. While noting thatDr. Massad's earlier books have been controversial, Rosario's treatment of this new book is always respectful and ends with these words: "In any case, his monograph is built on a tremendous historical and literary scholarship and offers a provocative foray into same-sex sexuality in the Arab world." What's more, the review is not "ad hominem" at any point: it never refers to the author's personal life or characteristics but only to his professional writing.
Clearly, I'm missing something here. Since Dr. Massad never actually specifies what the review contained that he didn't like, I'm at a near total loss. He repeatedly accuses Rosario of "defamation," but I have no idea to what this refers; or what "Campus Watch" is and why we should mistrust it. Indeed the letter seems oddly generic to me, as if an all-purpose response to critics rather than a reply to the review at hand.
As for the assignment of books to reviewers, it would indeed be a luxury if a small publication like ours had at its disposal an army of specialists able to cover every minute subdiscipline in the academy. Alas, such is not the case. Dr. Rosario, who happens to hold two doctorates from Harvard (MD and PhD), is an intellectual with broad interests who has contributed to this publication frequently and brilliantly over the years.