Do the ranks of Middle East studies professors include terrorists? If the allegations against University of Ottawa professor Hassan Diab are proved true, the answer will be yes.
Diab, a Lebanese-born dual Canadian citizen and author of Beirut: Reviving Lebanon's Past, is a lecturer in sociology at the University of Ottawa and until recently taught a part-time summer introductory sociology course at Carleton University in Ottawa. His job ended last month following allegations by French authorities that Diab was the leader of a commando team that perpetrated the 1980 bombing of the Rue Copernic synagogue in Paris. The bombing, which was attributed to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - Special Operations (PFLP-SO), a splinter group of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), killed three Frenchmen and an Israeli woman and wounded 20.
At the request of French authorities, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested Diab in November, 2008. He's since been granted bail on numerous conditions, including wearing an ankle bracelet and only leaving his house escorted by one of the five people who posted his $250,000 bail.
French authorities who seek to extradite Diab for trial in France accuse him of making and planting the bomb used in the attack. According to Canwest News Service:
Diab resembles police sketches of the synagogue bomber; his handwriting matches that of the bomber; he has been identified by intelligence sources and former friends as having been a member of the PFLP; and his Lebanese passport, which he reported stolen, was used to get into France at about the time of the 1980 bombing.
Diab maintains his innocence. As reported in a National Post editorial:
Evidence from the files of the old East German secret police, the Stasi, leaves little doubt that someone then going by the name "Hassan Diab" was responsible for the bombing. The French investigating authorities are certain they have found the right man, and have witnesses who are prepared to say so, as well as other evidence implicating the Ottawa prof. But Mr. Diab, who has a common Lebanese name, insists that he is a wholly innocent victim of mistaken identity.
Furthermore, Diab's friends and colleagues insist that he is a peaceful, non-violent man who has never shown anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist leanings.
Predictably, Carleton University's decision to terminate Diab has caused an uproar among his academic peers. The Canadian Association of University Teachers issued a statement condemning Diab's "unjust termination" "in the strongest possible terms." An August 1, 2009, Ottawa Citizen op-ed signed by 30 members of Carleton's Department of Sociology and Anthropology described Diab's firing melodramatically, labeling it "an attack on widely held democratic values, and on the need to achieve justice through the law and due process" and "a bleak chapter in the story of injustice and discrimination in the dark shadow of 9/11." The op-ed stretches credulity by blaming the allegedly repressive, post-9/11 political atmosphere in "George W. Bush's America" for the firing—of a Canadian.
But Carleton University only employed Diab to teach a single course for several weeks during the summer while the regular instructor was on leave. Diab taught a similar course at Carleton earlier and was reinstated even after his arrest in November, 2008. It wasn't until July, 2009, that Carleton terminated his contract, citing a desire to provide students with "a stable, productive academic environment that is conducive to learning." Carleton was under no obligation to continue employing Diab and, as the authors of the op-ed themselves admit, "reasonable restrictions are, and should be, placed on those accused of violent crimes." Given that Diab is charged with murder and attempted murder, Carleton's decision to end his employment would seem to be a "reasonable restriction." Moreover, it's difficult to imagine any other profession in which an employee would not face similar consequences under such circumstances.
The op-ed's authors deploy another common tactic of the academic left: blaming purportedly omnipotent Jewish organizations for Diab's firing. His termination happened to follow a B'nai Brith press release objecting to his employment at Carleton. His defenders cast this fact in a sinister light, accusing the university, without evidence, of "succumbing to political pressure." They imply that B'nai Brith was out-of-line for expressing concern that Diab might be a threat to "the safety and security of the community," ignoring that the terrorist attack at hand targeted a synagogue. If such charges had involved an attack against another minority group, it's doubtful these academics would object to such concerns.
Diab has yet to stand trial, but the reaction of his academic peers has been revealing. It demonstrates a knee-jerk opposition to authority, an arrogant rejection of accountability, and a dangerous naiveté towards the dangers of Islamic terrorism. Rather than expressing shock and horror that one of their own may have been involved in a heinous crime, they immediately jumped to his defense. But what will they do if the allegations against Diab prove true?
A look at the past may prove instructive. This isn't the first time the Middle East studies establishment has rallied around a beleaguered professor accused—or even convicted—of terrorism charges. Nor is it the first time such academics have acted as cohorts or apologists for those with proven Islamist sympathies. Consider these past examples:
- Three University of South Florida Middle East studies professors (Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, Bashir Musa Mohammed Nafi, and Sameeh Hammoudeh) were charged with racketeering and conspiracy to murder in 2003. Afterwards, all three were praised by their fellow Middle East studies faculty members and described as "scholarly" and "highly respected." Shallah, one of the founding members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), is now in Damascus, Syria, the organization's headquarters, and serves as PIJ's Secretary-General and leader. He's one of the FBI's most wanted terrorists.
- Professor of Middle Eastern studies and history at New York University Zachary Lockman testified on behalf of Arabic translator Mohamed Yousry, who was on trial for aiding and abetting Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind sheikh. Lockman called Yousry's conviction in 2005 "ludicrous" and described him as "a very sweet, mild-mannered guy."
- Rahman's attorney, radical leftist Lynne Stewart, was convicted of similar charges for sneaking messages from the imprisoned sheikh to members of the terrorist group Gama'a al-Islamiyya. Stewart has since become a frequent speaker at conferences on "academic freedom," alongside various Middle East studies professors. California State University, Sacramento sociology professor Ayad Al-Qazzaz once featured Stewart as a guest on his cable television show. To hear Al-Qazzaz tell it, Stewart was "falsely accused of helping terrorists."
- University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole has spoken at numerous fundraising events for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), an unindicted co-conspirator in the case against the Hamas-founded Holy Land Foundation.
- John Esposito, founding director of the Saudi-funded Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, is known for his vigorous defense of radical Islamists, including former University of South Florida computer science professor Sami Al-Arian, who was convicted in 2006 for supporting Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Speaking at a CAIR fundraiser in 2007, Esposito described Al-Arian as "a very good friend of mine," along with expressing his "solidarity" with both CAIR and the Holy Land Foundation.
Viewing the Middle East studies establishment's support for Diab against this background reveals a disturbing pattern. The presumption of innocence is one thing. Blindly throwing one's support behind any colleague accused of terrorist ties is another.
Cinnamon Stillwell is the West Coast Representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.