Steven Salaita believes that "in many ways" he has won his battle. He said so last week in Urbana.
And, in many ways, he is right.
So far at least, the winnings do not include a faculty position at the University of Illinois. Pray he never wins that one. But he's talking about a battle far more important — to him.
"I say that in relationship to that so many people on and off this campus came together."
If that doesn't make any more sense than the other things Salaita says, you nonetheless know what he means. People did come together — including maybe 200 or 300 of them right there in Urbana, all came together to celebrate him, Steve Salaita, oppressed professor.
Once simply a no-name academic, feeding off the taxpayers with sketchy scholarship and bombastic polemics, Salaita now is a cause in and of himself, a bona fide victim of the conspiratorial bogeymen of history that he talks about all the time, all those conspirators who lurk in wait for helpless souls to crush.
Maybe 200 or 300 people with little better to do showed up to hear him say so — again — at the prestigious Independent Media Center in the old Urbana post office, the local cynosure of the vast victimhood culture. Regardless of your wounds, real or imagined, at the hands of history, culture, institution, authority or majority — collectively known as "they" — you are welcome at IMC to join in making noise however you can manage to make it.
And Steven Salaita is these days both a bona fide victim and a proficient maker of noise.
Victory, at last.
Fact is, Steven Salaita has been elevated to celebrity status among the far-out fringe of malcontents on university campuses hither and yon. He has earned this adulation by his ability to prove what they only theorize about. He has been able to claim he was fired for his radical views on who is oppressed by whom and why — or come close enough to being fired to fit the world of fuzzy facts that form the atmosphere of such places.
To understand this, understand that academics are virtually never "fired" for anything. So getting "fired" simply for being an inelegant, ill-tempered loudmouth is rare and holy martyrdom indeed. In some circles — small circles of oppressed victims in waiting — Steven Salaita is thus a big deal. He even has written a book about how "they" conspired to get him (sort of) fired from a job teaching at the University of Illinois.
Years from now, his book — "Uncivil Rites" — will be crammed down the unsuspecting throats of those in small victimhood courses far and wide across the vast academic landscape. It will be offered as proof positive that "they" are, in fact, out to "getcha if ya' don't watch out."
Maybe some need a touch of background on this bizarre reality show.
Salaita, a pro-Palestinian activist and professor of English at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, was chosen for a faculty position in the UI's largely unnoticed American Indian Studies Program. But when his hiring was passed up the line for the obligatory approval of the UI Board of Trustees, then-Chancellor Phyllis Wise put on the brakes, noting that there was some measure of discomfort on campus and elsewhere about the nature of utterances issued by Salaita on the social media site Twitter, where wisdom is dispensed in bites of 144 characters. Salaita sued.
But Salaita had chosen on more than one occasion to express his displeasure with Israel by dispatching it in a sea of expletives that no small number of folks believed to be threatening, anti-Semitic and clearly rather beneath the dignity of either a great university or a well-mannered junior high school playground.
To suggest that the scholar had been sophomoric is to insult sophomores.
On subsequent review, Salaita's scholarship left quite a bit to be desired as well.
One campus leader opined quietly that he should never have been offered a position on that basis alone, but apologized that truly top-flight academics can be hard to come by for positions in novelty programs like American Indian Studies at Illinois.
Salaita graduated from Radford University and received his Ph.D. in English from the University of Oklahoma.
UI Professor Robert Warrior, who now directs the UI American Indian Studies Program, was a member of his doctoral committee. There, Salaita's English dissertation was on "The Holy Land in Transit: Colonialism and the Quest for Canaan."
In the dissertation and subsequent book, according to critic Diana Muir Appelbaum, Salaita put forth a theory that the founders of this country "were seeking a Holy Land, a new Canaan, in the belief that their faith entitled them to expropriate and expel the native inhabitants — and, remarkably, that Zionism is a deliberate imitation of the American quest for Canaan."
If that sounds a bit astray of your own recollections of history, Appelbaum dissects at some length the "evidence" that Salaita puts forth.
To suggest she finds it lacking is gross understatement. In some cases, her recitation of it seems laughable, were it not for the fact that academics in Oklahoma seem to have deemed it scholarship.
And one of those was Robert Warrior, who at Illinois endorsed Salaita's scholarship as "fresh," arguing the addition of the English professor would allow his little Native American studies program to "engage with the broader implications of comparative indigeneity within and beyond the scope of U.S. imperialism and militarism in North America and the Pacific to include the Middle East" and would elevate the program by adding "an esoteric perspective."
In fact, the bulk of Salaita's "esoteric perspective" — at least as expressed in writing — is confined less with American Indians than with Israel. His latest book prior to the UI dust-up was "Israel's Dead Soul."
In fact, Salaita has written that his "entire life has (thus) been dedicated to Palestinian politics and activism," according to Appelbaum.
Doubtless none of this we would know had Salaita not been elevated to the status of victimhood, martyr to the cause of issuing preposterous 144-word curses while still landing a job educating Illinois' best and brightest.
A UI lawyer once likened him to a Kardashian, that is to say "famous for being famous."
Myself, I liken him to a Harold Stassen, or perhaps to the Edsel, that is to say famous for failing.
But he and his devotees would have it no other way. To them, he is famous for achieving their most sought after of status — victimhood at the vast hands of the oppressor.