Others may have sympathized on learning that Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Middle East studies at Columbia University, felt threatened by a graduate student at his own university, but not me.
The incident began late on Sept. 27, 2004, when Victor Luria, a Ph.D. candidate in genetics and a former soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, wrote Dabashi an e-mail taking strong exception to what Dabashi had written about the IDF in an article, "For a Fistful of Dust: A Passage to Palestine," he published in the Egyptian newspaper, Al-Ahram. In response, Luria wrote to Dabashi:
I have rarely seen such a revolting excerpt of anti-semitism as your article in Al-Ahram. Your article implies no right of Israel to exist. … As an Israeli citizen, I welcome the right of Palestinians to have an independent state and a capital in East Jerusalem. At the same time, you clearly deny (and you are not even a Palestinian) my right to have a country.
Rather than answer Luria's critique, Dabashi early on Sept. 28 forwarded his note to several top Columbia officials, including the university's provost, Alan Brinkley. He also commented on what Luria had written:
I consider this slanderous harassment a conduct unbecoming of a student of Columbia University towards a member of the faculty whom he has never met or known. I bring this defamatory attack against a Columbia faculty to the judicious attention of your respective offices. Given the military record of this person, I also feel physically threatened. I would be grateful if Columbia Security were also to be informed of this slanderous attack against my character and appropriate measures taken to protect my person from a potential attack by a militant slanderer.
Dabashi concluded, "For the time being, and in the best interest of our university, I will refrain from contacting the New York Police Department directly."
Underwhelmed, Brinkley wrote him back the same day,
I see nothing threatening in this message, however unfair its conclusions might be. I also see no grounds for alerting security, although you are certainly free to contact them if you feel otherwise.
I very much doubt the New York City police would have any grounds for intervening in this matter.
I'm sorry this attack has occurred, but you are no stranger to controversy and have encountered such ad hominem criticism before. This is one of the unhappy prices of a public life, and I would recommend ignoring Mr. Luria (whom I do not know).
Indeed, Dabashi is "no stranger to controversy" and some of it concerns me. I report his exchange with Luria (which was first reported in the New York Sun) because it helps explain Dabashi's behavior two year earlier, when he claimed to be threatened by an article Jonathan Schanzer and I co-authored on June 25, 2002.
We mentioned Dabashi as one of six professors in a catalogue of academic radicalism regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict. The reference to Dabashi, replicated here in its entirety, merely noted two of his actions:
Columbia University: Hamid Dabashi, a specialist on Iran, compared Israel's military maneuvers in Jenin (to prevent future suicide bombings) with the Nazi Holocaust. When one student protested his canceling class to attend a rabidly anti-Israel sit-in, he sneeringly replied, "I apologize if canceling our class in solidarity with [Palestinian] victims of a genocide . . . inconvenienced you."
Dabashi contested neither of these facts but instead bellyached how publicizing them disrupted his life by making him and his students the victims of "racist and obscene" harassment, leading his computer to be hacked, and causing spams to be sent from his Columbia account. In reply, I condemned any such actions but also requested proof that they had actually occurred. Dabashi and I went back and forth on this point, most notably on MSNBC's "Donahue" program.
HAMID DABASHI: The hacking of our computers, and the fact that our e-mails are flooded with e-mails following his attack on us, and putting us on his Web site, is now documented that Columbia University security, NYPD, intelligence division of the New York police department, so as in Chicago and Michigan.
PHIL DONAHUE: You mean documented with the police?
DABASHI: With the police. That is, we are being attacked by hackers and by those who, following his attack on me-his initial attack on me was in the New York Post on June 26 [sic]. Immediately after that, I received tons of death threats, racist, obscene and threatening voice mails. And immediately after that, the last week of August, tons of e-mails – hundreds, thousands of e-mails, to the point that Columbian security could not increase my quota enough.
DANIEL PIPES: You must send me this information. Would you prove it to me?
DABASHI: If I may just, the evidence of all this, Phil, is with Columbia University security.
PIPES: Will you send it to me? Will you have them send it to me?
DABASHI: Mr. Ken Finnegan of Columbia security, if I could please not be interrupted. Mr. Ken Finnegan of Columbia security is, so far as my university is concerned, is in charge of this.
PIPES: Prove it to me. Just prove it, OK?
Two years later, despite this request on national television, Dabashi has yet to provide any proof.
Comments: (1) Dabashi's neurotic response to Luria, which closely parallels the one to Schanzer and me, establishes that he habitually interprets criticism as intimidation.
(2) His quick indignation may also reflect his extensive power at Columbia University (where he bills himself as "Chair of the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures Department, Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies, and the Director of Graduate Studies at the Center for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University") and the deference he habitually receives. When exposed to something a bit rougher, he squeals about being threatened.
(3) This unacceptable pattern of behavior points to another failure of Middle East studies in general and at Columbia University in particular.
Daniel Pipes (www.DanielPipes.org) is director of the Middle East Forum and author of Miniatures (Transaction Publishers).