I am cancelling my subscription to the New York Times, and I urge others to do the same.
The New York Times editorial board went over to the Dark Side on Thursday, with an editorial that blasted the end results of a panel at Columbia University that investigated whether students had been intimidated by professors at Columbia University. The panel found that there was no evidence of any such thing, that no students had been punished for their views by lowered grades, that there was no evidence of racial bigotry.
The NYT nevertheless praised the neo-McCarthyite "film" (actually it is large numbers of films that are constantly re-edited and have never been publicly shown) produced by the shadowy anti-Palestinian "David Project." But the "film" is not an objective document. I could interview on film lots of people who ascribed all sorts of bad behavior to the editors of the New York Times and call it a "damning documentary." Students, including Israelis, who have actually taken classes in Middle East studies at Columbia dispute the films' allegations.
The real question here is whether it is all right to dispute the Zionist version of history. The David Project, AIPAC, the American Jewish Congress, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the Middle East Forum, Campus Watch, MEMRI, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, the Zionist Organization of America, etc., etc., maintain that it is not all right. Some of them have even been known to maintain that disputing Zionist historiography is a form of hate speech.
Historians are unkind to nationalism of any sort. Nineteenth century romantic nationalism of the Zionist sort posits eternal "peoples" through history, who have a blood relationship (i.e. are a "race") and who have a mystical relationship with some particular territory. The Germans, who were very good at this game, called it "blood and soil." Nationalism casts about for some ancient exemplar of the "nation" to glorify as a predecessor to the modern nation. (Since nations actually did not exist in the modern sense before the late 1700s, the relationship is fictive. To explain what happened between ancient glory and modern nationalism, nationalists often say that the "nation" "fell asleep" or "went into centuries of decline. My colleague Ron Suny calls this the "sleeping beauty" theory of nationalism.)
But there are no eternal nations through history. People get all mixed up genetically over time, except for tiny parts of the genome like the mitochondria or the Y chromosome, on which too much emphasis is now put. Since there are no eternal nations based in "blood," they cannot have a mystical connection to the "land." People get moved around. The Turks now in Anatolia once lived in Mongolia (and most Turks anyway are just Greeks who converted to Islam and began speaking Turkish).
The David Project wants Middle East historians to reproduce faithfully in the classroom the Zionist master narrative as the "true" version of history. We aren't going to do that, and nobody can make us do it, and if anyone did make us do it, it would be destructive of academic, analytical understandings of history. Next the Serbs will be demanding that we explain why the Bosnians had to be suppressed, and the Russians will object to any attempt to understand the roots of Chechen terrorism, and the Chinese will object to our teaching about Taiwan. The American Nazi Party will maintain that the Third Reich is presented unsympathetically in university history classes, etc. etc. Ethnic nationalisms if allowed to dictate the teaching of history would destroy the entire discipline.
The NYT editorial concludes:
"But in the end, the report is deeply unsatisfactory because the panel's mandate was so limited. Most student complaints were not really about intimidation, but about allegations of stridently pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli bias on the part of several professors. The panel had no mandate to examine the quality and fairness of teaching. That leaves the university to follow up on complaints about politicized courses and a lack of scholarly rigor as part of its effort to upgrade the department. One can only hope that Columbia will proceed with more determination and care than it has heretofore."
What the editors mean by "anti-Israeli" is not spelled out. But generally the term means any criticism of Israel. (You can criticize Argentina all day every day till the cows come home and nobody cares in the US, but make a mild objection to Ariel Sharon putting another 3500 settlers onto Palestinian territory in contravention of all international law and of the road map to which the Bush administration says it is committed, and boom!, you are branded a racist bigot. And if you dare point out that Sharon's brutality and expansionism end up harming America and Americans by unnecessarily making enemies for us (because we are Sharon's sycophants), then you are really in trouble.
Personally, I think that the master narrative of Zionist historiography is dominant in the American academy. Mostly this sort of thing is taught by International Relations specialists in political science departments, and a lot of them are Zionists, whether Christian or Jewish. Usually the narrative blames the Palestinians for their having been kicked off their own land, and then blames them again for not going quietly. It is not a balanced point of view, and if we take the NYT seriously (which we could stop doing after they let Judith Miller channel Ahmad Chalabi on the front page every day before the war), then the IR professors should be made to teach a module on the Palestinian point of view, as well. That is seldom done.
Academic teaching is not about balance or "fairness" or presenting "both sides" of an issue. It is about teaching people to reason analytically and synthetically about problems. The NYT approach would ruin our ability to do this and would impose a particular version of history on us all by fiat. It even implies that some committee should sanction anyone critical of Israel.
Universities are about skewering sacred cows. Anyone who doesn't want their views challenged or their feelings hurt should stay away from them. If you can't handle an intellectual challenge, you shouldn't be on campus. And you certainly shouldn't be editing a major newspaper.
Baruch Kimmerling, the eminent Israeli sociologist, denounces the witch hunt at Columbia. The Chronicle of Higher Education, which hasn't done squat for professors faced with the New McCarthyism, rejected Kimmerling's piece, and they are another good candidate for cancelled subscriptions.
Scott Sherman in the Nation, "The Mideast Comes to Columbia."
Note: The links aren't "balanced." You'll have to find the McCarthyites on your own.
posted by Juan @ 4/8/2005 10:11:00 AM