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Joseph Massad Awarded Tenure at Columbia:

Jacob Gershman has the scoop, including some details I didn't know about: Massad had already been denied tenure once, in 2007 and, according to Gershman, the excuse for giving him the extraordinary opportunity to go up again was that "Massad had switched his field of specialty from political science to cultural studies."

It's often alleged, as in the Finkelstein case at DePaul, that someone's anti-Israel views prevent him from getting tenure, or otherwise succeeding in academia. Putting aside the merit of those claims, Massad's case involves exactly the opposite scenario. He landed at Columbia to begin with as a disciple of leading Palestinian activist and Columbia professor Edward Said. And given not just the quality of his "scholarship," but his hostility to the international gay rights and feminist movements (which shouldn't matter for tenure purposes, but who are we kidding?), and his haranguing of a questioner at a university event based on his (Israeli) nationality, it's hard to imagine a university like Columbia tenuring him if he wasn't a leading Israel-basher, and therefore was able to pose as both a "progressive" and a martyr to academic freedom.

The good news is that if Columbia had denied Massad tenure, it would have been under severe pressure to hire someone just as anti-Israel to replace him, to prove that its decision wasn't politically motivated. And that replacement almost certainly wouldn't hold some of Massad's most cringeworthy positions and statements, such as: the "Gay International" conspiracy to create homosexuality in the Arab world; that "such practices [as the torture of Abner Louima by NYC police] clearly demonstrate that white American male sexuality exhibits certain sadistic attributes in the presence of non-white men and women over whom white Americans (and Brits) have government-sanctioned racialised power"; that the movie "Exodus tells the story of the Zionist hijacking of a ship from Cyprus to Palestine by a Zionist Haganah commander;" his dismissal of the significance of "honor killings" in the Arab world; and his insistence Israel is analogous to Nazi Germany, and the Palestinians to the Nazis' Jewish victims.

I think it's regrettable from the standpoint of academic integrity that Massad received tenure, but, in a perverse way, it's good news for supporters of Israel. We can look forward to many more years of Massad discrediting the "anti-Zionist" cause.

As an aside, here's an example of exactly what's wrong with much of campus pro-Israel activism. A Columbia student expresses her concern that Massad received tenure. She acknowledges (wrongly) that "Massad is a distinguished scholar," and "admittedly a talented, accomplished professor," and in any event she has no way to judge the "academic legitimacy" of his most inflammatory (and ridiculous) arguments. But she's upset because Massad disturbs Jewish students' "sensibilities." Ugh! To the extent that Massad has mistreated Jewish or Israeli students, that's a legitimate concern. But to the extent that he makes Jewish students feel bad because they don't like the implications of his legitimate arguments, that just victimhood politics that are just as bad, and as inadmissible in a debate about tenure, coming from Jews as from anyone else. The student in question, in other words, has written a post complaining about Massad's tenure that actually supports his case for tenure, because she relies on the fact that he hurts her feelings instead of educating herself as to why he's been accused of shoddy scholarship.

Cato The Elder (mail) (www):
Cultural studies. Boy, am I surprised at this!
7.9.2009 10:52am
PeteP (mail):
Dave - is THIS thread open to 'affirmative action' debate, since this is obviously a case of 'left wing nutters only need apply', surely a variation of the theme ? :-)

I wonder if he signed the letter -from 1,000 law profs' praising Sotomayer ? Knowing only, most likely, that she is A ) female and B ) minority.
7.9.2009 10:58am
M (mail):
I think you're being more than a bit uneven handed here, as you have been in past cases involving Massad. But I'm more interested in the claim that this was an "extraordinary opportunity" to apply for tenure again. Is that so? Most universities allow an appeal unless the tenure denial is at the department level, and some might allow it even then. And, if Massad had a home in both political science and a cultural studies unit, is it in fact "extraordinary" to have a tenure decision by both? I've heard of such things before but don't know how common it is, especially at Columbia. The linked article doesn't explain this at all but baldly asserts it. Given that it's quite obviously not a disinterested source, and doesn't show any real knowledge of the process, I'm skeptical of the claim as it stands. Maybe this is an "extraordinary opportunity", but we certainly haven't been shown that so far.
7.9.2009 11:00am
martinned (mail) (www):
It looks like the House of Lords model is spreading! (The classic joke about the Lords was that it was the most democratic of parliaments, because it offered a seat to geniuses and idiots alike, while in normal parliaments dumb people are horribly underrepresented.)

This post does make me cringe doubly, though. On the one hand, this guy is clearly deranged and should never have been given any kind of academic position, on the other hand the post seems to conveniently forget the author's usual championing of the ideals of free and fair exchange of ideas, etc.
7.9.2009 11:01am
Arkady:

while in normal parliaments dumb people are horribly underrepresented


Alas, not the case in normal Houses of Representatives.
7.9.2009 11:04am
DavidBernstein (mail):
Martin, I don't really understand your criticism. Why does advocating the "free and fair exchange of ideas" mean that I should support tenure for someone who you describe in such terms?
7.9.2009 11:09am
Triple J (mail):
Take a look at the comments on the Huff Post article linked above. No surprise. The student rambles on and on and says basically nothing. She needed to spend five minutes and could have found a bunch of comments that Massad made that would question his suitability for tenure. Alas, nothing. Ugh is right Professor.
7.9.2009 11:13am
PeteP (mail):
"Martin, I don't really understand your criticism. Why does advocating the "free and fair exchange of ideas" mean that I should support tenure for someone who you describe in such terms?"

It's a common plaint of the left that 'defending someones 1st amendment rights' implies a requirement to PAY that person to express his views. Witness the Ward Churchill debacle at CU. Luckily there, a judge realized the distinction, and threw out the jury verdict, although he did it on, IMO, slightly tortured grounds.
7.9.2009 11:19am
rosetta's stones:
All things in balance, says the buddha. Churchill is out... and this guy's in.
.
.
.

It's always best to go to root cause, and drain the swamp.

Dump tenure. Problem solved.
7.9.2009 11:20am
martinned (mail) (www):
@DavidBernstein: Hence my ambivalence.

Especially given that he's already been portrayed as "a martyr to academic freedom", I'd expect you to take great care to avoid the impression that you think he shouldn't receive tenure because he's critical (ahum) of Israel.

If you think this student was wrong to describe him as a "distinguished scholar", explain why. Doing that requires more than listing past posts about dumb things the man has written. What exactly is the extent of his scholarship?

This is the list of his works on his wiki page. That includes three books published by distinguished academic publishers (U. Chicago, Routledge and Columbia) and a list of journal articles and book reviews in journals whose prestige I am in no position to assess. (Here's a more comprehensive list, from his personal web page.)

Certainly in social science (and law), where objective truth is harder to come by than in the hard sciences, we should be careful to distinguish between arguing about the truth of someone's work, and arguing about the merit and distinction of that work.
7.9.2009 11:23am
TK 75:
For all the liberals and other defenders of the academy, just honestly answer 1 question please:

If a professor made similar comments about gays and was not either a) a minority and/or b) a Muslim - would there be any chance in hell they would be considered for tenure? Imagine if a Christian professor had said such things about homosexuality? There would be self-righteous protests, letters expressing righteous fury and indignation, and a full-out faculty boycott to protest the mere consideration of such a candidate.

This is example number 99999 of the horrid bias in academia, and a reason why many people like myself chose not to pursue it as a career.
7.9.2009 11:32am
martinned (mail) (www):

If a professor made similar comments about gays and was not either a) a minority and/or b) a Muslim - would there be any chance in hell they would be considered for tenure? Imagine if a Christian professor had said such things about homosexuality? There would be self-righteous protests, letters expressing righteous fury and indignation, and a full-out faculty boycott to protest the mere consideration of such a candidate.

Again, for the record, I agree with exactly nothing of what I've heard about mr. Massad's opinions. (And, BTW, he's not a muslim, according to his wiki page.)

I try to be intellectually honest in all my endeavours, but unfortunately I am but a mortal man, with all the shortcomings that that entails.
7.9.2009 11:37am
Cato The Elder (mail) (www):
I just finished reading the girl's essay, and I thought it was quite good. It's a very sensible thing for her to write - she doesn't have the credentials to go on record impugning a scholar's credibility, especially as a student possibly open to academic retaliation at the hands of Massad's compatriots at the University, so she attacks him from an oblique angle. To me, this wasn't a sloppy appeal via victimization I feel DB characterized it to be in this post. Choice quotes from the essay that I feel support my interpretation, emphasis all mine:

As a student just entering my second year at Columbia, I have no means to evaluate the academic legitimacy of his argument. Clearly, Massad is a distinguished scholar. However, as a student just entering my second year at Columbia, I can evaluate the effect that his inflammatory claims could have on the student body...

...similarly, by calling an Israeli an anti-Semite or a Nazi, Massad shows disrespect for the years of oppression the Jews suffered under the Nazi regime. Hypothetically, the Israelis could be racist or tyrannical, but to deem them anti-Semitic Nazis is to fail to appreciate the Holocaust's lasting impact both on Israel and on the wider Jewish community. These words cannot be simply re-appropriated, no matter what the cause; they connote long-lasting and painful memories.

Quite right. Overall it strikes me as sensible, smart, and apt.
7.9.2009 11:38am
Eric Rasmusen (mail) (www):
TK75 and Prof. Bernstein-- are you really unhappy that Columbia hasn't turned somebody down for tenure because he says homosexuality is wrong? This is a strong point in Columbia's favor, not a strike against Columbia. Moreover, the fact that most faculty would be scared to say anything critical of homosexuality is grounds to think that Mossad must actually be especially good in his scholarship, since he was granted tenure despite being politically incorrect.

On the other hand,it is unusual for a university to grant somebody tenure in department X after he was denied in department Y. The implication is that departments differ in their standards of quality. Departments do, of course, but it's embarassing to admit it.

Has anyone heard of this happening elsewhere?

I know when I was thinking of going up in business economics, law, and political science at UCLA back in 1984 I was told that I should choose between bus econ and the law-poli-sci consortium, since bus econ was more likely to turn me down and a split decision would be awkward. (I do not mean to imply that law and poli sci were lower quality--- the situation was complicated in different dimensions, and in the end I came to Indiana before any firm decisions were made.)
7.9.2009 11:41am
DavidBernstein (mail):
Martin,

I never said or implied that he shouldn't be granted tenure because he's anti-Israel.
7.9.2009 11:43am
neurodoc:
David Bernstein: It's often alleged, as in the Finkelstein case at DePaul, that someone's anti-Israel views prevent him from getting tenure, or otherwise succeeding in academia. Putting aside the merit of those claims...
There are a number of Finkelstein-like cases of individuals whose "anti-Israel views prevent (them) from getting tenure, or otherwise succeeding in academia"? Can someone name a few of those individuals? It seems to me that there have been a great many who have "overcome" that putative handicap, while I can't think of many, if any, who can credibly claim that their bids for tenure or other academic gain failed because of their anti-Israel expressions.
7.9.2009 11:47am
Cato The Elder (mail) (www):
I don't think the girl is arguing that Massad is simply bruising feelings; I think she is actually arguing that Massad is unscholarly, that he is injudicious and imprecise in his language, to an extreme level unbefitting of a deserving tenured professor.
7.9.2009 11:49am
DavidBernstein (mail):
Eric,

He doesn't say homosexual behavior is wrong, he says homosexual identity is a product of Western cultural colonial imperialism, via a conspiracy he calls "Gay International." It's an atavistic form of cultural nationalism, whereby no "foreign" ideas should be allowed to pollute the legitimate cultural legacy of the Arab world, where homosexual encounters are furtive, illicit, and unacknowledged. He also suggested that persecuting homosexuals is a legitimate response to this cultural aggression, which, as you know, is hardly the sort of thing that usually makes you a heroic martyr among the progressives. And that's my point: I don't think anyone in academia should be punished or rewarded for their views on homosexuality, but in fact Massad's views are the type that would normally be punished in academia--if he wasn't anti-Israel. Being anti-Israel has created a progressive halo for him that has helped his career.
7.9.2009 11:50am
c.gray (mail):

If a professor made similar comments about gays and was not either a) a minority and/or b) a Muslim - would there be any chance in hell they would be considered for tenure? Imagine if a Christian professor had said such things about homosexuality?


Massad is not a Muslim. He was born into a Palestinian Christian family.

So no need to imagine.
7.9.2009 11:51am
DavidBernstein (mail):
I don't think the girl is arguing that Massad is simply bruising feelings; I think she is actually arguing that Massad is unscholarly, that he is injudicious and imprecise in his language, to an extreme level unbefitting of a deserving tenured professor.
That may be the point she was trying to express, but if so, she didn't do it well.
7.9.2009 11:52am
martinned (mail) (www):

I never said or implied that he shouldn't be granted tenure because he's anti-Israel.

And yet, it does seem to be the reason why you care...

Being anti-Israel has created a progressive halo for him that has helped his career.
7.9.2009 11:55am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

TK75 and Prof. Bernstein-- are you really unhappy that Columbia hasn't turned somebody down for tenure because he says homosexuality is wrong? This is a strong point in Columbia's favor, not a strike against Columbia.


Let's concede for a minute that the biblical and natural law case against hommosexuality is correct (something by the way in which I do NOT believe). It doesn't necessarily follow that ANY criticisms of homosexuality are therefore sound or decent. Think Fred Phelps; he agrees with Rasmusen that homosexuality is immoral. Think the "Whore of Babylon" crowd who agree with evangelicals who argue the Roman Catholic Church is in error in certain religious doctrines.

The problem with Massad is that his criticisms of Israel AND of homosexuality seem of the same tenor -- that is deluded conspiracy, or bigoted crackpottery.

If one has a good case, in principle, it does not help to support it with a bad, bigoted argument which is what Massad seems to be doing in both cases:


such as: the "Gay International" conspiracy to create homosexuality in the Arab world;
7.9.2009 11:55am
Tony Tutins (mail):

If a professor made similar comments about gays and was not either a) a minority and/or b) a Muslim

Massad argues that building an identity around having sex with men is a Western concept. Apparently having sex with men is unremarkable in the Muslim world; that "everyone" does it as a way to obtain relief before marriage.

Similarly one could argue that there is no race in the Muslim world; that all Muslims are equal regardless of skin color, so that building an identity around one's skin color is a Western, non-Islamic concept. (I take no position as to the validity of the argument.)

I think giving Massad the respectability of tenure will sharpen the arguments of pro-Israel folks, who will be forced to take his positions seriously and counter them convincingly.
7.9.2009 11:57am
Danny (mail):

If a professor made similar comments about gays and was not either a) a minority and/or b) a Muslim - would there be any chance in hell they would be considered for tenure?


As noted in the post, he did make some idiotic comments about gays. He basically said that there were no "gay men" in Arab culture, only men with different sexual roles. This is contradicted by the fact that gays (not sexual roles) are clearly mentioned in the laws of various Arab countries, as well as in Islamic religious texts, etc.

But many non-Westerners, particularly Muslims, are given a pass as to anti-Semitic, anti-gay or misogynistic rhetoric, due to political correctness and ignorance of the real diversity of opinion in their countries of origin.

The problem with academia is not liberals. It's that often foreigner professors with "radical" (read: crackpot) can market their ideas in a capitivating way to students who are too inexperienced to guage the relative merit of their academic work, and the foreign professor uses automatic accusations of "colonialism" or "racism" to intimidate his critics.

The good news is that these days, such tactics are much less successful than in the past in academia. Yes, you have to stake out your own positions and build a name for yourself. But even if you have tenure, going through a conflict like this is its own punishment. His name will continue to be associated with anti-Semitism and other anti-intellectual biases, which will affect his reputation as a scholar regardless. As a lone voice with no following in the academic world, you are not an accomplished scholar but a crackpot, a personality.
7.9.2009 12:02pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Martin,

Scientists would care if creationists were getting awarded tenure. Of course, if there is an issue you care about, you'd like to ensure that academic standards are being upheld. That doesn't mean that you oppose tenure to those who do meet such standards.
7.9.2009 12:05pm
John Moniker (mail):
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I've reviewed all the links in your post and they all link to your own prior posts, none of which link to Massad's scholarship, or to other blog posts with a similar aggressive tone, that also do not link to his scholarship. You chide the Columbia student for not engaging the merits of his scholarship, but nowhere in your own long history on Massad do you engage in anything more than frothy aggressive attacks. Maybe your criticisms are right, but you and your friends in the echo chamber do not come across as remotely credible. You whip Massad for being homophobic and talking about gay conspiracies. The description of his book from the publisher has it critiquing the Western hetero/homo taxonomy as a "narrow" notion of sexual identity that represses other "nonnormative sexual behavior." Maybe you can turn that into homophobia, but you certainly don't do so in your silly posts.
7.9.2009 12:06pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
(even if they disagree with you).
7.9.2009 12:06pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

that "everyone" does it as a way to obtain relief before marriage.


I doubt it's "everyone." However a great deal of heterosexual Arabs do have homosexual behavior as a temporary stop gap measure. The problem is heterosexual men want the closest substitute for a woman and that is a teenage boy hovering around puberty. AND they want the teenage boy to play the feminine role. I don't think ANY heterosexually oriented teenage boy can really be into this. It's abuse.
7.9.2009 12:07pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Moniker, my post on Massad and "Gay International" discusses one of his academic articles, which he elaborated on in his book "Desiring Arabs." And many of the other links are to articles he wrote in his chosen fields of Middle East Studies and cultural studies, even if they weren't published in academic journals. So spare me.
7.9.2009 12:07pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
And putting aside Massad's view of the role of (homo)sexuality in the Arab world, his apology for the persecution of homosexuals in the Arab world is something to behold (as I wrote, Massad says: "westernized Arab homosexuals have naturally provoked a counter-reaction against the importation of decadent Western culture into their societies"). Now imagine instead of Arab nationalist anti-Israel intellectual saying that, instead it was a pro-Israel Jewish professor, apologizing for the (hypothetical) persecution of homosexuals in Israel, stating that Jewish tradition doesn't accept the category of homosexual, and westernized Israeli homosexuals have naturally provoked a counter-reaction against the importation of decadent Western culture into their societies. And see how many leftist friends he has.
7.9.2009 12:13pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
As an aside, here's an example of exactly what's wrong with much of campus pro-Israel activism. [...] The student in question, in other words, has written a post complaining about Massad's tenure that actually supports his case for tenure, because she relies on the fact that he hurts her feelings instead of educating herself as to why his scholarship is shoddy.
I don't see how this reflects something "wrong with... campus pro-Israel activism" as opposed to something wrong with campus activism, period.

Remember, campuses are supposed to be safe places where nobody's ideas are ever challenged and nobody ever feels bad.
7.9.2009 12:14pm
neurodoc:
David Bernstein: I never said or implied that he shouldn't be granted tenure because he's anti-Israel.
Nor do I believe you have ever said or implied, or would ever say or imply, that he shouldn't be granted tenure because of his "homophobic" views. It is how he arrives at and champions those views. It can credibly be maintained, by someone styled a "scholar" in Middle Eastern studies no less, that Israel is the reincarnated version of Nazi Germany and homosexuality is not a phenomenon native to the Arab world, but rather a largely non-native Western one that has been introduced there? I think not.
7.9.2009 12:15pm
martinned (mail) (www):

Scientists would care if creationists were getting awarded tenure.

That's why I made a distrinction, in my 11:23 comment, between social science and hard science. Creationism is "beyond the pale"/"off the reservation" in a way that Massad's claims may not be. (I write "may" because I don't know enough about the man or his field to be able to say for certain.)

In the hard sciences, it is clear that one should distinguish between what one would like to be true, and what actually is true. The big problem with all the bible thumpers is that they don't do that. They often start by saying how horrible or unthinkable it would be if genesis were wrong, and argue from there. In biology, it is clear that this is not an acceptable form of argument, and it is relatively easy to distinguish between such reasoning and valid reasoning.

In social science, work should - theoretically - also be value neutral ("wertneutral"). Unfortunately, that distinction is much less easy to make. For that reason, one should be very reluctant to declare certain lines of reasoning beyond the pale.

To use this claim about homosexuality in the Arab world as an example: This is a claim about reality akin to every other empirical claim in sociology. We may not think it is very plausible, but the way to deal with an implausible claim, if we must, is to examine the research done and point out the flaws. And because this is possible, Massad's claim is part of the ordinary scientific discourse. If it should be the case that his research is sloppy, prejudiced, and otherwise flawed, that would be a value neutral reason to deny him tenure.

I suspect that his research is in fact many of those things, but I haven't looked at it carefully enough to be sure. Nor do I care to. If anyone else would like to attack this decision, that is where they should focus their criticism: on the quality of his scholarship, not on his conclusions.
7.9.2009 12:17pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Martin, I think, for example, we can safely say that unless and until Israel starts deliberately slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Palestinians based solely on a bizarre conspiracy theory about their inherent evilness, Israel is not remotely analogous to Nazi Germany, and, given that Gazans are not slated for extermination, we can say that Gaza is not analogous to the Warsaw Ghetto, as confidently as we can say that creationism is bogus. (Massad himself, as a previous post pointed out, feigned outrage that anyone accused him of such absurd Nazi-Israel analogies!) Similarly, we can be even more confident that Exodus was not about the Zionist hijacking of a ship. Just because something isn't hard science, doesn't mean there's no truth or falsity.

On the gay issue, given that homosexual activity was punishable by stoning, how does Massad or anyone else know whether homosexual identity would or would not emerge in a more liberal society, with or without Western influence?
7.9.2009 12:24pm
Hestor:
Another petty academic dispute.

What a pathetic shit hole of a life that you must lead, fretting about who and who is not granted tenure at universities with which you have no affiliation.
7.9.2009 12:27pm
neurodoc:
: Clearly, Massad is a distinguished scholar...
Maybe take the en arguendo approach, but a terrible mistake to start by conceding so fundamental and doubtful a proposition. That's like blundering so badly in a chess game opening that one is almost certain to lose after some more moves no matter how one struggles to recover.
7.9.2009 12:30pm
neurodoc:
Hestor, where did you wander in from? Clearly, you are in the wrong place and would be happier among your own kind.
7.9.2009 12:33pm
martinned (mail) (www):

(Massad himself, as a previous post pointed out, feigned outrage that anyone accused him of such absurd analogies!)

That raises the question of the difference between his (core) scholarship and whatever other writing he may do. It is a difficult question how much the latter should play a role in the tenure process.

OTOH, look at the wiki-summary of his dissertation, which was published in 2001:

Massad's first book, Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan, was published in 2001 by Columbia University Press. The book is based on Massad's PhD dissertation, which won the Middle East Studies Association Malcolm Kerr Dissertation Award in 1998.

Over the course of a detailed history of the Jordanian state, from its inception in 1921 to 2000, Colonial Effects makes a theoretical intervention in studies of anti-colonial nationalism, by insisting that state institutions are central to the fashioning of national identity. Massad focuses on law, the military, and education as key to understanding nationalism, and elaborates on the production not only of national identity but also of national culture including food, clothes, sports, accents, songs, and television serials.

The origins of nationalism and national identity is a subject that I occasionally like to read about, if I have time, and this seems like something I might like to read in the future. His second book, on Palestinian nationalism, is in the same vein, although it already seems (from the summary) much less value-neutral.

Without reading his work, all I can do is argue for calmth in criticising the university's decision.
7.9.2009 12:36pm
homais:
I'm still not sure by what standards you're saying his scholarship is unworthy. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you've read his two books, which make up the lion's share of his tenure case. "Gay International" was the most polemical and (for me) unconvincing part of Desiring Arabs, which as a whole was very extensively researched. I'm not an expert in that area, so I don't know how much of an original contribution it is, but it's damn clever. And Colonial Effects is just excellent.

The point is, the guy's not Ward Churchill. I don't see - or you don't give me access to - what lets you talk so dismissively about his tenure case, assuming he was only tenured because of politics. Because from where I'm sitting (a political science department, for what it's worth), it looks like an unusually productive young scholar was given a much harder tenure case than he deserved because of his political, polemical pieces.
7.9.2009 12:37pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
At least one informed source suggests that the scuttlebut in the academic world is that his tenure chances were improved by the public controversy over his writings.
7.9.2009 12:47pm
Danny (mail):

Here is one review from a Web site called Al-Bab demolishing many of Massad's ideas in Desiring Arabs as crude populism couched in academic language.
Most of Massad's comments about gays are just very ordinary heterosexism, common to Western and non-Western cultures (just replace "Western" with "liberal" in the USA). A hetero scholar writing about gays even in his own culture is often not a reliable source
7.9.2009 12:52pm
martinned (mail) (www):

At least one informed source suggests that the scuttlebut in the academic world is that his tenure chances were improved by the public controversy over his writings.

That informed source, according to Jweekly.com, is "David Biale, (...) Emanuel Ringelblum professor of Jewish history and director of the program in Jewish studies at U.C. Davis."
7.9.2009 12:52pm
homais:
I'm not sure one guy at j-weekly talking about some anonymous Columbia people constitutes academic scuttlebut. It's about as unreliable as most gossip about the tenure process. This is one of the most frustrating things about tenure: all you hear is a yes or a no, and it's up to gossip and speculation to fill in the details.

But the thing I was asking about is something different. What makes you so dismissive of his academic work, and so at ease at putting the word "scholarship" in scare quotes when you talk about him? You're only quoting his most polemical lines here, so I'm not sure what's leading you to conclude that as a whole his work is crap.
7.9.2009 12:56pm
The River Temoc (mail):
I looked at the article by the Columbia student in the Huffington Post. I do not see why it is a paragon of fairmindedness vis-a-vis the professor in question (on whose credentials I make no comment). To wit:


The Jewish community of alumni and current students has previously exercised its will and sheer manpower to prevent anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli opinions from gaining University support. In 2006, Jewish students successfully prevented Ahmadinejad, the famously anti-Semetic Iranian dictator, from speaking, and in 2007, they again protested his visit.


Now, I have no problem with folks protesting Ahmadinejad's visit in 2007, but why is she so proud of "prevent[ing]" (her word) him from speaking in 2006? Aren't universities supposed to be fora for the exchange of ideas?

Would she also agree that it was fair for a mob of students to prevent Benjamin Netanyahu from speaking at a major university, as in fact happened at Berkeley in 2000 or so? Netanyahu may not be quite the racist Ahmadinejad is, but certainly some of his positions are unsettling.

Many believe that alumni efforts to prevent the Palestinian anthropology professor Nadia Abu El-Haj at Columbia affiliate Barnard College from receiving tenure caused the University to deny her bid (in her book, Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society, Abu El-Haj casts doubt on archaeological evidence used to legitimize Israel as the Jewish homeland).


Again, do we really want alumni lobbying to determine who gets tenure? Note that we see no discussion about the merits of Abu El-Haj's archeological work, merely an assertion that its implications are awkward for Israel, and an extrapolation that the denial of tenure was justified on that basis.

(Again for the record, I also have no idea as to the merits of the archeological work in question. I don't even know who El-Haj is.)

If this is "pro-Israel campus activism," we can do with less of it.
7.9.2009 1:08pm
BGates:
Netanyahu may not be quite the racist Ahmadinejad is

What was your first clue?
7.9.2009 1:29pm
The River Temoc (mail):
What was your first clue?

BGates, do you contend that nothing in Netanyahu's policies and rhetoric are troubling? Merely because his rhetoric is less incendiary than Ahmadinejad's does not excuse it.
7.9.2009 1:36pm
Brian S:
Um...the movie Exodus is about exactly what he says it's about. Paul Newman plays a Haganah commander who steals a ship in Cyprus and uses it to transport Jewish refugees to Palestine.

That's not what happened in the actual history of the ship Exodus, but that's what happens in the movie. So if the guy is talking about the movie, he's absolutely correct and it's inappropriate to try to consider this a point against him.
7.9.2009 1:57pm
Brian S:
Ahmadinejad holds many disturbing views, but are they actually racist per se?

Does he consider Jews to be a "race"? If a Jew converted to Islam and recited "There is no god but Allah, and Muhummad is his prophet" would Ahmadinejad still consider him a Jew, the way the Nazis considered converted Jews to still be Jews? Because if he wouldn't, then he's a religious bigot, but not a racist.
7.9.2009 2:00pm
NowMDJD (mail):

It looks like the House of Lords model is spreading! (The classic joke about the Lords was that it was the most democratic of parliaments, because it offered a seat to geniuses and idiots alike, while in normal parliaments dumb people are horribly underrepresented.)

Sorry to be off topic, but the New York State Senate is just the opposite.
7.9.2009 2:18pm
neurodoc:
Many believe that alumni efforts to prevent the Palestinian anthropology professor Nadia Abu El-Haj at Columbia affiliate Barnard College from receiving tenure caused the University to deny her bid...
It may be said with absolute certainty that the many who believe that are flat out wrong. El-Haj was granted tenure back in November 2007, at least if the Chronical of Higher Education is to be believed.
http://chronicle.com/news/article/3362/a-new-fact-on-
the-ground-nadia-abu-el-haj-wins-tenure-at-barnard-college
The River Temoc: Again, do we really want alumni lobbying to determine who gets tenure? Note that we see no discussion about the merits of Abu El-Haj's archeological work, merely an assertion that its implications are awkward for Israel, and an extrapolation that the denial of tenure was justified on that basis.

(Again for the record, I also have no idea as to the merits of the archeological work in question. I don't even know who El-Haj is.)
To my knowledge, Abu El-Haj has never done any archaelogical work, at least not if by that we mean the sort of work that archaelogists do. Abu El-Haj is a sociologist who advanced a tendentious theory critiquing the work of archaelogist, dismissing their evidence of Jewish civilization as effectively fabricated for the most part. When I asked an associate professor of archaelogy at another university who has much personal experience of digs in Israel what he thought of El-Haj's work, his response was to snort derisively and dismissively. (Yeah, count that as no more than hearsay at most, but it encouraged me to believe that there was good reason to question El-Haj's bona fides, notwithstanding all the prestigious institutions she has been associated with, awards, etc.)
7.9.2009 5:50pm
Leo Marvin (mail):
neurodoc:

Maybe take the en arguendo approach, but a terrible mistake to start by conceding so fundamental and doubtful a proposition.

Certainly the low point in a post which, at its height, barely got off the ground. It's hard to believe HuffPost couldn't come up with a more persuasive liberal Zionist to make this argument. Where's Dershowitz?
7.9.2009 5:57pm
neurodoc:
NowMDJD (formerly MDJD2B), more than 100 years ago, it was observed that people should see neither the process of sausages being made, nor laws being crafted, because they would probably be revolted by both. To avoid revulsion, perhaps you should avert your eyes until the New York's state senators work out their differences and turn once again to doing the people's business.
7.9.2009 6:06pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

On the gay issue, given that homosexual activity was punishable by stoning, how does Massad or anyone else know whether homosexual identity would or would not emerge in a more liberal society, with or without Western influence?

Was that the question?

But to find an answer I would look to Islamic societies of the 20th century up to the 1980s when the current wave of fundamentalism started -- many of those would be more liberal than today, with varying degrees of Western influence. I would also compare fundamentalist communities in the US, where they take as their guide the Old Testament strictures about reserving sex for marriage.
7.9.2009 6:14pm
Me2:
I had Massad as a professor back in Columbia in 2000. I was forced by the worthless, piece-of-garbage college to take a "multicultural studies" course for their idiotic "Core Curriculum" (two multicultural studies courses required). Since I didn't want to listen to whining foreigners complaining about being "exploited," I tried to sign up for something related to America (if I have to listen to people complaining about being "victims," at least let them be Americans!). But the worthless school wouldn't let me sign up for anything related to "Native Americans" or "African Americans"; the school pretended to offer courses in those subjects, but basically there were no courses available . . . despite me paying them $30,000 a year. So I was forced to take Massad's worthless class. It was a total waste of time. We read a bunch of stupid books with leftist Arabs complaining about being victims (surprise), we watched a stupid video with leftist Arabs complaining about being victims (surprise), and we read the "Qur'an" (politically correct spelling of "Koran"), which we were told didn't really support killing infidels, even where it said, "Kill the infidels." So overall, it wasn't any different from any of the other worthless courses at Columbia. That said, Massad almost always had a smile on his face and was always polite . . . frankly, though, I'd be smiling too if I were getting away with ripping off people for so much money.

Anyway, although I didn't learn anything of value in the course (or at the school generally), at least I got an "A" in the course, which wasn't too hard, given that all anyone had to do in the class was recite a bunch of idiotic leftist platitudes against colonialism, imperialism, "the Other," blah blah blah. Otherwise, although I have a Jewish name, I never heard any anti-Semitic statements in the class -- not that I would have cared anyway, given that he's a loser, and losers act like losers. So overall, I'd say that he fits in with all the other misfits at Columbia. All I can say is that I'm glad that I graduated and no longer go there.
7.9.2009 10:24pm
Me2:
Oh -- and I'm proud to say that I haven't given a nickle to Columbia since graduating.
7.9.2009 10:32pm
Edward A. Hoffman (mail):
Somehow I doubt Me2's claim that he went to Columbia, let alone that he studied with Prof. Massad while he was there.
7.9.2009 11:18pm
Me2:
Hey, believe what you want, but it's true. The class covered Middle Eastern and Indian cultural studies and was co-taught by Massad and another guy, who focused on India. The other guy focused on colonial oppression by the British in India -- although he sometimes tried to be more balanced on British colonialism, noting the British efforts against the "sati" (which he mentioned about 15 times). In Massad's defense, he was actually more interesting than the other guy.
7.10.2009 12:06am
yankev (mail):

Note that we see no discussion about the merits of Abu El-Haj's archeological work,
You would have seen plenty if you had followed the debate at the time. Her defenders advanced little in the way of defense, other than charging Zionist alumni with unwarranted interference.
7.10.2009 9:12am
geokstr (mail):

Edward A. Hoffman:
Somehow I doubt Me2's claim that he went to Columbia, let alone that he studied with Prof. Massad while he was there.

I have no dog in this hunt, and have no idea who either you or ME2 are, but that's a pretty bizarre and uncivil statement to make. Do you know who ME2 is, or have any factual errors in his comments to point to, or do you just feel that anything critical of this Massad person or his apparent views must be false?
7.10.2009 12:13pm
Harold Braswell (mail):
A ridiculous posting. Bernstein has obviously not read any one of Massad's books; clearly, he is not a scholar of the Middle East; equally clearly, he is, for the most part, just an apologist for the worst crimes of Zionism, as well as of the American media per se. He attacks Massad for giving a pretty much objective description of the plot of the movie "Exodus." Then, he convinces us that we really do not need to think about the representation of Arab sexuality in the Western world. Massad has written repeatedly in defense of women's liberation in Palestinian society and he does not oppose gay populations in the Arab world, but rather the way that homosexuality is used in Western media discourse about the Arab world. These are debatable positions (sort of I guess), but they are not readily dismissible ones. Certainly they should be thought about and discussed. But Bernstein is an apologist and a bureaucrat, more interested in dampening thought that promoting it. Bravo!
7.10.2009 1:28pm
Madrid:
Unlike most of the people posting here (as well as the original blogger), I've actually read Massad's book, Desiring Arabs, and his argument does not bear any relation to what is posted here. For one thing, Massad does not argue that homosexuality is wrong or that it does not exist in Arab culture. What he shows is that the concepts of a homosexual identity and also that of a heterosexual identity were never as clearly defined in Arab culture as they were in Western culture, and furthermore that Arab culture has internalized much of Western culture's concepts of sexual identity to its own detriment. He argues that, prior to 20th century influences from Western culture, there was no notion for example of either a normative or a pathological "gay identity" in the Arab world.

This in particular seems to be quite an uncontroversial argument, and it could probably be made about any non-Western society such as China, Japan Indonesia, etc. Any historian of sexuality from Michel Foucault to the present knows that the notion of a gay identity, meaning an individual who is exclusively homosexual as opposed to exclusively heterosexual, is something that was first described, and to some degree invented, by the disciples of psychiatry, developed during the 19th century in Western Europe and the US. Homosexuality was described by psychiatrists as a pathology until the 1970s, and only then was this changed such that homosexual identity became accepted by the medical community as a legitimate form of sexual identity.

What Massad shows is that this history of psychiatry was foreign to Arab culture, and this allowed sexuality to be freer and more fluid in Arab culture. He argues that this freer, less defined practice of sexuality is a good thing, and that Arabs should resist the imposition of Western notions of restrictive sexual identity.

In no place in his book does he ever say that sexual acts between two men or two women are wrong or evil or that such acts don't occur in the Arab world with as much frequency as in the Western world. Rather his argument is that they are defined quite differently according to Arab culture, and that Arabs should resist Western definitions of such acts. He also argues that they should resist Islamist condemnations of such acts as well.

Now that I've described the argument, you are free to critique it or not, but at least be accurate in your understanding of what is quite a complex book.
7.10.2009 2:14pm
Edward A. Hoffman (mail):
geokstr wrote:
Edward A. Hoffman:
Somehow I doubt Me2's claim that he went to Columbia, let alone that he studied with Prof. Massad while he was there.
I have no dog in this hunt, and have no idea who either you or ME2 are, but that's a pretty bizarre and uncivil statement to make. Do you know who ME2 is, or have any factual errors in his comments to point to, or do you just feel that anything critical of this Massad person or his apparent views must be false?
My comment is based on Me2's views of Columbia, not his perspective on Professor Massad. Plenty of alumni have bad things to say about Columbia's administration, but I've never heard a graduate express anything remotely approaching the level of contempt Me2 shows for the university itself. I'm a 1987 graduate who has been involved in alumni affairs and admissions for more than 20 years, so I have plenty of experience hearing how alumni describe their undergrad experiences. Besides, students who consider it a "worthless, piece-of-garbage college" with an "idiotic 'Core Curriculum'" (which Me2 does not describe accurately) would probably transfer out rather than endure it for four years.
7.10.2009 2:30pm
jon moss:
Well, this post got me interested enough to order Desiring Arabs and Colonial Effects from Amazon.
7.10.2009 7:17pm
Me2:
I was probably a bit over-the-top on my original posting about Columbia, but let me put this in perspective. I paid over $120,000 to Columbia during a four-year period; in exchange for that princely sum, I received the honor of reading the various works of Karl Marx, Fredrich Engels, and other similar authors with a few ancient writers like Boccaccio, Herodotus, and Virgil thrown in. I also got to learn all about the "immiseration of the proletariat," "commodity fetishism," and other nonsense. There was no way to avoid this crap in any humanities departments at Columbia. Not only did the professors consistently use their positions to preach their political views to captive audiences -- instead of teaching useful information -- but they were also extremely unprofessional. For example, I had one professor who started CRYING in the middle of a class. In a lecture hall. With 200 students. CRYING. Question: if you're teaching something useful, why would you be crying? Answer: she wasn't teaching anything useful; she was teaching Victimology 101, and she got upset about all the victims in the world. Under the circumstances, I frankly don't think I got my money's worth. If I wanted to read Marx, Engels, or Boccaccio, I could have done so in my spare time for nothing. Sadly, Massad wasn't anything close to being the worst professor I had when I was there. That's why it amuses me that people are so focused on Massad while ignoring the real underlying problems at the school.

As far as your questioning of my description of the Core Curriculum, it's a fact that when I was there 10 years ago, students had to take two "multicultural studies" classes. Officially, it was called the "Major Cultures" requirement or something, but it was informally called the multicultural requirement. I remember receiving a blue sheet with a list of courses broken down under headings, like African-American studies, Native American studies, Middle Eastern studies, etc. -- basically, the standard perceived victim cultures by academia (e.g., there were no Jewish or Irish cultural courses allowed for the requirement). This requirement was added to the Core because of complaining by politically correct elements that there was too much of a focus on "dead white guys" at the school (the same elements also complained that Butler Library had the names of "dead white guys" chiseled on the building). I remember trying to sign up for African-American and Native American classes for both required courses, but the school wouldn't let me take any courses in those areas. In fact, I rarely got into the classes that I actually wanted to take at the school; I was constantly forced to take classes that I didn't want to take because the school believed in treating its undergrad students like crap. My understanding is that the school didn't have enough professors for those courses, so they generally limited those courses to majors in those fields. I wound up in Massad's class essentially by default because I couldn't sign up for any of the other classes that I was hoping to take for the requirement.

As far as not transferring -- I wish I would have. But I just wanted to get out after four years -- transferring would have likely added another year (or at least more expenses) because Columbia's Core Curriculum courses don't count towards majors in useful subjects at other schools. Other factors make transferring from Columbia impracticable. Also, the Core basically is done after two years, so, as an optimist, I was hoping that the classes would get better once I finished with Lit Hum and the like. I was wrong.

Anyway, if you're interviewing people for Columbia's admissions department (which they've asked me to do too, but I've declined), it's not a surprise that you wouldn't hear too many negative statements about the school. As far as your experience in the 1980s being different than mine, I think the school probably has gotten a lot worse since the 1980s. By the time I was at the college, I think the 1960s protest generation had basically taken over the humanities departments; since they're largely interested in "social change," they've generally stuck to hiring like-minded people who use their positions as platforms for preaching their political views to captive audiences.

Hey, I'm not happy with my experience at Columbia, but I guess the "customer is always wrong there," so whatever. All I can say is that I discourage anyone I know from going there, and I'm not giving them any money -- ever. So Massad &Friends can have a blast complaining about America, Israel, or whatever -- I won't be a part of it in any event.
7.10.2009 7:27pm
neurodoc:
So, this is largely the West's fault...

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/08/world/africa/
08iht-letter.4.11780135.html
7.10.2009 7:49pm
Madrid:
No, neurodoc, that is not what Massad's argument is, and by the way, I am not defending Massad's argument-- I am simply trying and perhaps unsuccessfully summarizing. His argument is neither to blame the West for oppression of gays or to blame the West for gay movements in the Arab world. His argument is that the discourse of gay pathology and gay liberation are not native to Arab culture, and that Westernized arabs have imported it there. His book is not really one of polemics-- I probably inserted some of that in my summary, but perhaps that is my own reading of Massad's politics. His book is believe it or not more descriptive than it is polemical. It is simply to say that the medical culture which has pathologized gays in Western society and then which normalized the gay movement does not exist in Arab culture. Rather it has been imported there from Westernized Arabs, and the tone of his book seems to indicate that he finds the entire discourse as not a positive thing. Namely that there is another legitimate way of experiencing sexuality in Arab culture that is not Islamic and is not Western. He does not demonize Western Culture, and he does not demonize Arab culture. If anything, he is very much against the Islamist movements in the Arab world, which he portrays as a relatively recent phenomenon.
7.10.2009 9:58pm
Madrid:
Ill just add this-- the book is about Arab culture, and it displays an enormous amount of knowledge and understanding of Arab culture and recent Arab history, more probably than anyone on this board, including myself, is qualified to evaluate. Lost in this entire polemical discussion of whether Massad should or should not get tenure is the fact that Massad's academic work has little to do with Israel-- it is on Arabs, their history and their culture, and unless someone posting on this board is an expert on that subject, then I doubt very much whether anyone on here is very qualified to evaluate whether Massad should or should not have gotten tenure. By the way, I might note that one of my neighbors is an expert on the history of modern Saudi Arabia, and he knows Massad professionally. He says that Massad is very respected professionally-- his books have been well received and are influential in the field, but he also says, in contrast to the student of Massad who posted here, that Massad is not a very nice person. He describes his work as first rate but he describes the man himself as rude and obnoxious-- which is also what I heard about Edward Said for what its worth. Thankfully, being rude and obnoxious does not disqualify us academics from getting tenure-- thankfully tenure is based on something more substantive than personality traits or what one's politics are. I say thankfully, because some people on this board seem to have forgotten that tenure is not about politics-- it is about knowledge and publication, and teaching, or what impression one makes on students, is very secondary to whether one ultimately gets tenure at most good universities.
7.10.2009 10:19pm
seth edenbaum (mail) (www):
HUman Rights Watch
http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2008/12/17/alien-legacy-0

This Alien Legacy:
The Origins of "Sodomy" Laws in British Colonialism

"This 66-page report describes how laws in over three dozen countries, from India to Uganda and from Nigeria to Papua New Guinea, derive from a single law on homosexual conduct that British colonial rulers imposed on India in 1860. This year, the High Court in Delhi ended hearings in a years-long case seeking to decriminalize homosexual conduct there. A ruling in the landmark case is expected soon."

Next question?
7.10.2009 11:43pm
neurodoc:
Madrid, you haven't persuaded me to the point that I am ready to change my vote, but you have created doubt in my mind. I appreciate your thoughtful, patient, and non-partisan effort to inform.

I'm still not clear, though, how Massad would explain mistreatment of homosexuals by Arab governments of the sort reported in that NYT article. In his view, it is not somehow an effect of Western culture on the Arab world, though it would appear to most of us here that the Arabs own this, along with other expressions of intolerance and illiberality, whether or not in the past they might not have responded in the same harsh fashion?
7.11.2009 12:20pm
neurodoc:
What Massad shows is that this history of psychiatry was foreign to Arab culture, and this allowed sexuality to be freer and more fluid in Arab culture. He argues that this freer, less defined practice of sexuality is a good thing, and that Arabs should resist the imposition of Western notions of restrictive sexual identity...
In other words, but for the pernicious influence of the West, from whence came psychiatric perspectives and the notion of defined hetero- and homosexual identies, the latter for decades seen as "pathologic," the Arab world would still be a place of "free, less defined practice of sexuality...a good thing." The Arabs did not "resist the imposition of Western notions of restrictive sexual identify," but have resisted the more modern, enlightened view from the West that homosexuality is not a pathologic condition? And the Islamist movement, of which he disapproves (rightfully so), is that to be seen as an abreaction to the West?
7.11.2009 1:45pm
Leo Marvin (mail):
I second neuro's appreciation for Madrid's contribution. It certainly informs and broadens the perspective.
7.11.2009 7:47pm

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