This page includes, in addition to news about historians, news about political scientists, economists, law professors, and others who write about history. For a comprehensive list of historians' obituaries, go here.
It has been heartening to witness the recent runaway success of Princeton emeritus Harry G. Frankfurt’s latest book, On Bullshit. First published as an essay in 1988, Frankfurt’s splendid study is largely an effort to distinguish between lies and bullshit. A liar, Frankfurt notes, acknowledges truth-systems yet tries to pass off information that is not true. “Someone who lies and someone who tells the truth,” he tells us, “are playing on opposite sides, so to speak, in the same game.” The bullshitter, by contrast, fails to really acknowledge the validity of any truth-claims or truth-systems.
The author concludes that “the fact about himself that the liar hides is that he is attempting to lead us away from a correct apprehension of reality; we are not to know that he wants us to believe something he supposes to be false. The fact about himself that the bullshitter hides, on the other hand, is that the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report the truth nor to conceal it.”
When applying Frankfurt’s useful distinction, we need, at the very least, to recognize that if something about a particular piece of bullshit happens to be true this does not make it any less bullshit, and that lies and bullshit are by no means mutually exclusive.
Enter L.A. tabloid editor David Horowitz, liar extraordinaire and author of the incomparable bullshitting manual The Art of Political War and Other Radical Pursuits (Spence Publishing, 2000). This book, much applauded by Karl Rove, promulgates a political endgame in which brute force triumphs over any notions of intelligence, truth or fair play. The author contends that “[y]ou cannot cripple an opponent by outwitting him in a political debate. You can only do it by following Lenin’s injunction: ‘In political conflicts, the goal is not to refute your opponent’s argument, but to wipe him from the face of the earth.’”
What, exactly, is he getting at in this passage? Since, on the home front, it would be illegal to actually liquidate the enemy, Horowitz does not want us to take Lenin’s apocalyptic injunction too literally. Instead, he believes you should drown your political opponents in a steady stream of bullshit, emanating every day from newspapers, TV and radio programs, as well as lavishly funded smear sites and blogs. He also thinks you should go on college lecture circuits where you can use incendiary rhetoric to turn civilized venues into the Jerry Springer show, and then descend into fits of indignant self-pity when someone responds with a pie to your face.
The only honorable way to combat Horowitz’s bullshit is by fully repudiating his modus operandi, and depending instead on the very wits, arguments and refutations that the Leninists repudiate. Indeed, these methods prove optimal for exposing any number of Horowitzian techniques, ranging from cooked statistics,race-baiting and guilt by association to editorial foul play and baffling logorrhea. But refuting Horowitz is not simply a matter of observing the tide and eddies in an unending stream of bullshit. It also means trawling through that same discharge in order to extract any number of dangerous lies.
Mark Roth, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (4-25-05):
Scott Sandage was always fascinated by the row upon row of self-help books at Barnes & Noble and Borders -- so many evangelistic prescriptions for how to become richer, happier, smarter and better-looking.
But as a historian and a student of human nature, he wondered: Why aren't there any books on failure?
The smug answer might be that nobody would pay money to learn how to fail.
Still, there are the hard realities of daily life. Half of all small businesses go under within the first five years. Four out of 10 initial marriages collapse. The top baseball players, sports analysts are fond of saying, only get a hit about three times out of 10.
And even Abraham Lincoln, before he became president, once wrote that "Men are greedy to publish the successes of [their] efforts, but meanly shy as to publishing the failures of men. Men are ruined by this one-sided practice of concealment of blunders and failures."
Pondering the meaning of all this led Sandage, an associate professor of history at Carnegie Mellon University, on a 10-year journey that resulted in his writing "Born Losers: A History of Failure in America," which was awarded the Thomas J. Wilson Prize as best first book published this year by Harvard University Press.
Along the way, Sandage discovered that starting sometime in the 1800s, failure in America changed from an event to a state of being.
If a person "failed" in the late 1700s, it meant his business had crumbled.
When a person failed in the late 1800s, it meant that he himself had come up short. Not only that, but the standard for failure grew increasingly tougher as the 19th century progressed. At first, a man was a "loser" if he went out of business. By the end of the century, though, he was a "loser" even if he was steadily employed, but simply failed to advance.
So, by 1900, Sandage said, "the definition that we live with today was in place -- that a loser is an aimless plodder through life who's not ambitious enough to get ahead."
What is remarkable, Sandage said, is that "the myth of success in America developed at the exact same time in history when the mechanisms for achieving success were becoming less workable."...
Last week, I brought this quote from Columbia University student-abuser Joseph Massad, regarding his book Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan: "The only unfavorable review, out of seventeen favorable reviews, it received was in Martin Kramer’s unscholarly magazine, Middle East Quarterly." So I reproduced that review, which happened to have been written by a highly regarded scholar of Jordan, Asher Susser--someone Massad himself cites as an authority.
It turns out that this wasn't the only unfavorable review. A Jordanian friend recalled reading a negative review in Jordan's leading daily newspaper, Al-Ra'i (logo on right), and went to the trouble of tracking down its author to get it. The reviewer, Jehad Al-Mheisen, is a researcher at the Jordan Press Foundation in Amman, and the author of a book (in Arabic) on tribe and state in Jordan. His review of Massad's book appeared in Al-Ra'i on July 18, 2003, page 25. Here it is, in Arabic (pdf). (I also have the newspaper page, which I'll get around to scanning, uploading and posting. The last bit of page one in the pdf version is cut off.)
The title of Al-Mheisen's review is an apt synopsis of what follows: "An Orientalist View of the Making of Jordanian Identity." Massad, he writes, is fixated on the top-down role of the army and the law in forging a Jordanian identity. But he completely overlooks the country's social structure, most importantly the tribes. The integration of the bureaucracy with traditional social groups like tribes forms the core of Jordanian identity, which is durable, deep-rooted, and authentic. In that respect, Jordan isn't any different than other Arab countries, including Egypt. Unfortunately, suggests Al-Mheisen, Massad is less interested in historical analysis than in political posturing. The resulting study is marred by "numerous distortions" and "conclusions that have no bearing on reality." As for Massad's invocation of Foucault and Gramsci, it's just a formality. The analysis itself "serves Massad's a priori orientalist perspective."
Not being a Jordan expert myself, I won't venture an opinion on the substance of Al-Mheisen's critique. Of course, it's wonderfully ironic that a Jordanian should charge Massad with orientalism. If that means seeing the West as prime mover, and denying Arab-Muslim "subjects" all agency, then Massad seems vulnerable. Even a sympathetic reviewer has complained that "the mass of the population barely get a mention in Massad's account, the key subjects of which are the 'Great Men' of Jordanian history." The greatest man is Glubb Pasha, the British commander of the Arab Legion and the anti-hero of Colonial Effects. "There is an impression that one, white, male, colonial subject is privileged with potency, whereas the agency of others is effaced. For the colonizer, one theory of the subject, for the colonized, another." Hmmm, sounds like orientalism to me.
Al-Mheisen's review gets effaced too. If, like Massad, you're Jordanian-born and raised, you're a regular visitor to Jordan, and you're author of a book on Jordan, you're going to know that your book was hammered in the kingdom's leading daily newspaper. But why spoil the impression of scholarship above reproach? Anyway, the thumbs-down review appeared in Arabic, and who reads that? A committee in faraway Manhattan won't be the wiser, so why not keep the narrative simple and elegant? Only one unfavorable review! And Kramer published it!
Alas for Massad, there are people in Jordan who do read the country's top newspaper, and even remember what they've read, especially when it has to do with their "identity." So he's been caught in yet another lie, this one easily documented. Is there a pattern here? You tell me.
On April 11, Jonathan Bean, a professor of history at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIUC), received the college’s “Outstanding Teacher Award.” But just two days later, Bean became the scourge of the campus, abandoned by teaching assistants and vilified as a purveyor of “racist propaganda.”
Behind Bean’s sudden fall from admired academic to campus Enemy Number One was a cabal of eight radical academics in the SIUC history department. Bean's offense was to have assigned as optional reading for his history class a 2001 Frontpagemag report titled “Remembering the Zebra Killings” by James Lubinskas. The class topic was “Civil Rights and Civil Disorder.” Bean's required readings for the class included the writings of Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Ella Baker, and Stokely Carmichael.
The offending Frontpagemag article which Bean made optional recounts what have come to be known as the Zebra Killings, a series of murders that took place in the San Francisco Bay area between 1972 and 1974, which left 71 people dead. The crimes shared a distinctive pattern: all the victims were white. The article, which contains facts first exposed in the 1979 book Zebra by crime writer Clark Howard, and subsequent reviews of the book in Time Magazine, reveals that five members the “Death Angels,” a sub-group of the Nation of Islam, carried out the majority of the attacks.
For the offense of making students aware of the existence of this article and these killings, the history department witch-hunters demanded Bean's head. Faced with this vicious, career threatening onslaught, Bean took the same course that Larry Summers had at Harvard, in attempting to defuse similar thought-control attacks by issuing an unwarranted apology to anyone to whom the reference to such an article might give offense.
The witch-hunters thirst for vengeance was hardly slaked by this gesture and the attacks by the history department radicals continued unabated. Led by Marxist professor Robbie Lieberman, Bean’s antagonists were determined to bring down Bean. Bean is a well-known campus libertarian and the only Republican professor of history at Southern Illinois University. The smear campaign against Bean represents only one battle in a larger ideological war raging inside the school. By denouncing Bean, leftists at SIUC hope to purge the last remaining dissident in the department so they can carry out their totalitarian agendas unchallenged by even a single politically incorrect voice.
The ferocity of the crusade against Bean was breathtaking. On April 11, an open letter denouncing Bean appeared in the op-ed section of the Daily Egyptian. Normally intra faculty grievances are aired in committee, not in the pages of the school newspaper. Bean was charged with downloading the article “from a site containing links to racially charged and anti-Semitic Web sites” -- two blatant lies -- and abridging it “in a way that disguised its full context.” Signed by professors Kay J. Carr, Germaine Etienne, Mary McGuire, Rachel Stocking, Natasha Zaretsky, and Robbie Lieberman, the letter expressed the professors’ “disgust with the article that was distributed in a core curriculum American history course.” Not satisfied with this auto da fe, the same professors placed an advertisement in the Daily Egyptian repeating their charges that the reference to the article (and the act of referring it) was racism.
The evidence for this racism was guilt by association -- a link, contained in the original article to the European American Issues Forum (EAIF), a group headed by Lou Calabro, a street patrol sergeant with the San Francisco Police Department at the time of the crimes. The SIUCC faculty members attacking Bean claim that he removed the paragraph containing a link to the EAIF, a civil rights organization “dedicated to the eradication of discrimination and defamation of European Americans,” which they assert is anti-Semitic and racist. Indeed, according to Rachel Stocking, one of the history professors who signed the letter, “This article is basically white supremacist propaganda.” Since the facts in the article were true, the meaning of her charge is that to draw attention to black racists is itself racist -- a perfect expression of the Orwellian mindset exhibited by Bean's attackers. Yet, as Bean has repeatedly (and superfluously) noted, he removed the paragraph not because he wanted to obscure its alleged racist bias but because he wanted to save space and because it wasn’t relevant to the historical aspect of crimes.
Bean has admitted to no wrongdoing. Nevertheless, in a misguided effort to appease his attackers and mute the controversy sparked by the article, he has extended his apologies to the entire Southern Illinois University community in a written apology published in the SIUC student newspaper on April 12. As though anyone should need to apologize for making students aware of an article on a subject of interest in a university setting.
Bean's chief prosecutor, professor Robbie Lieberman has portrayed her own efforts to defame Bean’s reputation as a struggle for campus decency—“Everybody should bring up controversial topics. But you have to do it in a responsible way,” she said without getting too explicit about what would qualify as "responsible" in an article in the student newspaper.
Robbie Lieberman is a Marxist ideologue, who has taught courses in the “Cold War United States,” and “American Radicalism,” and has written a tract called My Song Is My Weapon: People's Songs, American Communism, and the Politics of Culture, 1930-1950, which liberal historian Theodore Draper described as part of the “curious academic campaign for the rehabilitation of American Communism.”
The daughter of Communist folksingers, Lieberman has had a long affinity for Marxism, Communism and folk music; when singer, songwriter, and Communist Party hack Pete Seeger visited the SIUC campus four days before 9/11, Lieberman remarked, “Seeger should be regarded as an important figure in American history, not just as a prolific songwriter, but as a social critic.” Lieberman has also written such books as The Strangest Dream: Communism, Anti-Communism and the American Peace Movement, 1945-1963, and Prairie Power: Voices of 1960s Midwestern Student Protest. So overt is her political preaching that conservative students at SIUC routinely refer to her as “Robbie the Red.”
Lieberman's lifetime in the radical left made her an inevitable activist in the oppostion to America's War on Terror after 9/11. She was a speaker at an anti-war “Teach-in” in 2002, prior to the start of the Iraq War, where speakers drew alleged parallels “between the current threat for war and the Vietnam War and involvement in the peace movement.” Lieberman is also a member of the Speakers Bureau of Historians Against the War an organization of radical professors of history opposed to American "imperialism" in Iraq and alleged repression at home. Historians Against the War which works closely with the pro-Castro Center for Constitutional Rights and is a member of the equally left Coalition United for Peace and Justice has developed a nationwide "virtual speakers bureau" of members prepared to disseminate the group's anti-American message to college audiences in an effort to derail what it calls “the current empire-building and war-making activities of the United States government at home and abroad.” Historians Against The War has also conducted developed special curricula for students at all college levels designed to indoctrinate students in their Marxist world view.
A specialist in “war and peace, social movements, and culture,” Lieberman came to the defense of SIUC student Marc Torney, who was arrested in 2003 for disobedience and for failure to comply with campus police officers following his on-campus actions in protest of the Iraq War. Defending Torney in an open letter to university administrators, Lieberman posed as a free-speech advocate: “Freedom of speech and assembly are fundamental rights guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution. While we recognize the administration's right and responsibility to protect critical functions of the University from serious disruption, any limits on free speech must reflect the mission and goals of the institution. Institutions of higher education should do everything possible to ensure their policies do not impose unnecessary and stifling limits on student speech and expression.”
To judge by her lifelong commitment to totalitarian causes and her current efforts to silence Professor Bean, Lieberman’s professed dedication to free speech and academic freedom is somewhat onesided, and seems to apply only to individuals opposing the society that guarantees these freedoms and denouncing it as a repressive and aggressive state. Lieberman’s hostility to Bean probably has less to do with the Zebra Killings article than it does with the fact that he is the only conservative professor in her department. A sponsor of the University’s Young Republicans student group, Bean was instrumental in bringing David Horowitz to speak at the university in 1998.
One of the many leftist professors outraged by Horowitz’s talk was Robbie Lieberman. Following Horowitz’s visit, Lieberman published an op-ed article titled “Recent speaker's comments seem questionable.” In the article, Lieberman defended communism, and condemned Horowitz’ assessment that universities today lack academic freedom. Lieberman wrote:
Two points of [Horowitz’s] rather unfocused talk I found particularly offensive and misleading. One was his characterization of the Old Left (American Communists) as being an un-American conspiracy that posed a threat to the United States... In fact, most American Communists loved their country and worked to improve it. They did not commit espionage, they promoted labor, civil rights and the abolition of poverty…it still seems clear to me that anti-Communists posed a greater threat to American democracy than did the Communists…The second point that was hard to take was the way in which Horowitz caricatured university professors today. Supposedly we are all ‘leftists’ who deprive our students of a balanced view of the issues, grade them on their politics rather than the quality of their work and intimidate them so much that they dare not express a ‘conservative’ point of view…Although it may be true that many faculty are more to the left than their students today, we do maintain a vision of education that includes: opening people's minds to new ideas and teaching them to read, think and write critically and encouraging them to reach their own conclusions. I dare say that is a very different view of education than the one David Horowitz demonstrated for us.
It is difficult to see how Lieberman’s determined efforts to brand Bean as a racist for referring students to the existence of an article she doesn't like comports with her interest in letting students “reach their own conclusions.” But Lieberman is hardly the only radical SIUC professor to apply the standards of academic freedom selectively.
One of Lieberman's colleagues in the anti-Bean lynch party is Rachel Stocking, also a member of Historians Against the War, who called the Frontpagemag article “blatant propaganda.” To be sure, Stocking knows something about propaganda. She was a signatory to an anti-war screed published the day after the 9/11 attacks and titled, “Build Peace and Justice: Resist Calls for Collective Punishment:”
“We oppose any military strike by the U.S. government that might result in civilian casualties here and abroad; we believe that sacrificing more lives in blind retaliation is not only unjust but also counterproductive.”
The letter was written by The Committee for Justice in Palestine, an Ohio State University anti-Israel activist group, that supports Palestinian terrorists. In addition to Stocking, other signatories included: former recruiter for the Communist Party, Stan Goff; Al-Awda/Palestine Right to Return Coalition, an organization whose demands would destroy the State of Israel and which has promoted the terrorist group Hamas; the Hamas-spinoff which poses as a civil liberties group -- The Council on the American-Islamic Relations, Ohio Chapter, and the Young Communist League – Columbus Chapter. Stocking is also a supporter of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Still another SIUC professor who signed the letter denouncing Bean is Natasha Zaretsky. Like Robbie Lieberman, Zaretsky springs from radical stock: she is the daughter of the New Left Marxist Eli Zaretsky, who is a professor at the Nwew School of Social Research in New York. Natasha was quoted in the New York Times saying, “Capitalism by itself produces only greed and exploitation. The great successes of the modern epoch are due to social movements like populism, progressivism, new deal liberalism, socialism, feminism, movements for racial equality and even Communism.” Both Natasha and her father were also signatories to public statements denouncing the Iraq war.
So how have university administrators responded to the assaults on Professor Bean’s academic freedom? As reported by student writer Moustafa Ayad, they have sided with the Communist witch-hunters who have defamed Bean. Shirley Clay Scott, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, sent Bean a letter chastising him for failing to understand appropriate “parameters of discussion.” (Meanwhile the American Association of University Professors is busy attacking David Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights as an attempt to "restrict" professorial speech!) Scott then used her authority to cancel Bean's discussion sections for the week and told his teaching assistants they did not have to continue teaching the course for the rest of the semester. Two of Bean’s three graduate teaching assistants have subsequently resigned their posts. Marjorie Morgan, head of the history department, has poured her own fuel on the flames by calling Bean insensitive.
A number of individuals have come to Bean’s aid. Renowned photographer D. Gorton, a former employee of the New York Times, wrote in SIUC’s student newspaper, “I firmly believe that Professor Bean's real sin is that he is a Republican in a department that is wholly controlled by leftists and Democrats. There is no diversity of academic opinion, which breeds, in turn, the intolerance contained in this effort to smear Professor Bean…I would urge my ‘community,’ including lawmakers, to take special notice of this attempt at character assassination. The stench from the innuendo and intimations of racism on the part of Professor Bean is nauseating.”
Several professors have also refused to toe the radical line on Bean. Jane Adams, professor of anthropology at SIUC, has come out in defense of Bean. Adams, who assisted in voter registration in Black communities in the 60s-era South, has noted that, “This [attack on Bean] puts an ax at the root of academic freedom and the freedom of inquiry.” Meanwhile, Joan Friedenberg, a linguistics professor at the university, has stepped forward to reproach the faculty members out to ruin Bean’s reputation. Acknowledging that she does not share Bean’s politics, Friedenberg has nevertheless condemned the attacks on Bean as “a classic case of mobbing.”
Perhaps Bean’s most unlikely ally has been the local chapter of the ACLU. The ACLU has even taken measures to represent Bean in legal proceedings: Leonard Gross, an SIUC law school professor and ACLU lawyer, is serving as Bean's counsel. The American Association of University Professors, on the other hand, is silent.
Bean’s staunchest defenders, however, have been his students. During his first class after the eruption of the radical witch-hunt, Bean announced, “I had two direct ancestors hung as witches at Salem. I don't plan to be the third.” The remark earned him a standing ovation from 270 of his students. Some students have also taken to the pages of the campus newspaper to voice their support for Bean. For instance, in an April 20 letter to the Daily Egyptian, Bethany C. Peters, a SIUC senior and history major, writes:
“I had [Bean] as a professor for History 392 last semester. My class, which was diverse, never had any problems with Dr. Bean being racist or requiring propagandist literature. As my professor and advisor, I have had only positive experiences with him and find that he is a wonderful professor, who went out of his way to help any and all students to succeed at SIUC.”
Peters goes on to write:
“I would also challenge each of those professors [who have defamed Bean] to examine their own literature and see exactly what stances and images are being professed and created. If it is not acceptable for Dr. Bean to push an agenda (which he DOES not), then perhaps they also should refrain from handing out materials that include an agenda, be it racist, liberal, inappropriate in regards to religion.”
While maintaining that he did nothing wrong in using the Frontpagemag article, Bean has expressed his regret about the controversy that it has unleashed. “It was not my intent to inflame or deceive but rather to bring up an event that occurred,” he has said.
The same cannot be said of Robbie Lieberman and her radical confederates in the history department. In seizing on the article to stigmatize a colleague for politically incorrect ideas, they have demonstrated that the academic witch-hunt is alive and well at SIUC.
2005 marks the centennial of the founding of the most bold, radical, and egalitarian mass union in US history: the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, also known as the Wobblies). Big Bill Haywood, “The Rebel Girl” Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Joe Hill, Free Speech fights, the Patterson and Lawrence strikes, “Solidarity Forever”, and so much more: the legacy of the Wobblies is one of the most enduring things in the American radical tradition. Paul Buhle, a professor of American Civilization at Brown University and a leading scholar of American radical history, is co-author of the new Wobblies! A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World. In a recent interview with Left Hook co-editor Derek Seidman, Buhle answered some questions about the IWW, his new book, and the Traveling Wobbly show.
Seidman: It’s been one hundred years since the founding of the IWW in 1905. Why discuss the Wobblies now, a century after their birth and nearly eight decades after the height of their influence?
Buhle: The best reason is that the labor movement, once a driving force for democratic transformation, has nearly collapsed, and despite the potential of such groups as Labor Against the War (in unions representing nearly a third of AFL-CIO members), neither exerts wide influence or represents the breadth of today’s working classes.
The Wobblies had more than a strategic plan. They had a vision of a different kind of civilization, global and transracial in character, with all key decisions made democratically. Corporate leaders and politicians would be out of a job, along with generals, admirals and other criminal types.
Seidman: So what do you believe today’s union movement could learn from the Wobblies?
Buhle:Almost everything. Lawrence Wechsler, who wrote a fine book on Polish Solidarity, commented that the Polish strike leaders had absolutely nothing to learn from the AFL-CIO. They weren’t corrupt like the Lane Kirkland office, they hadn’t made any deals with capital (or state-capital) to guarantee themselves big salaries, and they weren’t bureaucrats. (Later on they made careers for themselves by selling out the workers they had led--- but that’s another story.)
The Wobblies were first of all transracial and transborder by their nature and their aims. They faced a working class substantially made up of immigrants—much like today’s American working class. Women were among its most vivid agitators and local leaders. They were not perfect but they were deeply democratic. They understood the labor movement to be a social movement.
They were also, at a personal level, hugely courageous, and they had a great sense of humor. These two qualities alone, missing in all but a few of labor’s top leaders, would make a world of difference. We need a movement of working people able to attack but also to ridicule politicians and corporate leaders for the nitwits and thugs that they are, ruining our beautiful world for their own greed and power.
Seidman:Can you tell us about your new book, Wobblies! A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World?
Buhle: The idea for the book first came out of my conversations with a Labor Party activist living in Vermont, George Kucewiez, who offered to provide payment for artists, and then evolved in conversations with artist-activist Nicole Schulman. The book is not intended to replace written histories or documentary films (Franklin Rosemont’s Joe Hill: The IWW & The Making of A Revolutionary Workingclass Countercultureis the best recent book, and The Wobblies, made in 1979, remains the best film.) Rather, it is intended to introduce the story of the IWW to a new generation more visual in its grasp of history, and to restate the case for what we could call “solidarity unionism” against both employers and the political system. ...
[Efraim Karsh is the head of the Mediterranean Studies Programme at King's College, University of London.]
Before September 11, 2001, Juan Cole, a history professor at the University of Michigan, enjoyed anonymity outside his professional circle. He was a leading figure in the Middle East Studies Association of North America (mesa), editing for five years its flagship publication, The International Journal of Middle East Studies. (In 2004, he was elected the Association's incoming president.) But his research on certain esoteric aspects of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Middle East (e.g., the genesis of the Baha'i faith) was unlikely to bring him attention in the field and offered little hope of public acclaim. Then came September 11. When mesa came under intense criticism after the terrorist attacks for having failed to educate generations of students in the realities of the Middle East, Cole was livid. Finding it difficult to place opinion pieces in the mainstream press that could present reality as he saw it, he had the prescience to realize the immense opportunities that an online diary offered.
Cole started his blog, which he called Informed Comment and subtitled Thoughts on the Middle East, History, and Religion, in April 2002. It quickly established itself as a popular source of information on the Middle East, attracting a reported 200,000 page-views per month. Informed Comment also caught the eye of journalists, earning Cole dozens of mentions in the country's top dailies and newsweeklies, an hour-long appearance on NPR's "Fresh Air," and 14 appearances on the "NewsHour" with Jim Lehrer. The Village Voice advised its readers, "If you're not already visiting Juan Cole's Informed Comment blog (juancole.com) on a daily basis, now's the time to get in the habit," while L.A. Weekly called Cole's blog "a must-read for anyone seriously interested in Iraq." In 2003, Informed Comment won the 2003 Koufax Award for best expert blog, and, last year, Cole was even asked to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the fissures within Iraqi society and his ideas for creating a stable Iraqi government.
The appeal of Cole's blog is easy to see. It is highly readable, stripped of the jargon common to other Middle East academic researchers. And Cole provides a wealth of information on the Sisyphean U.S. effort to reconstruct Iraq (a country that Cole himself has never visited) and the violent opposition to this endeavor, at times from Arabic newspapers not normally available to Western readers (Cole, unlike many journalists--and even some Middle East experts--reads Arabic). What's more, Cole has called himself "an outspoken hawk in the war on terror," and his views on the invasion of Afghanistan and the Iraq war, both of which he supported (while also voicing concerns about U.S. unilateralism), seem to bolster his credibility, reassuring readers that he doesn't suffer from the knee-jerk anti-Americanism found in many Middle East studies departments.
But, unfortunately, Cole suffers from many other common Arabist misconceptions that deeply prejudice and compromise his writing. Having done hardly any independent research on the twentieth-century Middle East, Cole's analysis of this era is essentially derivative, echoing the conventional wisdom among Arabists and Orientalists regarding Islamic and Arab history, the creation of the modern Middle East in the wake of World War I, and its relations with the outside world. Worse, Cole's discussion of U.S. foreign policy frequently veers toward conspiratorial anti-Semitism. This is hardly the "informed" commentary Cole claims it to be. ...
Dean Barnett, in the Weekly Standard (4-11-05):
[Dean Barnett writes about politics and other matters at soxblog.com under his on-line pseudonym James Frederick Dwight.]
DURING HIS BRIEF AND UNHAPPY tenure as the president of Columbia University, Dwight Eisenhower and the faculty did not always enjoy the warmest of relations. At one particularly contentious meeting, a Columbia scholar proudly informed Eisenhower that the university boasted "some of America's most exceptional physicists, mathematicians, chemists and engineers." The then-retired General was unimpressed. He was more concerned that the faculty consist of "exceptional Americans." "Dammit," he snapped, "what good are exceptional physicists . . . exceptional anything, unless they are [also] exceptional Americans."
The Eisenhower formulation, that being a good American should be paramount and scholarship should come second, is hardly a popular notion in academia: consider, for instance, the case of former Fairleigh Dickinson University Professor Jacques Pluss.
Until recently, Pluss was an adjunct member of FDU's history department where he was by all accounts a popular and well received instructor in the one class that he taught. As his former student Heather Tierney put it in an email, "He taught well and carried himself well." Tierney's comment reflects a consensus amongst Pluss' students.
But some of Pluss's activities outside the classroom were eye-raising. Pluss was--and still is--an officer for the National Socialist Movement. Pluss is a Nazi, a genuine bona-fide Hitler-adoring, Jew-hating Nazi. The National Socialist website that advertises his title as an officer of the Movement features images of Adolf Hitler and swastikas and urges visitors to "come and join the fight!" A phone call to the Movement's office is received by an answering machine whose greeting shrieks, "Wake Up, White America!"
On March 21, Fairleigh Dickinson fired Professor Pluss. Some faint-hearted academic types might have fretted that the dismissal was perhaps the first step down a slippery slope that would chill free speech throughout academia; Farleigh Dickinson eagerly put such fears to rest. The dean of the college, John Snyder, has flatly stated that Pluss's termination was solely the result of an unacceptable amount of absences on Pluss's part. In an interview, Snyder explained that Pluss's class was scheduled to meet only 15 times during the semester and at the time of his dismissal Pluss had already racked up 6 absences. Snyder also claimed in our interview that Pluss's off-hours goose-stepping habit didn't come to the university's attention until after Pluss was dismissed. Snyder claimed to not know if any other adjunct faculty members had comparably poor attendance records.
Professor Pluss disputes Dean Snyder's account of the situation. The professor pointed out in an email that he wasn't "fired," or certainly not "fired" in the sense that Americans not employed in academia understand the term. While it's true that Professor Pluss is no longer allowed to teach his class, he is still receiving his faculty salary and is in no way barred from the campus. What's more, Pluss insists that he had only three absences and that all three were handled in an appropriate way and necessitated by medical reasons.
While Snyder sounded sincere during our interview regarding the causes for Pluss's firing (or non-firing), some people have speculated the university had availed itself of a lawyerly way out of a potential predicament. But as attorney Paul Seyferth, an expert in employment law, points out, "Assuming Pluss was an at will employee (as one would expect an adjunct faculty member like Pluss to be), the university would have been well within its rights to fire Pluss 'just' for being a Nazi. An at will employee can be fired for any reasons not specifically prohibited by law, such as race, sex, age, etc., and (depending on what state you're in) sexual orientation."
STILL, IT'S UNSURPRISING--if also dismaying--that Fairleigh Dickinson took refuge in a technicality like Pluss's allegedly deficient attendance record. As Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz said in an interview, "Colleges and universities are terrified of taking on the substantive issue in such matters." Dershowitz pointed to the Ward Churchill kerfuffle as a parallel case study.
So why does the modern academy so eschew the Eisenhower formulation? Eisenhower clearly would have deemed Pluss a sub-par American, given Ike's lengthy dealings with Pluss's kindred spirits. Were Eisenhower running Fairleigh Dickinson, he probably would have been more forthright.
But should a university fire a man for his political beliefs and activities? Professor Dershowitz would be uncomfortable with a termination for such causes.
Dershowitz explains that he grew up during McCarthyism and is by nature wary of such situations. He also points to the Stalinist maxim, "Show me the man and I'll find the crime," the suggestion being that any "undesirable" individual could be found guilty so long as the prosecution is willing to be creative enough. Applied to academia, the aphorism would imply that a professor found politically wanting could be terminated for other reasons.
AND YET ONE MUST ASK, is the academy really incapable of making certain common-sense decisions without pushing itself down a slippery slope that culminates in a new McCarthyism? After all, Professor Pluss's politics are not on the borderline of acceptability. This isn't Noam Chomsky, who is a putatively gifted linguist but an anti-American crackpot. But as risible as Chomsky's views are, they can still claim some misguided champions in respectable circles; even anti-American crackpot's see Pluss's politics as being beyond the pale.
And why is it such a far-fetched concept in the vast marketplace of academia that individual universities would be willing to step up and say, "We draw a bright line between what's acceptable and what is not." For instance, it's hard to imagine Fairleigh Dickinson suffering much of a public relations hit were it to proudly announce, "Neo-Nazi faculty are not welcome here." And yet, in academia, there is a curious reluctance to make such a forceful statement.
Somewhere, General Eisenhower weeps.
IF intimidation, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, Joseph A. Massad, the Columbia University professor implicated last week by a faculty panel investigating charges of intimidation of students by pro-Palestinian professors, is apparently on his best behavior as he sits on his spotless microsuede sofa a stone's throw from the campus where his classroom conduct has been denounced as "inappropriate." And where he has received hate e-mail, including this advice from a fellow faculty member: "Go back to Arab land where Jew hating is condoned. You are a disgrace and a pathetic typical Arab liar."
Not a nice thing to say to a Christian fellow who began holding Seders as an undergraduate in Albuquerque (he had a Jewish roommate).
Who's intimidating whom here? Or, to borrow the title of an article Professor Massad wrote for Al-Ahram Weekly as the campus brouhaha reached a boiling point, spurred by "Columbia Unbecoming," a film produced in Boston by the pro-Israel David Project: "Semites and Anti-Semites, That Is the Question." Sort of.
According to Professor Massad, any self-respecting scholar of Middle East studies knows that "Israel is the party most responsible for the oppression of the Palestinian people." He has issues with the Palestinian national movement, too.
He seems, if anything, ingratiating, not intimidating. The perfect host, perfectly attired, right down to the opalescent links binding his French cuffs. The reading material on his coffee table is decorative propaganda, apolitical: "The World Atlas of Wine"; a pictorial of a favored destination, Amberley Castle in Sussex, England; and a catalog in which he excitedly points out the brass chandelier, a handmade reproduction of 18th-century Islamic/Egyptian design, he recently purchased in Cairo. What a novelty: a politically pugnacious professor - he insists he won't stand for anti-Semitism or anti-Palestinianism in his classroom and packs scholarship to combat both - with a metrosexual gloss....
[Tzvi Kahn is an intern with the Middle East Forum. This was written on behalf of Campus Watch, a project designed to critique and improve Middle East Studies at North American colleges and universities.]
My critique of Prof. Mark LeVine's scholarship has ruffled his feathers, especially because, he says, I had the audacity to make blanket assertions about his politics without providing proof and because I missed the alleged nuance of his arguments.
In his long and rambling response to my article on his blog, LeVine can't imagine what would motivate me to call him"Marxist,""anti-American," and"anti-Israel," though, echoing Bill Clinton, he notes,"the proof is all in how one defines ‘anti-.'" So before I address a few specific points of his rebuttal, perhaps some basic definitions are in order.
I call LeVine"anti-American" and"anti-Israel" because he applies a moral standard and an attitude of perverse American and Israeli exceptionalism to putative crimes against Arab populations that far exceed his indignation at identical or infinitely more horrific offenses committed by Arab countries. Yes, LeVine has, to his credit, criticized Arab governments for fomenting terrorism. Yet he insists, repeatedly, that America and Israel harbor the most responsibility for the continuation of global conflict, implicitly suggesting that the threat of terrorism from Islamic fundamentalists would be drastically reduced if America ceased its supposed imperialism and globalization. "Let's only hope," he writes, European leaders"will have the courage to explain to president Kerry (or even Bush) that, without both an acceptance of responsibility for past policy and the transformation of future policy toward the Islamic regions of our planet, there will be no solution to terrorism, only continued violence and war."
Rarely in LeVine's work do we see any discussion of Islamic fundamentalism and religious extremism that inspires terrorism. LeVine can't imagine that Islamic terrorists might attack the West on the basis of precepts derived from religious ideologies. For him, it simply isn't possible that Islamic fundamentalists oppose not American"imperialism," but the values of individual rights and freedom that America stands for. Likewise, for LeVine, it isn't remotely possible that corrupt, dictatorial Arab governments play a greater role in promoting global instability than America and Israel. Four days after 9/11, in fact, LeVine called upon Americans"to engage in the honest introspection of what our role has been in generating the kind of hatred that turns commuter jets into cruise missiles." For LeVine, Osama bin Laden's aggression derives not from Islamic ideologies, but from American political dominance and globalization in the Middle East.
LeVine's scholarly lacunae and the explanations of terrorism he instead proposes explain in part why I call LeVine a Marxist. As his writings indicate, he views the conflict between America and the Arab world almost exclusively in terms of money and class. America, in his view, invaded Iraq for oil and power. LeVine can't envisage that Saddam's history of murder and terrorism just might have accounted, at least in part, for America's invasion. Rather,"[I]n the postmodern global era," he writes,"global corporations and the government elites with whom they work have great incentive to sponsor global chaos and the violence it generates." LeVine likewise explains that the Arab intifada in Israel stems from"occupation, discrimination and dispossession." In an entry on his blog, LeVine asks," can Wall Streeters get big enough bonuses to buy Ferraris unless the companies they cover are crushing poor third world farmers and workers? And would the multinational food conglomerates be crushing poor farmers if it wasn't for the myopic, exclusive focus on monetary profits by Wall Street which drives so many corporations to view their bottom line in the most Hobbsian [sic] terms possible?"
LeVine laments the consequences of free markets, a principal tenet of capitalism, and implicitly criticizes the rights of individuals to buy and sell what they please. LeVine can deny he's a Marxist, but his stated worldview and analyses of political events are entirely consistent with Marxist ideology. His distillation of virtually every global conflict to issues of money and power (or what he grandiosely calls the"modernity matrix"), and his mitigation of or disregard for other salient factors (in the case of Islamic terrorism, religion), reflects the thought of Marx, Engels, and other communist thinkers.
Let me also address a few other points LeVine makes in his response.
LeVine accuses me of plagiarizing a previous critique of his work by Robert Spencer, who directs the web site Jihad Watch. This is a serious charge. It is also false. Pretty much the only overlap in Spencer's critique and mine lies in our notice of LeVine's preoccupation with rock music. I didn't need to read Spencer's critique to realize this – LeVine announces his musical tastes consistently on his web site and in many of his articles. I invite interested readers to decide for themselves whether I plagiarized, by comparing my article with Spencer's. I should also note that Spencer himself placed a link to my article on his web site, which would surely be an odd thing to do if he thought I plagiarized him. It is astonishing that a professor of LeVine's stature could throw about such accusations so carelessly. I challenge him to document the charge of plagiarism; if he does not, then I will take this to mean he concedes the point and implicitly apologizes for what he has written.
LeVine then asks"what's wrong with blending" art, scholarship, and activism. Nothing per se, except that"art" – by which I take it he means rock ‘n' roll – has about as much to do with Middle Eastern studies as quantum mechanics has to do with Shakespeare.
My description of LeVine's reference to 100,000 civilian casualties in Iraq as"exaggerated" prompts him to cite a report in the medical journal The Lancet corroborating that number. But had LeVine read the article in The Lancet more carefully, he would note that the number is based on a statistical extrapolation of 33 individual neighborhoods to the country as a whole, leading the report to acknowledge that 100,000 casualties constitute an extremely loose estimate and that it's equally possible that the true number is closer to 10,000. For more details, I refer LeVine and interested readers to Fred Kaplan's more detailed analysis of the report for Slate magazine. A more accurate tally of casualties can be found at www.iraqbodycount.net, which bases its numbers on actual, confirmed reports of death and currently places the number at closer to 20,000.
The number of casualties spurs LeVine to call America a" criminal nation," which means that anyone who voted for George W. Bush, and hence the war, endorses murdering civilians. Given the logic of LeVine's argument, I assume he would still call America a" criminal nation" no matter how many casualties there were. The label is absurd and baseless. America fought a just war to unseat a murderous tyrant who deliberately slaughtered hundreds of thousands of innocents; in the long term, America has undoubtedly saved many lives from Saddam Hussein's cruel machine. While individual incidents have taken place where Americans have wrongly killed or injured civilians (e.g., Abu Ghraib), America has not deliberately targeted civilians for its own sake.
Yet since LeVine can't recognize the inherent justness of America's decision to destroy the government of one of the Middle East's most brutal dictators, any civilian deaths that occur make America" criminal." Interestingly, I don't remember LeVine ever calling the Palestinians a" criminal nation," despite their past widespread support for suicide bombings. Perhaps that's because LeVine has far more sympathy for the Palestinian war against Israel than for America and Israel's war to defeat terrorism and tyranny. LeVine's pacifistic and morally relativistic world-view places both sides of the conflict in ethically indistinguishable positions.
LeVine concludes his response by challenging my description of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) as supporters of terrorism, which he characterizes as"utter rubbish." Then, evidently realizing that some of ISM's activities and statements could be perceived as endorsing terrorism, he rhetorically asks,"And anyway, what's terrorism? However he defines it so that whatever the ISM says, it endorses it?" But the ISM's mission statement states that it is the"right" of Palestinians to engage in"armed struggle" against the"occupation," effectively condoning suicide bombers that have killed scores of Israeli men, women in children in pizza shops and discos. ISM calls for the full right of return for Palestinian refugees to Israel, which would necessarily entail destroying the Jewish state. ISM organizer Susan Barclay once attempted to hide an Islamic Jihad terrorist in ISM's Jenin office. When the Israel Defense Forces surrounded the compound of the late Yasir Arafat, who had the blood of thousands of Israeli innocents on his hands, ISM activists slipped in to bring him supplies. I could go on.
Yet for LeVine these are"soldiers of peace." By casting his lot with supporters of violence and terrorism, LeVine undermines his stated goals of peace and justice – and brings considerable shame to academia in general and Middle Eastern studies in particular.
Discovering that someone copied is just the beginning. When a professor is suspected of plagiarizing another scholar's work, the matter usually is assigned to an investigative committee, reports are written, and some sanction may be imposed. Meanwhile, the victim who brought the matter to everyone's attention is often left wondering whether it was worth the hassle.
In a special report in December, The Chronicle reported on several suspected plagiarists: a cultural geographer, a political scientist, a biologist, and two historians. In some of those cases, universities have since concluded investigations and punished the plagiarists. Two have lost their jobs, another has been removed from the classroom. But not every academic plagiarist is shown the door. In one case, for instance, a university committee agreed that plagiarism had occurred but decided that no action was necessary.
For several years, Donald Cuccioletta continued to teach at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh even though another university 60 miles away in Canada had let his contract expire after charges of plagiarism surfaced.
Now the copying has caught up with him.
In 2001 Mr. Cuccioletta edited a book called L'Américanité et les Amériques. In a chapter he wrote for the book, the first few pages appear to be copied from the introduction to a 1964 book, Do the Americas Have a Common History?, by Lewis Hanke, a Columbia University historian.
When another history professor at the University of Quebec discovered the similarities in 2002, Mr. Cuccioletta was not rehired. He had been a part-time lecturer there for 10 years. Nevertheless, he kept working as an adjunct professor of history at Plattsburgh, where he has taught on and off for the past seven years. And in 2004 he was named interim director of the university's new Institute on Quebec Studies.
In the fall, administrators at Plattsburgh learned of the alleged plagiarism from a brief article in Le Devoir, a Montreal newspaper.
A misconduct committee investigated the charges and "basically, his contract was not extended after the fall-2004 semester," says Keith Tyo, executive assistant to Plattsburgh's president. Mr. Cuccioletta was removed as interim director, although he was allowed to continue to teach his courses for the fall. He is now not employed by the university in any capacity, Mr. Tyo says.
"We were surprised by the situation when we learned of it," he says. "But I think we acted appropriately."
Mr. Tyo says the university was also reviewing its procedures and policies regarding academic misconduct -- a review that had been planned before news of Mr. Cuccioletta's borrowings broke.
Attempts to reach Mr. Cuccioletta were unsuccessful. In December he told The Chronicle that he had admitted his mistake, was troubled by it, and chalked it up to confusion caused by writing many articles at one time.
Those of us who watch Middle East studies at Columbia University differ as to which professor of that lot is the most egregious. Joseph Massad, with his malign theories and intemperate extremism? Rashid Khalidi, with his roots as a PLO flak, his funny-money chair, his strange ideas, and his false gravitas? No, my favorite is Hamid Dabashi, that paragon of purple prose, male hysteria, and – now we learn – trouble telling the truth about his own biography.
This news comes from the"Columbians for Academic Freedom" website, where a student named Aharon posted an item titled"Press Rules." In it, he notes that Dabashi told a radio interviewer on March 6, 2005, that he"stopped speaking publicly because of a rash of threatening phone calls that go way beyond academic arguments." Then Dabashi played one of those allegedly threatening calls:
Mr. Dabashi, I read about you in today's New York Post. You stinking terrorist Muslim pig. I hope the CIA is studying you so it can kick you out of this country back to some filthy Arab country where you belong, you terrorist bastard.
But Dabashi also wrote an article for the Times Higher Education Supplement on October 18, 2002, in which he recounted what happened in June 2002 (after I co-authored an article that mentioned him) – namely someone leaving the identical message:
Hey, Mr Dabashi, I read about you in today's New York Post. You stinking, terrorist Muslim pig. I hope the CIA is studying you so we can kick you out of this country back to some filthy Arab country where you belong. You terrorist bastard.
This double use of the same call, years apart, spurs several thoughts: (1) It confirms my doubts about the onslaught of threatening calls he supposedly received due to my critique. The call he received is indeed vile and inexcusable, but it is not a threat. (Meaning, law enforcement would not find it actionable.)
(2) The recycling of this call years apart confirms how few calls he received – or why else would Dabashi keep coming back to the same old one?
(3) Dabashi falsely presented a call from 2002 as though it happened in 2005.
(4) His claim in the March 6, 2005, radio interview that he"has stopped speaking publicly" because of threatening phone calls is untrue. (Earlier, by the way, he made the same point less strongly, telling the New York Times in January 2005 only that he"has canceled several appearances.") As Aharon writes, that telephone message in June 2002" certainly did not lead to him ending his public speaking - I've heard him myself since Summer 2002." A little research turns up plenty of instances of his public speaking. Here are four examples, just from the beginning of 2003 and only in New York City: