Many professors at Columbia University are dismayed that a campus culture with a long history of demonizing Israel as a barbaric imperialist state, and little to no history of criticizing terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians in the past, now actively embraces such attacks against Israelis today. “We are horrified that anyone would celebrate these monstrous attacks or, as some members of the Columbia faculty have done in a recent letter, try to ‘recontextualize’ them as a ‘salvo,’ as the ‘exercise of a right to resist’ occupation, or as ‘military action.’”
This attitude toward Israel is an outgrowth of the modern leftist doctrine that the West is history’s greatest aggressor. The sum of the West’s interventions in non-Western lands is automatically regarded with cynicism, including the post-WWI nation-building in the former Ottoman provinces – and especially the formation of Israel. Anti-Zionist leftists blindly trust the Arab side of the story, that the Israelis and not the Arabs instigated the 1948 war. Many if not most of this group – certainly the loudest – reject the notion that Jews have rightful claims to any of the territory west of the Jordan River; it was Arab-ruled before the Turkish occupation (albeit under governments headquartered outside of the region), it should be Arab-ruled again.
A key influence that fomented this culture is one of Columbia’s own. Edward Said (pronounced “si-YEED”) taught there for 40 years, from 1963 until the year of his passing in 2003. His chief contribution to leftist thinking stems from his 1989 book Orientalism, which argues that the West is incapable of objectively assessing the Middle East due to its historically ingrained biases. He also rejected the notion that the West produced any political or cultural advantages compared to the rest of the world. Naturally he opposed any Western interventionist policy in the Middle East (military or otherwise), such as the sanctions against Saddam’s Iraq and the war against the Taliban. In its article on Said, David Horowitz’s who’s who of the left “Discover the Networks” cites Stanley Kurtz:
“The founding text of postcolonial studies, Orientalism effectively de-legitimated all previous scholarship on the Middle East by branding it as racist. Said drew no distinction between the most ignorant and bigoted remarks of nineteenth-century colonialists and the most accomplished pronouncements of contemporary Western scholars: All Western knowledge of the East was intrinsically tainted with imperialism.”
Kurtz testified before Congress in 2003 regarding a consequence of Said’s legacy. Post-colonial theory influences multiple disciplines, not just Middle East studies, and Title VI-funded higher ed programs in several disciplines had been waging a boycott of the National Security Education Program (NSEP), a program for foreign language study geared for students aiming for defense and intelligence careers.
For at least a decade the African-, Latin American-, and Middle East Studies Associations have sponsored a boycott against the NSEP. Since 1981, the directors of Title VI African National Resource Centers have agreed not to apply for, accept, or recommend to students any military or intelligence funding from the Defense Intelligence Agency, the NSEP, or any other such source. Shamefully, a mere two months after September 11, Title VI African Studies Center directors voted unanimously to sustain their boycott of military and intelligence related funding, including the NSEP.
We know that transmissions from the September 11 highjackers went untranslated for want of Arabic speakers in our intelligence agencies. Given that, and given the ongoing lack of foreign language expertise in our defense and intelligence agencies, the directors of the Title VI African studies centers who voted unanimously, just after September 11, to reaffirm their boycott of the NSEP, have all acted to undermine America’s national security, and its foreign policy. And so has every other Title VI-funded scholar in Latin American-, African-, and Middle Eastern Studies who has upheld the long-standing boycott of the NSEP.
Kurtz has more to say on the hearing here.
Serving on the Palestinian National Council in the 1970s and 1980s, Said left in the wake of the Oslo Accords. He felt the agreement should establish a Palestinian state right off the bat. I do not know what he knew of Arafat’s machinations; Arafat informed Arab audiences that Oslo was step toward implementing the Phased Plan. As MEMRI reports:
[W]hile the [Oslo I Accord] ceremony was still taking place, [Arafat] had a Jordanian TV channel air a recorded speech of his in which he explained that the Accord is just a phase in the PLO’s Phased Plan of 1974, which was a mild version of the PLO’s Charter: “Oh, my beloved, do not forget that the Palestinian National Council passed the resolution in 1974 […] This is the moment of return, the moment we raise our flag on the first plot of liberated Palestinian land… This is an important, critical, and basic phase. Long live Palestine – free and Arab!”
Said stated that he was willing to accept a two-state solution: “The paramount thing is that the struggle for equality in Palestine/Israel should be directed toward a humane goal, that is, co-existence, and not further suppression and denial.” One has to wonder how he could hold this belief and at the same time support Palestinian right-of-return. Such a migration would make Israel an Arab-majority nation – unless Israel were to cede a large percentage of the land receiving the refugees. I’m not aware of anyone hawking that sort of two-state solution.
The current Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University is Rashid Khalidi. Once a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, he is as much a critic of US foreign policy as Said was, and is decidedly opposed to Israel’s right to exist.