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May 12, 2005

Columbia's Hamid Dabashi: How Dare You Call Me Shrill!

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Professor Hamid Dabashi of Columbia

The Nation ran an article by Scott Sherman about the Columbia controversy which was largely sympathetic to Columbia's Middle East Studies department. Yet, the professors involved still felt the magazine misrepresented them and was not supportive enough. Professor Hamid Dabashi took issue with Sherman for claiming that he “at a minimum, is guilty of shrill and careless writing.” His letter, which appeared in the May 16 edition of the Nation, in fact, provided Sherman with even more fodder:

Failing to understand that, and then accusing me of "shrill" writing at a time when from Boston to Philadelphia, from New York to Jerusalem, and from the United States to Israel, militant mobs like the one organized at Columbia Business School; multimillion-dollar establishments like Hillel at Columbia; complicitous presidents like Bollinger and Shapiro, supported by their boards of trustees and militant millionaire clubs among the Columbia and Barnard alumni; advocates of torture like Alan Dershowitz; racist propagandists like Daniel Pipes; anti-intellectual vigilantes like Martin Kramer; organized cells at Columbia medical, business and law schools; a bagful of tabloids in Manhattan; Jack-the-Ripper journalists like Douglas Feiden and Jacob Gershman; a deceitful propaganda machine like the Goliath Project; a minister and his ministry in Israel; city, state and federal politicians seeking higher office here in the United States are all ganging up and calling for the heads of two Arabs and a Muslim in post-9/11 New York is quite an achievement for The Nation, one that I will not forget or forgive.

In the same letter, Dabashi attempts to justify the following quote about Israelis which appeared in a 2004 article in Al-Ahram:

There is an endemic prevarication to this machinery, a vulgarity of character that is bone-deep and structural to the skeletal vertebrae of its culture. No people can perpetrate what these people and their parents and grandparents have perpetrated on Palestinians and remain immune to the cruelty of their own deeds.

Dabashi offers this convoluted response to explain why his earlier statement cannot be construed as "anti-Semitic":

As I repeatedly explained to Sherman, if characterization X is attributed to varied people caught in conditions A, B and C, then by logical conclusion none of these people are essentially characterized, but their common condition analytically diagnosed. The passage in question is not a "sweeping characterization of an entire people"; it is a reading of a people's body politics when trapped in a systematically militarized state apparatus. Dabashi does not miss the point. Sherman confuses the premise.

The Nation did not bother to publish a single letter in support of the students involved in the controversy. It ran letters by Edward Said’s widow and Joseph Massad along with Dabashi’s response. But according to the site Columbians for Academic Freedom, an organization founded by students involved in the controversy, they submitted a letter to the magazine which was not published, but can be read on their site. One student, Ariel Beery even claims he challenged Scott Sherman to a public debate on the issue. But, so far, Sherman has not accepted. Based on the magazine's choice of letters, it seems the Nation is interested in only one side of the "debate".

Posted by CameraBlog at May 12, 2005 01:17 PM