Posts Tagged Harvard

Massad mystery at Harvard

Joseph Massad, the student-abusing extremist who’s left an indelible stain on Columbia, is back from leave to teach this semester. According to Massad, this is to be a banner year for him: in the spring, the University of Chicago Press will publish his new book, Desiring Arabs.

Wait a minute… Just last year, Massad told Columbia that Harvard University Press would publish that book. In his March 2005 statement to the Columbia ad hoc committee that investigated the charges against him, he announced proudly that “my recent work on sexuality and queer theory is also taught across the country, and a book length study on the subject is forthcoming from Harvard University Press.” The Nation, covering the Columbia controversy last year, also reported that Desiring Arabs “is forthcoming from Harvard.” (Its conclusion: such “scholarly output would seem to make him a viable candidate” for tenure.) Indeed, as far back as May 2004, Massad was telling readers of his Ahram Weekly columns that Desiring Arabs was “forthcoming from Harvard University Press.”

I don’t know what’s expected of faculty at Columbia. But in my neck of the academic woods, you don’t go around telling the world that your next book is forthcoming from Harvard, unless it’s really forthcoming from Harvard. That doesn’t mean a friendly chat with an editor in Cambridge. It means an acceptance letter, presumably based on a completed manuscript and readers’ reports. As it turns out, Massad described as “forthcoming” a book he hadn’t even finished. The Columbia Spectator reported last fall that Massad was “spending this semester in Cairo, Egypt, finishing his book on homosexuality in the Arab world.” If so, it could hardly have been “forthcoming from Harvard.” According to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on academic terminology, “forthcoming” indicates that a work has been completed and accepted for publication. (“Under submission” or “under review” refers to completed work that’s been submitted but not accepted. “In preparation” describes work that’s neither been completed nor accepted.)

This isn’t nitpicking. Last spring, Columbia promoted Massad to associate professor, a rank from which he could be tenured. Did the list of publications he submitted include Desiring Arabs as forthcoming from Harvard? If so, on what basis? What went wrong for Massad at Harvard University Press? And is Chicago really going to publish the book in the spring? (It’s not on their website.)

Since Massad paraded the Harvard credential when he needed it, he should explain why it’s evaporated. And if the elusive book figured in Columbia’s promotion decision, the university should investigate Massad’s conduct–again.

Update: It’s 2007 now, and the book is on the University of Chicago Press website.


    Why Harvard isn't Columbia

    Today’s Harvard Crimson runs an article on the crisis at Columbia. There isn’t much new there, except at the end, where the reporter asks a Harvard professor of Middle Eastern history, Roger Owen, why Harvard isn’t plagued with a similiar problem. Owen’s reply: “Columbia, being in New York, gets invaded by the ideologies of the city itself. The Arab-Israeli dispute, which is hot in New York, tends to be represented on campus in a much more direct way than it would be on the Harvard campus.”

    Owen has the order of things wrong. Columbia was invaded not by the “ideologies of the city” (to my ear, a suspect phrase). It was invaded, conquered, and occupied by the ideologies of radical third worldism and Arab-Palestinian nationalism, sometimes borne directly to it from the Middle East. The reason Harvard doesn’t have a comparable problem (at least not yet) is because the administration has pretty much blocked the development of the modern Middle Eastern field. Why? Perhaps it doesn’t particularly trust Owen and his colleagues to bring in the right people.

    Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies recently celebrated its fiftieth anniversity, which it marked by publishing a slick 200-page celebration of the Center’s history and ideas for its future. Many of the contributors to the volume complained that the university has avoided authorizing appointments. (“The primary weakness in the study of Middle East politics at Harvard,” wrote one contributor, is “the failure to make senior appointments in Middle East politics.”) But Harvard doesn’t need a Columbia-style train wreck, and if the Columbia disaster hasn’t resonated at Harvard, it means that prudence has paid off. Until Owen and friends acknowledge that the field has an internal problem, and propose a strategy to circumvent it they’ve done neither there’s no reason for the university to change course. Roger, over and out.

      Lawrence of Academia?

      Last month, academics who run a discussion log on Middle Eastern studies exchanged ideas on how to justify their Title VI federal subsidy. One of them posted this:

      The anecdote/argument that I find works best with gov’t officals concerning the importance of Title VI funding is to note that Lawrence of Arabia was only in a position to help the British war effort because he had a grant to study crusader castles as part of his academic studies before the war. Without that “soft,” non-policy oriented academic work, he would not have had the linguistic skills, cultural knowledge and geographic familiarity with the region to help the war effort….[this] does tend to open the eyes of more narrow-minded gov’t folks looking for a direct payoff between gov’t funding of area studies and potential national security benefit.

      Another academic responded with this:

      Not in the same league as the T.E. Lawrence anecdote, but a bit closer to home. It turns out that General Abizaid, who is taking Tommy Frank’s position, has an MA in area studies from Harvard.

      These anecdotes seem to be the best Middle Eastern studies can muster to support the notion that they do contribute to national security. In fact, they actually demonstrate the opposite of what the academics claim.

      T.E. Lawrence, Oxford student, did go out to Syria before the First World War, to study medieval castles and do some archeology. And he did acquire a knowledge of Arabic, a familiarity with the Arabs, and a lot of geographic knowledge. But how did he get out to Syria, and who put him “in a position to help the British war effort”? Answer: D.G. Hogarth his professor.

      It was Hogarth, Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum and an Oxford don, who saw the potential of young Lawrence. It was Hogarth who arranged his travelling scholarship. It was Hogarth who employed him before the war, at his archeological dig in northern Syria. And it was Hogarth who directed the wartime intelligence branch known as the “Arab Bureau” in Cairo from 1916. Lawrence acted on its behalf in Arabia.

      Lawrence always acknowledged his debt to his professor. “D.G.H. had been a god-father to me,” he later wrote, “and he remained the best friend I ever had.” “I owe to [Hogarth] every good job I’ve had,” he told two of his biographers. “He is the man to whom I owe everything I have had since I was seventeen.” And this, in his Seven Pillars of Wisdom: “Mentor to us all was Hogarth, our father confessor, and advisor, who brought us the parallels and lessons of history, and moderation and courage.” No Hogarth, no Lawrence—this has been the considered opinion of more than one Lawrence biographer.

      So the Lawrence anecdote really poses this question: where are America’s Hogarths? Where are the professors with a strong sense of the national interest, lots of knowledge acquired in the field, good intelligence connections, a willingness to recruit their students, and an eagerness to serve in times of war? No such person exists in Middle Eastern studies. Indeed, Hogarth-like activities would be enough to get even the most established professor drummed out of the field.

      And this leads to the second example: the new commander of CENTCOM, General John Abizaid. It is true that Abizaid, a West Pointer, spent a mid-career year at Harvard, where he earned a master’s degree in Middle Eastern area studies. But before you give Middle Eastern studies any credit for Abizaid, consider this: Abizaid’s mentor at Harvard was later drummed out of the field, for his very low-key links to U.S.intelligence.

      Abizaid spent the academic year 1980-81 at Harvard, where he studied under Nadav Safran, a noted professor of Middle Eastern studies. At the time, Safran was working on a RAND paper on Saudi defense budgets and concepts. Abizaid’s main product as a student was a 100-page seminar paper on Saudi defense policy, written for Safran. ”It was absolutely the best seminar paper I ever got in my 30-plus years at Harvard,” Safran told a reporter.

      If Abizaid benefited from Harvard, it is because he found in Safran a professor open to mentoring a career military officer. Such professors stir the visceral antagonism of their “colleagues,” and when Safran went a bit too far, they crushed him. The story is well known: Safran landed CIA funding for his Saudi project and a conference on Islamism. When his rivals exposed the fact, it unleashed a frenzy of academic witch-hunting. The 1985 Middle East Studies Association conference issued a resolution that “deplored” Safran’s conduct, and the next year he resigned his directorship of Harvard’s Middle East Center. That killed him academically: Safran wasn’t even sixty, but he never published another book or significant article.

      Safran committed the one unpardonable sin in his field. You can kowtow to Middle Eastern despots, take money from oil-sodden emirs, apologize for suicide bombers, and mislead the American public on a grand scale. Hundreds of professors in Middle Eastern studies have done all these things, and have gotten promotions. But get too intimate with the CIA, and you’re done. Safran passed away on July 5. The Harvard Crimson ended its obituary on this note: “He taught for a few more years after his resignation as director of the center and was disappointed that the controversy followed him. Later in life, he was interested in painting.” A young professor reading these lines can’t miss the message.

      But without professors like Hogarth and Safran—faculty willing to mentor and tutor officers, statesmen, and spies—the United States is not going to get any Lawrences or Abizaids out of academe. That’s why it’s time for the United States to use its resources to promote diversity in Middle Eastern studies. Reform Title VI.

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        Ignatieff’s Empire

        Michael Ignatieff has a meandering piece in today’s New York Times Magazine on American empire. In it, he tells us that “leaving the Palestinians to face Israeli tanks and helicopter gunships is a virtual guarantee of unending Islamic wrath against the United States.” The exit from the present situation is a “United Nations transitional administration [for the Palestinians], with U.N.-mandated peacekeepers to provide security for Israelis and Palestinians.” Without this, victory in Iraq won’t staunch the hemorrhaging of U.S. prestige in the Middle East. These ideas have been bouncing around for some time. Now they get the endorsement of a noted journalist and Harvard professor, in the most prominent spot in the print media.

        I admit I have a hard time taking Ignatieff seriously on the Middle East, in part because of an article he published back in April in the London Guardian entitled “Why Bush Must Send in His Troops.” Before you decide that Ignatieff is a sure guide to things Middle Eastern, read it.

        You’ll find that it includes, in one form or another, every trendy calumny against Israel. There is the infamous South African analogy: Palestinian self-rule was really “a Bantustan, one of those pseudo-states created in the dying years of apartheid to keep the African population under control.” The Palestinian Authority had “failed because Israel never allowed it to become a state.” Reading through this piece, you would never know that there were Israeli-Palestinian negotiations at Camp David because they’re never mentioned. Perhaps Ignatieff didn’t want to get into the debate over what happened or didn’t happen in those talks, in which an Israeli leader proposed the creation of a Palestinian state on virtually all the lands occupied in 1967. But that would only have complicated things for Ignatieff’s inevitably Solomonic verdict: “Both sides have an equal share of blame.”

        As for the Palestinian half of the blame, Ignatieff quickly shifts some of that to Israel’s shoulders, too. Israel kept the Palestinian Authority too weak. “Had Israel realized that its own security depended on assisting in the establishment of a viable and, if necessary, ruthless Palestinian Authority it might now be secure.” In particular, Israel did not allow the PA “enough military and police capability.”

        Not enough? Did Ignatieff have a clue about what was going on in the PA? The PA (even according to David Hirst in the Guardian) had forty to fifty thousand persons in its security services—ten to twenty thousand more than the number agreed upon in Oslo II. As one observer put it, “the PA has become the most heavily policed territory in the world, with an officer-to-resident ratio of 1:50; the U.S. ratio for police officers and sheriff’s deputies, in contrast, is 1:400.” So what, in Ignatieff’s view, would have been “enough military and police capability”? (And why military?)

        In fact, the problem was never one of capability. It was one of will. The PA decided to wage war with the weapons it had been given to keep peace. Some think that had there been fewer “security services” and guns, there might not have been an intifada at all.

        But the absolute low point of this article is Ignatieff’s invocation of the “sacrifice of the young people on both sides in a mutually reinforcing death cult.” It’s an insufferable case of false symmetry, especially coming as it did in the midst of the worst suicide bombings. Even if you believe Israelis and Palestinians are locked in a “cycle of violence,” you’re showing yourself ignorant if you compare the suicidal “death cult” rampant among Palestinians to the stoic resolve of Israelis.

        “The Americans now face a historic choice,” pronounced Ignatieff back in April. “For 50 years, they have played the double game of both guaranteeing Israel’s security and serving as honest broker in the region. This game can’t go on.” This is the greatest of all the calumnies—not just against Israel, but against generations of U.S. policymakers. A “double game”? It’s been an immensely successful strategy, which won the Cold War in the Middle East and produced the Israeli-Egyptian peace. This “double game” has prevented a general conflagration for thirty years. And it must go on, because the moment America’s commitment to Israel seems diminished in Arab eyes, the region is destined to spiral into war, just as it did in 1967 and 1973.

        None of the nonsense Ignatieff published in the Guardian would have gotten past an editor at the Times, but all of it is implicit in today’s new piece. 9/11 has turned everyone into a Middle East expert for fifteen minutes. That’s about as long as it will take you to get through the lead article of today’s Magazine. Time’s up.