Posts Tagged Joseph Massad

The hypocrisy of Massad

Yesterday, I invited Columbia’s president and trustees to look more closely at Joseph Massad’s book Desiring Arabs, which Harvard University Press provisionally accepted as a proposal and later rejected as a completed manuscript.

This is not Massad’s only recent publishing accident. The president and trustees might also take a closer look at why the College Art Association paid an Israeli art historian $75,000 in 2007, to avert a libel suit threatened against it for publishing a book review by Massad. The association also wrote to subscribers of its Art Journal, acknowledging that Massad’s review made “factual errors and certain unfounded assertions,” and asking them to excise the potentially libelous passages from their copies of the journal. It’s unlikely any careful publisher will carry Massad again, before running his text past a lawyer.

Now I happen to concur with one of Massad’s responses to the affair: “If every academic was going to think that any critique of academic scholarship was going to have to be defended in a court of law, the state of academic argumentation would be very different.” Indeed. Unfortunately, Massad seems to think that only his criticism of others is protected speech. When his own work came under criticism in 2004, he seriously considered taking a newspaper to court. Massad himself told the story in his statement to the university committee that investigated him on charges of intimidating students:

I set up an appointment with Provost [Alan] Brinkley and met with him. I sought his help and the help of the university’s legal services to fight this defamation of character. The latest article in the New York Sun [by Jonathan Calt Harris] included such blatant and insidious misrepresentations that I seriously considered suing them for defamation. I provided copies of my written work to the Provost and told him of the campaigns to which I had been subjected in the previous years. While the provost seemed mildly supportive, he did not think that suing would be practical. I asked him if he could arrange for me to meet with legal services to which he reluctantly agreed. I had to remind him by E-mail to set up a meeting for me. After he put me in touch with legal services, my E-mails to them went unanswered. I asked the provost to intervene which he did. His intervention produced a response from their office asking me about my available times to set up an appointment. I sent it to them and never heard back. I dropped the matter after I left in mid summer for vacation abroad.

Two things are telling here. First, and most obviously, there is the hypocrisy. If Massad should be free to skewer an Israeli art historian’s book without ending up in court, why shouldn’t someone else be free to skewer Massad’s writings without landing in court? Second, there is Massad’s insistence that Columbia take up his case, when he could have opened the Yellow Pages and gone to any private attorney specializing in libel and defamation. Massad must have known that this would be a frivolous pursuit, but its purpose would be to align him and Columbia against the New York Sun. The state of academic argumentation would be very different if university lawyers had the duty to defend university faculty against intellectual criticism. Columbia rightly drew that line.

As for the Art Journal review, legalities aside, it raises questions of credibility and authorial style. Has Massad’s tenure committee answered these questions to the satisfaction of Columbia’s provost, president and trustees? Has it even asked them?

Pointer: There is an editorial on Massad’s tenure in today’s New York Daily News.

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More Massad mystery at Harvard

In August 2006, I wrote a post entitled “Massad mystery at Harvard.” There I asked why, for two years, Joseph Massad described his book Desiring Arabs as “forthcoming from Harvard University Press,” only to announce that it would be published by the University of Chicago Press. I wrote the following:

Last spring [2006], 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?…

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.

So did Columbia ever look into that Harvard mystery? Massad himself (perhaps in response to my post) gave his explanation in the acknowledgments to Desiring Arabs (pp. xiii-xiv). It turns out that it hinges on Edward Said:

Edward [Said] read drafts of three chapters of the book…. [During] the conference celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of Orientalism in April 2003, he asked me if I would be interested in publishing the book in his Harvard University Press (HUP) series. I was in disbelief of this unexpected praise. I prepared a proposal quickly and sent it to him and then forwarded it to the HUP editor. The HUP approved the contract for the book several months later, in September—two weeks before Edward’s death…. He called me on his cellular phone from the car while on his way home from yet another chemotherapy treatment at the hospital. “Any word from Harvard?” he asked. I told him that I had just heard half an hour earlier. He was thrilled. I was ecstatic.

Unfortunately, a few weeks before production was set to begin, the HUP editor and I realized that we had differing visions for the book, and we parted ways.

So the mystery has begun to unravel. “Forthcoming from Harvard University Press” was yet another Columbia inside job. At the time, Edward Said was the general editor of an HUP book series entitled Convergences. HUP apparently accepted Massad’s book provisionally for publication in Said’s series, on the basis of the proposal and Said’s reading of a few chapters. But after HUP had the complete manuscript—and Said was no longer editor of the series—its own editor rejected Massad’s finished product. (“We parted ways” is an amusing euphemism.) Presumably, this decision would have been based, at least in part, upon readers’ reports on the completed manuscript. (At university presses, anonymous peer review is a precondition of publication. All books accepted as proposals still must be vetted.)

The president and trustees of Columbia University, if they haven’t already approved Massad’s tenure, might well bear HUP’s decision in mind. Absent Edward Said, Massad must be judged strictly on his own merit. And they might take some interest in precisely why Massad’s book failed to make the cut at Harvard. “My books are not controversial at all in academe,” Massad recently steamed in a tirade against a critic of Desiring Arabs, “and [to] the extent that I am said to be ‘controversial’ at all, I am so for the New York tabloid press and for Campus Watch, and now for some right-wing gay newspapers upset with my book.” Well, at Harvard University Press, they were less than impressed.

Footnote: The latest on Massad’s book comes from Dror Ze’evi in the American Historical Review. Ze’evi is the author of Producing Desire: Changing Sexual Discourse in the Ottoman Middle East, 1500-1900 (University of California Press). Money quote: “If Massad’s evidence is to be trusted, then he is completely wrong in his conclusions.” But move on, folks, no controversy here—at all.

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Tenure for Joseph Massad?

There are reports that Columbia University has tenured the rabid Joseph Massad. At least this is what Massad, now in Cairo, has told his friends. I’ve written my response to such a development, but I won’t post it until Columbia confesses to the crime. As of this moment, no one in the administration is confirming, denying, or commenting on the rumor, and there may be some final procedure to complete. In the meantime, read my past writings on Massad, linked from the right sidebar of Sandbox beneath “Kramer on Massad.” And read Massad’s latest contribution to our understanding of the Middle East: “The Gaza Ghetto Uprising.”

Update, April 12: David Bernstein at Volokh Conspiracy, who’s also been on Massad’s trail, exposes Massad’s addiction to the Israel-Nazi analogy, and his past deceit in denying it.

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Muftis of Morningside Heights

Columbia University will be hosting an “Edward Said Conference” on November 7-8, with the title “1948-1978: Orientalism from the Standpoint of its Victims.” The participants, who include all of Columbia’s Palestinian mandarins, will focus on the contradiction “between European representations and Palestinian realities” as a case study of Orientalism. 1948, the audience will learn, was “a world-event enabled and prepared by the history and structures of Orientalism”—the anti-Oriental, anti-Arab and anti-Islamic racism supposedly endemic to the West since time immemorial, as alleged by Said in his 1978 book, Orientalism. The West therefore owes the Palestinians a reversal of 1948, for sins of misrepresentation going back to Homer.

What the audience on Morningside Heights likely will not hear is the extent to which the Palestinians were victims of their own Orientalist-like prejudices. A prime piece of evidence can be found in the testimony of the late Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, Palestinian academic and native of Jaffa (whose daughter Lila will be a participant in the Columbia conference). Abu-Lughod fled his native Jaffa in 1948, and left an important account of the mood among the city’s Arab inhabitants on the eve of the war:

Now, when I think of those days, I am inclined to think that the inhabitants of Jaffa in general believed—like most of their fellow Palestinians throughout the land—that the Palestinian was braver than the Jew and more capable of standing hardship. They thought that, as the country belonged to the Arabs, they were the ones who would defend their homeland with zeal and patriotism, which the Jews—being of many scattered countries and tongues, and moreover being divided into Ashkenazi and Sephardic—would inevitably lack. In short, there was a belief that the Jews were generally cowards.

This set of familiar prejudices, when directed against Jews, is generally known as anti-Semitism. It is why the Palestinians failed to assess the real strength of their Jewish adversaries in 1948. It also explains why they refused to accept the partition plan—the internationally sanctioned solution for Palestine adopted by the United Nations in 1947. Why concede any of the country to a motley mob of cowardly Jews? And so the Palestinians did become victims—of their own anti-Semitism, which imbued them with a baseless conceit. The people of Jaffa, Abu-Lughod goes on to say, believed that “if they made ready a bit… then they were sure to emerge victorious.”

Instead the Palestinians went down to an ignominious defeat. In doing so, their conduct in the war conformed almost precisely to the conduct they had expected of the Jews—something that made them contemptible in their own eyes and those of other Arabs. The shame still eats at their souls.

This long legacy of underestimating the Israelis because they are Jews continues to warp the judgment of many Palestinians, including some of the participants at Columbia’s conference. Once again, the myth is spreading that the Israelis are weak of resolve, and so could be compelled to give up their crowning achievement, the State of Israel, and subsume themselves in a binational state—the so-called “one-state solution.” This is the product of an anti-Semitic delusion: that the rootless Jews, unlike all other peoples, will not defend their sovereignty to the hilt. Reject accommodation with Israel, urge the Palestinian extremists who clamor for “one state,” because ultimately the Jews are too cowardly to fight for their state.

This was the Palestinian error of 1948, and it is the Palestinian error of 2008. Nothing changes, because the Palestinians have never probed their own history critically, or accepted any responsibility for the decisions that led to their defeat. Instead, the sum of Palestinian intellectual life is a vast blame game, meant to evade the truth of 1948 and the self-loathing that it engendered. Alas, the shame is so great that the Palestinian intellectual class—still ridden with debilitating anti-Semitism—keeps insisting that all its past errors can be undone. “In resisting Israel,” Joseph Massad said to a Columbia conference last spring, “Palestinians have forced the world to witness the Nakba [1948] as present action; one that, contrary to Zionist wisdom, is indeed reversible.” From the Mufti to Massad, they never learn.

The conference at Columbia will be another ignominious footnote in this long history of self-defeating, hate-ridden blame throwing. It is being “generously funded” by the Office of the Provost, the Middle East Institute, the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life, the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures, the Department of Anthropology, and the Department of English and Comparative Literature. All at Columbia, Bir Zeit-on-Hudson.

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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.

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