Sandbox: November 2004

$60 million in tips. How did Juan Cole calculate MEMRI’s annual budget at $60 million? Somebody wrote to him to ask, and he replied: “I think [MEMRI] are getting very substantial in-kind donations of labor and services in Israel, possibly from Israeli military intelligence…. Think about it. How do you buy hundreds of Arabic newspapers every day?… We are seeing a tip of an iceberg.” When the questioner pointed out that MEMRI produces only an item a day or less, quite possibly generated by tips from readers, Cole responded: “If you counted the ‘tips’ in the fax machine as part of the labor of the organization (and I suspect it is something much more organized), they would be worth lots of money in time etc.” Even Cole-supporter Mickey Kaus has called this “non-confidence-inspiring reasoning.” To say the least.
Tue, Nov 30 2004 5:37 pm
Armed Liberal shoots. Marc Danziger, the “Armed Liberal,” writes an open letter to Juan Cole. Danziger had come to Cole’s defense against MEMRI’s threat of a lawsuit. “My support was essentially a political act—a statement that while we differed in almost every way, I supported your right to speak—as a political act—without the threat and expense of lawyers vetting every word. Then I was informed of your similar threat against Martin Kramer and Daniel Pipes.” Danziger accuses Cole of “threatening to use the law to quash their legitimate political actions,” and ends thus: “You would have had my support—and the support of others who believe as I do—in this issue, and now you don’t.” Read it all, including comment #1 (by Glen Wishard), on Cole’s claim that we “cyberstalked” him.
Tue, Nov 30 2004 12:20 pm
Scum of the web. Want to know something about the nature of some of my cyberspace opponents? One of them is sending CENTCOM staff a virus from an e-mail address that mimics my (defunct) Middle East Forum e-mail account. The subject line is “Hi” and the text is “Important!” As if CENTCOM didn’t have enough to do. I’ve no correspondence with CENTCOM, so guys and gals: please delete anything that seems to come from me.
Mon, Nov 29 2004 3:17 pm
Telling bad from good. Juan Cole today claims that he “said repeatedly in 2002 and early 2003” that “it was a bad idea to invade Iraq.” No he didn’t. Cole, before the war (February 11, 2003): “I am an Arabist and happen to know something serious about Baathist Iraq, which paralyzes me from opposing a war for regime change in that country.” Cole, start of the war (March 19, 2003): “I remain convinced that, for all the concerns one might have about the aftermath, the removal of Saddam Hussein and the murderous Baath regime from power will be worth the sacrifices that are about to be made on all sides.” Cole, after the war (July 30, 2003): “I refused to come out against the war. I was against the way the war was pursued—the innuendo, the exaggerations, the arrogant unilateralism. But I could not bring myself to be against the removal of that genocidal regime from power.” Some “bad idea.” (More details at main link.)
Sun, Nov 28 2004 8:59 pm
Everybody loves one. Thanks to Jonah Goldberg over at National Review Online, whose link at The Corner has generated several thousand visits to Sandstorm. (Maybe it was the way he formulated it: “MEMRI & Martin Kramer vs. Juan Cole: Fight! Fight!”)
Sun, Nov 28 2004 1:51 am
He wrote the wrong letter. On some of the weblogs, commentators have suggested that Juan Cole should have resorted to publicity, not legal threats, to deal with Campus Watch. In fact, one person on the Campus Watch list proposed just that. “What to do for now?” he asked in a letter to his colleagues. “I believe that an Amnesty-International-type approach may be the best response…. Those concerned that this move damages academic freedom and who object to the technique of keeping dossiers on and encouraging others to spy on teachers and writers should write letters.” And he went on to urge that these letters be written to media outlets (CNN, MSNBC, Fox) and Congress. Who set out that strategy? Well, it was… Juan Cole, the very same day he threatened to slam Pipes and me with a lawsuit. Cole preached reasoned appeals in public, and practiced legal intimidation in private. I suspect he wrote only one other letter that day—to us.
Sat, Nov 27 2004 1:55 am
Hypocrisy. My current web column, “Juan Cole Jogs My MEMRI,” is the subject of deliberations at various weblogs, and there are many interesting comments. Drop by these: Matthew Yglesias, Michael Young at Hit and Run, and Marc Danziger at Winds of Change. The word that seems to recur most often in the comments: hypocrisy. Update: I highly recommend the postings of SoCalJustice at Matthew Yglesias.
Fri, Nov 26 2004 5:43 pm
Out of all proportion. Juan Cole has claimed that MEMRI is funded “to the tune of $60 million a year.” Some bloggers have pointed out that MEMRI’s filings show a budget of under $2 million, to which Cole responds: “I deny that I have misstated their funding. It is silly to think that the nearly $2 million that underwrites their Washington office is anything but the tip of their financial iceberg.” You want silliness? $60 million is equal to the budgets of the Brookings Institution and the Heritage Foundation combined. (These premiere think tanks, with hundreds of staff covering all aspects of foreign and domestic policy, fill their own office buildings in Washington.) It’s more than a million dollars a week. It’s $165,000 a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. It’s twelve times the budget of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where I’m camped right now. And it’s one more reason why I can’t take Juan Cole seriously. He hasn’t got a clue.
Fri, Nov 26 2004 1:21 am
Cole jogs my MEMRI. Juan Cole has stirred up all the far-out blogs, over the threat by MEMRI to sue him for erroneous claims he’s made. Cole has gotten all pious about the web, and he’s posing as a martyr for freedom of expression. So over at Sandstorm, I publish for the first time an e-mail he sent to Daniel Pipes and me two years ago, threatening to hit us with a frivolous suit. I ignored him, and so did Pipes. What Cole doesn’t seem to understand is that unfettered freedom of expression isn’t just for him. I do think MEMRI is wasting its time threatening Cole: maybe I’m wrong, but I have trouble taking his juvenile weblog seriously, no matter how many cult followers worship there. Still, perhaps MEMRI will persuade him that his assertions aren’t facts just because he asserts them, and that boys who get caught telling white lies get spanked.
Thu, Nov 25 2004 3:58 am
Who’s the chair? I’m informed that Hamid Dabashi is no longer the chair of Columbia’s Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC). So someone should update his official MEALAC website (at link), which still shows him as chair.
Tue, Nov 23 2004 3:05 pm
Whining Dabashi. A Columbia grad student wrote to MEALAC chair Hamid Dabashi, to tell him that his recent travelogue to Israel, published in Al-Ahram Weekly, was a “revolting excerpt of anti-semitism.” (Here in the Sandbox, I also described one passage from that piece as anti-Semitic; see entry of Sept. 25.) The ever-theatrical Dabashi wrote this to Columbia’s provost, Alan Brinkley: “I would be grateful if Columbia Security were to be informed of this slanderous attack against my character and appropriate measures taken to protect my person from a potential attack by a militant slanderer.” (Dabashi said he would not go to the police, “for the time being.”) Brinkley replied to Dabashi that there was “nothing threatening” in the letter, and added: “You are no stranger to controversy… This is one of the unhappy prices of a public life, and I would recommend ignoring [the student].” Dabashi played the cry-baby, so the provost changed his diaper. Story at link.
Tue, Nov 23 2004 11:01 am
Yale smarter than Columbia. The Yale Herald has run a piece on the university’s unwillingness to do much in modern Middle Eastern studies. The paper quotes an assistant professor, a Palestinian teaching postcolonialism, etc., on how she’d like to change that: “While [Hala] Nassar is dedicated to expanding courses and faculty that cover modern Middle Eastern topics, she has her mind set on higher goals. Pointing to more focused Middle East programs at other universities, such as Columbia’s department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Nassar says a similar program for Yale ‘is my future vision.’ She, too, wondered why, in the face of strong student and faculty support, Yale has moved relatively slowly to implement such reforms.” I’ll answer that: precisely the fear of replicating the nightmare caused by Columbia’s rogue department. Why would any administration go down that road?
Mon, Nov 22 2004 7:10 pm
Cole wins poll! You heard it here first: it’s just been announced that Professor Juan Cole has been elected president of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA). He’ll be president-elect for a year, and will assume office at the next MESA meeting, in Washington 2005. Sure, it won’t change the world, but it’ll keep me busy. Just imagine the possibilities…. (By the way, my presidential poll was way off, showing a clear margin for Cole’s opponent, Fred Donner. Fire the pollster.)
Mon, Nov 22 2004 4:59 pm
New features. Two new features have been up for the last ten days on this site’s homepage. Linkage is my selection of interesting links, updated constantly, and available also as a feed. Daily Photo is… well, a daily photo that I think deserves viewing. (This is also configured as a feed.) Both features seem to be working just fine. So the homepage isn’t static anymore, and it repays a visit. Come back often.
Sun, Nov 21 2004 11:26 pm
Brand of activism. In a new entry at Sandstorm, I consider Laurie Brand, outgoing president of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), who’s delivering her presidential address tonight at MESA’s annual conference in San Francisco. I highlight her peculiar brand of activism, which prior to the Iraq war consisted of parading along a median strip in the heart of Beirut, identifying herself as an American and protesting U.S. policy. Readers with long memories also will recall that Brand signed that infamous letter condemning Israel in advance for something it had no intention of doing: expelling Palestinians under the cover of the Iraq war. After I subjected the letter and its signatories to a thorough treatment, before and after the war, she still had the temerity to justify them. As I’m not at the conference, I welcome hearsay reports of her address, on “Scholarship in the Shadow of Empire.”
Sun, Nov 21 2004 3:59 pm
Primacy of theory. Hamid Dabashi, chair of Columbia’s MEALAC department, earns this student review of his “Sociology of Middle Eastern Cinema” course: “Anyone hoping to learn something about the films or the cultural contexts in which they were produced will be sorely disappointed. Dabashi’s lectures are unresearched, unsubstantive, and largely free-associative; often, a student will ask a question and change the course of the entire lecture. Topics covered include Kant, Sartre (neither of whom is on the syllabus), Hamid Dabashi’s Traffic Light Theory, Hamid Dabashi’s Gas Station Theory, Hamid Dabashi’s Amir’s Falafel Theory, and Hamid Dabashi’s Knife and Fork Theory of Civilization, which states that humans were able to establish civilizations because, unlike cats, they have opposable thumbs…. It may not be hard, but the class is a painful and frustrating time-waster. Avoid it at all costs.”
Sat, Nov 20 2004 11:21 am
Kurtz on MESA. Stanley Kurtz on the MESA ad ban (see right below): “Let’s get this straight. MESA’s members request and benefit from millions of dollars in federal subsidies under Title VI of the Higher Education Act. Higher education lobbyists have no problem telling Congress that our national security needs mandate ever higher subsidies. And Congress duly appropriates this money in an effort to stem the shortage of Arabic translators and area studies experts in our defense and intelligence agencies. Yet while taking this money on the pretext that it contributes to our national security, MESA members prohibit our defense and intelligence agencies from advertising in their publications…. The public is getting taken to the cleaners by these professors. It’s time to wise up and reform Title VI.”
Fri, Nov 19 2004 1:57 am
MESA advertising ban. The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) is convening this weekend in San Francisco for its annual conference. If you want to advertise in the conference program, there’s no problem—unless you’re the U.S. Defense Department or the CIA. “MESA publications will not accept advertising from defense and intelligence related agencies from any government.” Since the Syrian defense and intelligence agencies aren’t likely advertisers, the effect of the ban is to exclude U.S. agencies, which might be interested in recruiting a few students. MESA: they’re your patriotic Middle East experts, in the nation’s service.
Wed, Nov 17 2004 5:36 pm
Sanction Saliba. More from a Columbia student, this one a survivor of George Saliba’s “Introduction to Islamic Civilization”: “I genuinely wanted to gain an understanding of the history and culture of the Islamic world. Unfortunately, what I got instead was a lesson in the hypocrisy of the academic left, thanks to George Saliba. Saliba and the TAs in this class were constantly discussing stereotypes of Islam and of Middle Easterners, but they seemed to have never challenged their own stereotyped thinking. It is reprehensible that one TA thought it was acceptable to tell me I must think certain things because I was white, middle class, and American… In my humble opinion, the university ought to sanction Saliba for some of the comments he made in this class.”
Sat, Nov 13 2004 12:30 pm
Hebrew boycott. I’ve got one more comment before I take leave of Simona Sharoni, who thinks that anorexics and depressed gays share a predicament with suicide bombers (see right below). She told her Georgetown audience that she’s decided to keep her four-year-old daughter from learning Hebrew, so as to “deprive her of her connection to a culture which has been problematic.” So Sharoni is boycotting Hebrew, and this personal act of divestment perfectly encapsulates the double standards of the boycotters. After all, there are other “problematic” cultures, so perhaps children should be protected from German, Russian, Arabic, and maybe even English. But only Hebrew can be openly repudiated as a culture virus, and no one in a campus audience blinks an eye. This goes way beyond repudiation of Israeli policies or the Israeli state. I’ll let you put a name on it.
Fri, Nov 12 2004 10:52 pm
Simona Says. Simona Sharoni is a radical Israeli who left the country and now teaches at Evergreen State University. Last Friday she said this at a Georgetown talk: “When I think of gay teens who have to commit suicide because of rampant homophobia, of girls who starve themselves to death, I think of suicide bombers. It’s the structures and conditions [of society] that create this.” No they don’t. Our society regards homophobia and anorexia as dangerous disorders that should be combatted. Palestinian society celebrates suicide bombings as virtuous acts that should be encouraged. Depressed teens and anorexics kill themselves. Suicide bombers are equipped and dispatched to kill others, and when they succeed, their dispatchers pass out candy to children. Are these differences all that subtle? “I believe that knowledge does not reside with the professor,” Sharoni writes on her website. In her case, she’s absolutely right.
Fri, Nov 12 2004 12:21 am
Apocalypse now. Here’s another review of Hamid Dabashi, the chair of Columbia’s Middle East department, by a grad student who took his course on “Cinema and Society in Asia and Africa”: “Dabashi is by far the absolute worst professor I’ve had during my graduate career at Columbia. That he manages to garner teaching accolades, attract groupies comprised of nubile undergraduates, and remain the chair of two departments despite sheer incompetence, arrogance, total lack of organization and general smarminess, I’m sure are signs that the four horsemen of the Apocalypse have just touched down, and will be galloping among us quite soon…. He has no respect or patience for opinions contradicting his own, no matter how well and respectfully articulated, and he has no time for his students outside the classroom.”
Wed, Nov 10 2004 3:59 pm
Misreading Lewis. Newsweek senior editor Michael Hirsh has a silly piece on Bernard Lewis in the Washington Monthly, claiming Lewis fathered the idea of imposing democracy on Iraq. So read this reporter’s summary of a Washington lecture Lewis delivered a few months before the war: Lewis “said flatly that the idea of third parties producing and applying modern institutions in the Arab Middle East is ‘unrealistic’. If the initiative is viewed by Arabs as a ‘forced change by an external force’, Lewis said, it is doomed to backfire, particularly if the democratizing initiative is accompanied by a prolonged U.S. military presence. Lewis said that Israeli forces were initially warmly welcomed as liberators in South Lebanon, but before long, the perfumed rice and flowers that were thrown at them turned into rockets and bombs.” Hirsh missed that because he relied exclusively on Lewis’s critics, who read Lewis selectively and with malice.
Tue, Nov 9 2004 5:36 pm
Real anti-Semites. Joseph Massad writes to defend his core idea (Zionism is anti-Semitic), attack his student accusers, and cast himself as the victim of a witch-hunt. Massad apparently never heard the adage that if you’re in a hole, the first thing you do is stop digging. Instead, he floats the new claim that Christian fundamentalists are “a quarter of the American electorate and are the most powerful anti-Semitic group worldwide.” (Maybe American Jews should flee to a place where anti-Semites are weaker, like France or Saudi Arabia or Malaysia.) Columbia dean Lisa Anderson has noted that “over the course of time, good ideas drive out bad. American universities don’t teach pre-Copernican astronomy, phrenology, fascism, astrology, eugenics, and a host of other wrong-headed notions.” So is Columbia prepared to tenure a professor who teaches that Christian (and Jewish) supporters of Israel in America are the world’s most powerful anti-Semites? That’s the crux of the Massad question.
Sat, Nov 6 2004 10:59 am
Apoplectic Massad. Here’s a student review of Joseph Massad’s section in “Contemporary Civilization,” part of Columbia’s core curriculum. “A bizarre experience…. The quality of the class varies greatly with Massad’s level of interest in a particular subject, and he isn’t interested in very much until he gets to Marx and Nietzsche. Our lecture on Thomas Aquinas, for instance, lasted about 20 minutes. You’ll spend most classes wondering how an apoplectic rant about U.S. foreign policy that relates only vaguely to Plato or Aristotle is supposed to represent the ‘core’ of your Columbia education…. Massad, in my opinion, is an egomaniac and entirely uninterested in hearing anything other than the sound of his own voice. I found his predilection for using his academic training to pick apart the semantics of statements made by his students horrifying.”
Thu, Nov 4 2004 7:32 pm
Mi-Cole Moore. I didn’t join in the presidential campaign via this site, for this reason: I don’t know why anyone would care what a Middle East expert thinks about American politics. But Juan Cole didn’t hesitate to analyze and endorse, and now he’s made a post-mortem. Democrats, he says, “need to start defusing deadly cultural and ‘moral’ issues that have been so effective for the Republicans. And they need to be sly about it,” i.e., hide their real goals behind a false rhetoric of respect for conservative values. Coming from Cole, whose website is the antithesis of slyness, it’s a bit much. What the Dems really have to do, as Pat Caddell has pointed out, is dump the Michael Mooreists—like Juan Cole—who are killing the party. Sly Dems won’t win a national election. Ruthless ones just might.
Thu, Nov 4 2004 4:52 pm
Azzam Tamimi, ticking. I’ve posted a new Sandstorm entry on Azzam Tamimi, the London-based Hamas “intellectual” who’s a long-time collaborator of Georgetown University’s John Esposito. In a televised BBC interview, Tamimi says he’s prepared to sacrifice himself as a suicide bomber against Israel. Tamimi, by the way, is mentioned in an article in the current issue of The Atlantic as someone who’s lectured to the British MI5 on interpreting Al-Qaeda statements. The magazine describes him as “a Palestinian who supports the goals but not all the tactics of Hamas and is ideologically opposed to al-Qaeda.” The first and last parts of that sentence are correct, but Tamimi completely endorses and regularly defends all the tactics of Hamas, especially suicide bombings. He last showed up in the U.S. in 2002, entering on a British passport. If Cat Stevens can be excluded, Tamimi certainly should be—if the State Department is listening.
Thu, Nov 4 2004 1:33 pm
Republic of Fear. Here is a powerful piece from the Columbia Spectator by a Barnard senior. “The most striking thing about MEALAC [Columbia’s Middle East department] is that so many people are afraid of it…. Even faculty members have not been immune to the aura of intimidation surrounding members of the MEALAC faculty. Professors of various departments identified as pro-Israel who were approached by The David Project staff agreed to give off-the-record interviews but balked at being included in the film. They all agreed that the issue of departmental bias was a serious one, but those who had yet to receive tenure equated participating in the video with ‘career suicide’, and those who were already tenured claimed that it would jeopardize their credibility as scholars.”
Wed, Nov 3 2004 4:01 pm
Columbia’s real problem. Columbia prof George Saliba is claiming that the student who testified so powerfully against him over his “green eyes” comment didn’t understand his oh-so-nuanced words, and misquoted him. He’d like to turn the episode into a case of he-said she-said (or its variation, Jew-said Arab-said). Since faculty tend to trust faculty, we know where that ends up. It’s why I’m skeptical of a board that would hear grievances, which is the demand of the students. As I noted last week, my own criticism of Middle Eastern studies at Columbia has never depended on specific claims of harassment. It goes much deeper, to the systemic faculty bias that has bent the curriculum and driven one-sided appointments. When a department becomes a club, higher administration must intervene to reorder priorities in hiring and promotion. The more damaging abuse isn’t in the classroom. It’s in the committee room.
Wed, Nov 3 2004 3:59 pm
Silenced student. In our series of student reviews of Columbia professors, here’s an entry on Hamid Dabashi, the chair of the Middle East department, from a student in his course on “Colonialism”: “A student made an unbearably misogynist comment…. A young woman in the class was offended and said so, asking the young man to refrain from such doltish and offensive commenting.The ever-so-progressive Dabashi screamed at her for asserting her right not to listen to that sort of offensive and violent language in the classroom. The professor was extremely condescending to her.” Another student adds: “Dabashi overreacted massively by lashing out at her the way he did, silencing her for the rest of the semester. Foul.”
Tue, Nov 2 2004 10:40 pm
Going Third World. When I edited the Middle East Quarterly, I occasionally unearthed small forgotten gems and republished them. In 1992, Commentary magazine published a brilliant essay by Elie Kedourie entitled “Politics and the Academy.” It was Kedourie’s last piece for the magazine: he had died suddenly only a month earlier. In the essay, Kedourie made a trenchant critique of Louis Massignon and Jacques Berque, the venerated French Orientalists who had fervently embraced the political cause of Arab-Muslim nationalism as their own. The article influenced me, and it is with pleasure that I offer this excerpt to new readers who are rediscovering Kedourie’s unique genius.
Tue, Nov 2 2004 9:49 pm
Saliba’s science. Our first student review of a Columbia prof treats George Saliba and his course “Islam and Western Science.” (In the David Project film, a Jewish student alleges that Saliba told her she couldn’t be a Semite because her eyes were green.) “Saliba’s teaching style was totally disorganized and quite incoherent…. The class was not, as I had expected, a study on the attitude of modern Islam towards modern science. Rather, it was a confusing montage of Why the West is Evil (Yet Again), Islam: It Totally Rocks!, Islamic Astronomy of the 7-14th centuries (stolen by the West), and How to Compute Kibla (direction one prays in Islam) Through Ridiculously Impossible Trigonometric Functions…. You won’t learn anything that fits together in the sense of an overall course objective, you may not learn anything at all, and you’ll be bored out of your ming 2 1/2 hours a week.”
Mon, Nov 1 2004 11:17 pm
Wilaya, we lie ya. I’ve been mixing it up over at Abu Aardvark’s weblog, on the question of what Osama meant when he said: “Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or Al-Qaeda. Your security is in your own hands, and any state (wilaya) that does not toy with our security automatically guarantees its own security.” I won’t summarize the debate here. We were splitting a few hairs over Arabic usage, which is supposed to be our relative advantage. (And even on this, there’s room to disagree.) Pop over to Abu Aardvark for all of it.
Mon, Nov 1 2004 10:47 pm
New poll. I’ve put up a new poll question today, on the sidebar at Sandstorm. Question: “Do you think that anti-Semitism in Middle East programs on American campuses is currently a very serious problem, somewhat of a problem, or not a problem at all?” The poll question is closely modeled on a question in the Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion, conducted by the American Jewish Committee. That survey asks American Jews this: “Do you think that anti-Semitism on American college campuses is currently a very serious problem, somewhat of a problem, or not a problem at all?” Click here to see the 2004 answers in percentages. I know, it’s not the same question, my poll is open to everyone, and it ain’t scientific. It may even be anti-scientific. Still, I’m curious. Aren’t you?
Mon, Nov 1 2004 1:12 pm
MEALACulpa. Over the next week, I’ll be reproducing choice quotes from Columbia students about faculty in the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC). They’re taken from CULPA, acronym for “Columbia’s Underground Listing of Professor Ability.” The student-run website bills itself as “your guide to the best (and worst) of Columbia,” and it includes over 7,500 reviews of profs. I’ll take snippets that strike me as relevant to the present controversy surrounding MEALAC, and that demonstrate wit as well as insight. I don’t pretend to be comprehensive or fair. If you want all the student reviews, go to the CULPA website, at the main link.
Mon, Nov 1 2004 12:07 am