Columbia Nation-alized

The Nation weighs in with an editorial and a long piece on the Columbia controversy. The editorial is truly revolting. It shows precisely the same contempt for the students that the offending professors showed. They’re called “foot soldiers” of “right-wing crusaders like Daniel Pipes, Martin Kramer, Charles Jacobs and David Horowitz,” and they’re dismissed as “undergraduate zealots.” The whole story is forced into The Nation‘s standard template: “right-wing Jewish pressure” is exercising mind control.

Anyone who’s gotten close to the Columbia story knows that this is a lie. These are Columbia students, and they’re among the best. They’ve determined their own course. A lot of them are on the liberal-left side of the spectrum, and they seek advice from all sorts of people, on campus and off. In the film Columbia Unbecoming, they sound restrained, moderate, and perfectly credible. The offensive words they attribute to their professors also sound perfectly believable, because they echo those professors’ on-the-record extremism. The profs are the proven zealots. The Nation has exploited the media silence the students imposed on themselves until the university’s ad hoc committee announces its findings. I hope the students reconsider, and zap The Nation right back.

I don’t have the patience to cover all the elisions, omissions, and distortions that mar Scott Sherman’s article. Suffice it to say that the “roots” of the Columbia crisis aren’t in a concerted campaign by Jewish organizations to “take back” campuses. The “roots” lie in the relentless quarter-century campaign by the Saidians to purge departments of all dissenters. If you don’t even allude to that, you don’t get it, period. Instead, Sherman takes readers on long detours, the sole purpose of which is to slip in names like Richard Perle and Bill Kristol. You see, The Nation believes there is a master plan.

Sherman mentions me every few pages, first introducing me as someone who “has taken it upon himself to police and patrol the discipline of Middle East studies.” Where are my police powers? I’m a guy with a website, paid for out of pocket. It’s The Nation, on every newsstand, that takes it upon itself to police debate, by tarring people recklessly with the brush of McCarthyism. I’m “an intellectual architect” of H.R.3077. I like the way that sounds, but I’ve no idea what it means, and I suspect Sherman hasn’t either. I’m an “indefatigable polemicist and critic,” who is “vituperative in his attacks.” Maybe the editors can explain to me why the magazine hasn’t used the term polemicist to describe Joseph Massad (he’s “deliberately provocative and utterly uncompromising,” which sounds principled and deep), or Rashid Khalidi (the editorial calls him “redoubtable,” which suggests defense rather than offense). These two are as indefatigable, polemical, and vituperative as I am on any given day, except they don’t have weblogs. You have to suffer through their classes or watch them on Al-Jazeera or slog through their books to feel their truncheons.

Bottom line: this issue of The Nation should be tossed in the trash. But on second thought, I don’t mind being called indefatigable. I’ll underline that word, and send the article to my folks.