Massad’s bad book

I was on the road when the Columbia story peaked, so I haven’t had my say yet. Be patient. For starters, I’ll begin with Joseph Massad, the most egregious of Columbia’s faculty miscreants, who released his statement to the ad hoc committee after publication of its report. It’s a bizarre collage of self-serving lies, half-truths, and conspiracy theories. I’ll confine myself (for now) to one example.

At one point, Massad is eager to parade as someone whose scholarship is above reproach. This brings him to his only book, Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan. Massad: “The only unfavorable review, out of seventeen favorable reviews, it received was in Martin Kramer’s unscholarly magazine, Middle East Quarterly.”

Now Massad can think what he likes about the Middle East Quarterly, which I used to edit. The reviewer was a genuine scholar, and a renowned historian of Jordan: Asher Susser. Indeed, so redoubtable a scholar is Susser that even Massad, in his book, cites Susser’s authority on Jordan three times (p. 343, note 123; p. 344, note 135; and p. 348, note 180).

So for the record, here is Susser’s review of Massad’s Colonial Effects (which, in dissertation form, won a prize from the Middle East Studies Association). It’s short (all reviews in Middle East Quarterly are), and it isn’t pretty. Susser:

Massad has done a thorough job of mastering the source material, but his ideological bias runs deep and devalues the results. Massad portrays Jordanians as the malleable creatures of others, non-participants in their own national enterprise who think only the thoughts Westerners imbed in their minds. Or, in the characteristically obtuse jargon of this book: the “juridical-military dyad introduced by British colonialism was both a repressive and a productive success. Today’s Jordanian national identity and Jordanian national culture are living testament to that achievement.”

Since these Westerners, like Glubb Pasha, were infected by Orientalist biases, they imparted an Orientalist mindset to their hapless Jordanian wards, from King Hussein on down: “Note, how the king’s nationalist views … are in tandem with Glubb’s Orientalist views of Jordanians as Bedouins … the latter being part of Glubb’s … de-Bedouinization and re-Bedouinization campaigns in the country.” To believe Massad, Glubb simply de-Bedouinizes and re-Bedouinizes the mindless Jordanians at will, and King Hussein, without a thought of his own, trails along as if on a leash. Jordanians, incapable of imagination, are but putty in the hands of one grand mental manipulator: Glubb Pasha.

Had Massad given the Jordanians their due in the molding of their own identity, he might have redeemed part of his argument. The “colonial effects” are there; no one would sensibly deny them. But by inflating them, Massad deflates his own credibility.

Factual distortion and sheer invention would also seem perfectly permissible in Massad’s account. Three examples of many:

(1) Massad refers to the Israeli raid and “massacre” in Samu’ in November 1966. The Jordanians themselves, however, did not claim that a massacre had been committed. Samir Mutawi, author of the semiofficial version of Jordan’s role in the 1967 war, wrote that Jordanian troops engaged the Israelis at Samu’, and in “the ensuing battle eighteen Jordanians were killed and many more wounded.” No massacre. A few pages later Massad himself gives similar figures (fifteen soldiers and three civilians killed). So after throwing in the word “massacre,” Massad ends up debunking himself.

(2) Massad would have us believe that domestic opponents of the regime alone assassinated Jordanian prime minister Hazza’ al-Majali in August 1960. In fact, it was masterminded by the intelligence services of the Syrian province of the United Arab Republic. This was so well known at the time that King Hussein considered retaliating with a military strike against Syria.

(3) Massad writes of the battle of Karamah in March 1968 that the Israeli army “could not escape unscathed (as it had during the 1967 war and on many other occasions). For the first time in its history, it received heavy damages in personnel and materiel.” This is pure bunk. Yes, Israel sustained heavy losses at Karamah: twenty-eight of its soldiers were killed there. But Massad seems to have forgotten (or never to have known) that 800 Israeli soldiers were killed in June 1967, and that 6,000 Israeli soldiers and civilians perished in the 1948 war. Ignorance? Dehumanization? A bit of both? What is certain is that when it comes to Israeli losses, Massad isn’t counting.

(This last error is especially appalling, as Massad has been allowed to teach “Palestinian and Israeli Politics and Society.” Columbia’s standards are that low.)

In the amen corner of Middle Eastern and postcolonial studies, they may fawn over Massad’s book. But how many of the fawners have devoted their careers to the study of Jordan? Massad’s own elision concealing the fact that his book got a thumbs-down from a major scholarly authority is typical of his method. (Columbia University Press, the book’s publisher, isn’t much better: its website quotes the first half-sentence of Susser’s review—”Massad has done a thorough job of mastering the source material”—as an endorsement.) Ah, how they whitewash on Morningside Heights.