One of the regular commenters at my site asks the following:
One question, if you can comment openly on it without doing yourself political harm: how are you getting along at BU these days?
You mention reading/teaching Orientalism in your seminar (with a critical eye). Do you get a lot of blow-back for this counter-revolutionary activity? Do your faculty colleagues shun you? Do student-activists disrupt your lectures?
I hope the answers are no, but my acquaintance with the academic world makes me suspect otherwise.
As problematic as tenure seems in these MESA-dominated times, the practice is worth keeping, I think, when it protects scholars like you and Salzman, who would otherwise be swept away on a tide of politically correct layoffs.
Funny you should mention that. It’s a question I get a good deal. Up until now, I would have said most of them don’t really know. When I went to the Pajama’s Media launch in November 2005, my first documentary, Pallywood had been up for two months. Most everyone I met there had seen it. I doubt that any of my colleagues, even in my department, even know about it (except those I’ve shared a copy with). And if they have, they haven’t spoken to me about it.
They probably suspect something, since an unknown individual from Florida named Jon Tate wrote a lengthy letter to me, appealing to me not to attend the One Jerusalem conference and rub elbows with “so many men of war.”
There are forces in the world today intent on erasing The Age of Enlightenment from history. Fundamentalists in the Middle East, Evangelicals in the United States and settlers in Israel are all dragging the world backwards; out of the Age of Reason. Political leaders ride the wave. Christian fundamentalists thrust Bush to power. Netanyahu and Likud and Kadima are pushing the Greater Israel agenda of the Israeli settlers and ultra-right Jews. Ahmadinejad and the Muslim Republic backs Hezbollah and Hamas.
These factions feed off each other. The US backs Israel with weapons and money. Israel oppresses Palestinians and threatens the Arab world. Muslims attack Israel and America. Bush and the neoconservatives invade Iraq, inflaming the entire Middle East. Iran launches orbital rockets and develops nuclear power, incensing the Israelis. Israelis push for hard-line Bush policies via the neoconservatives. It is a circle of violence, destruction and death that will lead to nothing but pain and suffering for the entire world.
All men of reason must learn to effectively resist these dangerous and backward looking social movements. All men of reason must find a way to marginalize and overcome these factional elements. If we fail, reason dies. Millions of men, women and children die.
Mr. Landes, why are you meeting with so many men of war at the upcoming Jerusalem Conference? Will you be speaking words of fear and war or will you be speaking words of wisdom and reason? (Jerusalem Conference Program Schedule attached below).
He then took the liberty of sending the following circular letter to all my department colleagues, my dean and provost, and several other key figures at BU:
To Whom It May Concern:
I wrote the attached email letter to Dr. Richard Landes in the History Department at the College of Arts & Sciences at Boston University. I copied in most of the department as well some of the faculty at the College of Arts & Sciences. I have no grudge against Dr. Landes nor do I intend any harm to his person or his reputation. I do not know Dr. Landes. For all I know he is a terrific human being.
I sincerely hope Dr. Landes is not very offended by my email letter. Judging by the attendance list at The Jerusalem Conference next week, he appears to be acquainted with a number of people who are very familiar with all manner of death and destruction. With this in mind, I am writing this short note in hopes that someone will look into my circumstances in the event I myself should turn up dead or disappeared or otherwise destroyed. For the record, I am not a depressed loaner; I do not contemplate suicide or murder and I am not looking for attention.
I own two businesses. I pay my taxes. I have no criminal record. I have a beautiful wife and three bright and lovely daughters. In short I am very happy. I wrote the letter to Dr. Landes as a concerned American citizen, wondering why so many of America’s prominent military men and academics will be in attendance at the upcoming Jerusalem Conference.
No response is required. If you don’t mind, I would appreciate it if you would simply archive this email… or better yet forward it to a friend.
14-B Live Oak Street
Gulf Breeze, FL 32561
I would not even know about the second letter had not a couple of colleagues sent it to me. But overwhelmingly, no one has even mentioned it to me. It could have done serious damage to my career (and may have). Certainly, if I had a politically correct chairman, that could have hurt me. We’ll see the next time I approach the administration about applying for grants.
In the meantime, this unspoken situation is about to change. As a result of the Jerusalem Post article, the student newspaper, the Daily Free Press, assigned a journalist to do a profile on my work, specifically because I seem to represent such an oddity in academia. It hasn’t appeared yet, but we’ll see, a) if it’s a hatchet job, b) how my colleagues react.
Moreover, BU will be holding a full day conference on the “Creating the New Humanist in Undergraduate Education” in which I will be the first speaker (9:30-45). My subject: “Identifying Demopaths.” Here’s the submission I sent.
Identifying Demopaths: A Pressing Agendum for the Humanities in the 21st Century
“He who is merciful to the cruel will be cruel to the merciful.” Talmud
“Opposition is true Friendship.” William Blake
Although the world has seen earlier “globalizing” drives (from Alexander’s oecumene to Dar al Islam, to Britain’s global empire), never has globalization occurred on so widespread and intense a scale as today. With astounding and unprecedentedly inexpensive new technology of both transportation and communication, this current round of globalization penetrates deeper and faster into the indigenous cultures, at once creating undreamed of opportunities and provoking intense anxieties and frictions.
One of the most problematic dimensions of current globalization derives from the encounter between progressive Western values — human rights, gender and legal equality, self-criticism, tolerance, pacifism, freedom of speech and press — and the values that characterize many traditional cultures — aristocratic privilege, patriarchy, authoritarianism, imperialism, belligerence, censorship. Normally, progressives would have no difficulty identifying and denouncing proponents of these pre-modern values: indeed the modern west was built on their overthrow.
Our current dilemma derives from a peculiar form of post-modern, post-colonial, cultural relativism that privileges the “other” — especially the “victim” of our aggression — and refuses to condemn other cultures. “Who are we to judge? After all, is not imposing our values on other cultures a form of imperialism?” And in some cases, where the other responds to this show of respect with mutuality, this pluralistic tolerance encourages felicitous cultural encounters and eases the sometimes bruising dynamics of globalization.
But in other cases, such an approach can backfire. Specifically this problem applies in cases where Westerners encounter “anti-modern” forces that not only do not share our progressive sensibilities but are hostile to them and seek to destroy them. For anti-moderns, the very existence of gender-equal civil societies is an existential assault on their honor, their manhood. They respond to progressive values with violent invective and calls to destroy democratic cultures. But because the battle they fight against the overwhelmingly powerful democratic West is so asymmetrical, they must disguise their motives. This they do most effectively by presenting their hostility in a language of victimization and grievance, justifying their hostility and demands for concessions according to a set of progressive values they have no intent to abide by were they in a position of strength. These demopaths “use democracy to destroy democracy.”
Up till now, progressives treat democracy as some kind of invincible, immortal entity that can survive anything, including falling prey to the hypocrisy of demopaths. Somehow, the reasoning seems to run, being nice to everyone including people who, by our own principles of niceness are decidedly not nice, seems to trump self-defense. For a healthy and humane 21st century, Western progressives need to learn the difference between being slow to judgment and not allowing oneself to judge, between self-criticism and self-flagellation, between granting honor by avoiding unpleasant conversation and showing respect by confronting those who embrace regressive values.
We’ll see what happens.