There’s an interesting brouhaha over rumors that Joseph Massad is getting tenure at Columbia which brings out some interesting details about the double standard of the ferociously critical left when it comes to criticism of their own work. Massad, for example, went running to Columbia for help suing someone who had criticized his work, even as he complained about being sued.
Now we also have Prof. David Newman of the Political Science Department at Ben Gurion complaining of the neo-McCarthyism of Campus Watch and Israel Academia Monitor because they keep track of and expose the ferociously “self”-critical things that some professors teach their students about their own and other Western cultures. Now all Newman has to offer as evidence for the McCarthyism of these organizations is:
The last few years have been “in season” for attacking the academic left, a form of academic McCarthyism that is hard to recollect going back 10 or 20 years. Most pernicious and consistent is the self-styled Campus Watch, created by the neo-con critic of the Israeli left, Daniel Pipes. It uses students and faculty to spy on those teaching courses on Israel and the Middle East. Anyone who so faintly utters a word of criticism is immediately labeled as such, including some of the best critical scholars of Israel today.
Two points here.
1) Keeping track of what Professors teach in class is not spying. In principle anything we say in class is the product of our research, and we should not be embarrassed by having it made public. The notion that a classroom is a private place and revealing what goes on in it is a violation of privacy, a form of spying, is itself revelatory of the mindset of a certain kind of academic regression in which the classroom becomes a site of personal propaganda… something well illustrated by Massad’s bullying.
2) The notion that Campus Watch goes after “anyone who so faintly utters a word of criticism” is the classic refuge of the hyper-self-critical left. Campus Watch and Israel Academia Monitor only target the most outrageous groups, groups who, even as they accuse Israel of racism, apartheid, and even genocide, and call her moral right to exist into question, breathe not a word about Palestinian transgressions or the legitimacy of their claims. The notion that this represents “faint criticism” is nothing short of ludicrous. Only people who are abusing their professorial privileges would consider monitoring and publication of what one lectures to students as “spying.”
On the subject of self-criticism, I’m right now reading an excellent critique of Edward Saïd’s Orientalsm by Ibn Warraq, who rightly points out that Saïd exploited the West’s exceptional tendency to self-criticism in order to render it vulnerable to an Arab world incapable of self-criticism.
In cultures already immune to self-criticism, Said helped Muslims and particularly Arabs, perfect their already well-developed sense of self pity. There is a kind of comfort and absolution in being told that none of your problems are your making, that you do not have to accept any responsibility for the ills besetting your society. It is all the fault of the West, of infidels. There is no need even to take responsibility for self-determination, it is easier to accept money from the Western donors and treat it as one’s rightful due from them, that is a kind of jizyah. [See David Samuels' ""In a Ruined Country" on how Arafat played the game. -rl] The attraction of Said’s thesis for third-world intellectuals is thus easily understandable.
But why was it so successful among Western intellectuals? Post-World War II Western intellectuals and leftists were consumed by guilt for the West’s colonial past and continuing colonialist present, and they wholeheartedly embraced any theory of ideology that voiced, or at least seemed to voice, the putatively thwarted aspirations of the people of the Third World. Orientalism came at the precise moment when anti-Western rhetoric was at its most shrill and was already being taught at Western Universities, and when third-worldism was at its most popular. [See Pascal Bruckner's brilliant, The Tears of the White Man: Compassion As Contempt. - rl]
Jean-Paul Sartre preached that all white men were complicit in the exploitation of the third world, and that violence against Westerneers was a legitimate means for colonized men to re-acquire their manhood. Said went further:
It is therefore correct that every European, in what he coulds ay abolut the Orient, was consequentlly a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric. (Orientalism, p. 204)
Not only, for Said, is every European a racist, but he must necessarily be so.
As I have argued, Western civilization has been more willing to criticize itself than any other major culture. These self-administered admonishments are a far cry from Said’s savage strictures, and yet they found a new generation ready to take them to heart. Berating and blaming the West, a fashionable game in the 1960s and 70s that impressionable youth took seriously, had the results we now see when the same generation appears unwilling to defend the West against eh greatest threat that it has faced since the Nazis. (Defending the West, p. 246-7)
Now we have J-Street, the allegedly liberal lobbying group working for peace in our times, endorsing the play Seven Jewish Children, which systematically pursues the analogy between Israelis and Nazis, something even Joseph Massad denounced
Moreover, the lie that the [David Project] film propagates claiming that I would equate Israel with Nazi Germany is abhorrent.
(even as he did/does it). J-Street offers yet one more of the myriad cases of a one-sided notion of what self-criticism is about, endorsing the most vicious critiques of Israel as contributing to “a difficult but necessary conversation” but silencing any voices from the right that offend its sensibilities. Notes Jamie Kirchik in the Jerusalem Post:
Last year, the group launched a campaign criticizing Hagee and his affiliation with pro-Israel organizations. Hagee is indeed an incendiary man, and J Street spoke for many Jews (this one included) when it called his coziness with some Israel advocacy groups into question. But it says something about J Street’s motives when it trips over itself to attack a politically conservative ally of Israel but rushes to defend a play comparing the Jewish state to Nazi Germany.
Imagine, if you will, J-Street bringing Itamar Marcus of PMW or Yigal Carmon of MEMRI to discuss the genocidal, Nazi-like ravings that pass for a mainstream media in the Palestinian and Arab/Muslim world. They probably don’t endorse calling the Palestinian leadership Nazis, but it surely is a painful and important conversation to hold, no? Or would such a line of discussion undermine their effort to force Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians in the cause of peace?
Update: Winfield Myers of Campus Watch takes on the Massad tenure case with an extensive selection of Massad’s pronouncements which he aptly characterizes thusly:
Massad is not merely vitriolic in his criticism of America, Israel, Jews, and his detractors. He is intellectually vulgar, a purveyor of racialist conspiracy theories and counterfactual historical revisionism who has bullied his own students. He makes a mockery of scholarly obligations to dispassionate research and reporting with his naked political advocacy and villainizing of opponents. Moreover, he juxtaposes events or individuals with little or nothing in common in an attempt to invert our moral universe, cloud our understanding of history, and thwart our ability to learn from the past.
For a really good insight into both Massad’s hypocrisy and his astonishing support for Hamas, see Martin Kramer’s analysis of his attitude towards alcohol among the “secular” Palestinians. Like his mentor Saïd, Massad’s approval ultimately goes to “who is Israel’s enemy?” rather than any serious political principles.