Back in 2004, Joel Beinin, a professor of Middle East history at Stanford University, wrote a long and outraged article inveighing against what he called “intense policing to regulate what may be thought and said about the Middle East” in which he attacked critics of increasingly radicalized Middle Eastern Studies departments for daring to state their views. Now Beinin has become the policeman he once scorned.
In March, in a move clearly designed to obstruct opinions he didn’t like, Beinin filed suit for copyright infringement against the Center for the Study of Popular Culture (the publisher of FrontPageMag.com). His target was a year-old pamphlet called “Campus Support for Terrorism” that pictured Beinin (among others) on its cover. To make his legal harassment suit possible, Beinin acquired the copyright for the photo, which previously belonged to someone else and was assigned to him after the fact.
If the claims in the pamphlet had been false, Beinin could have sued the Center for libel. But the claims were true. So he resorted to the copyright gambit. Copyrights, however, were designed to protect commercial values (something the leftist Beinin has spent a political lifetime fighting against). The Beinin picture is in fact worthless. It is not art and the face on it is distinguished only by its insignificance. No one would buy the picture and the fact that the Center published it (at a time it did not belong to Beinin) costs him nothing. Nonetheless, the professor has engaged the machinery of the law in an attempt to make the Center pay for a crime it did not commit because he wants to punish it for an ideological crime a democracy like ours does not recognize.
The pamphlet details how academic radicals and the anti-war campus Left have lent their support to Islamic terrorists, while campaigning against the efforts of democracies like Israel and the United States to defend themselves. Although Beinin has indignantly denied being a supporter of terrorism, his suit is not aimed at the substance of that charge but, as noted, at the allegedly improper use of his photo.
That Beinin would resort to a legal subterfuge rather than address the specifics of the criticism in the pamphlet is not surprising. A review of Beinin’s public record shows that while he may object to the Center’s use of his picture, he is in fact the poster case of the academic apologist for terror, having consistently justified acts of terrorism, downplayed the dangers of radical Islam, and lent moral support to groups operating in the terrorist network.
The English journalist Joseph Addison once said that he believed in ghosts in general but not in the particular. Joel Beinin’s position seems to be that he does not believe in terrorism in general, but that he supports terrorists (like Sami al-Arian) and terrorist causes (like the PLO’s war against Israel) in the particular.
Consider Beinin’s 2004 article “The New McCarthyism: Policing Thought about the Middle East.” In it, Beinin took strident issue with the Ford Foundation’s decision to withdraw funding from any university grantee that finances the promotion of “violence, terrorism, or bigotry or the destruction of any state.” Ford had enacted the restrictions after it was disclosed in 2003 that the foundation’s monies had bankrolled extremist Palestinian non governmental organizations, including those who were supportive of Hamas and advocated the destruction of Israel. Yet, instead of deploring the activities of Hamas, Beinin condemned the new Ford policy, denouncing the Ford’s belated refusal to finance Palestinian terror as a “dangerous” curtailment of academic freedom.
What worried Beinin was that such restrictions could potentially hurt a “Palestinian student group [that] called for the replacement of the state of Israel with a secular, democratic state” (as though any Palestinians have their hearts set on a secular or democratic state.) Beinin’s position, in other words, was that groups who advocated the effective destruction of Israel, and had ties with terrorist groups, deserved both support and funding.
Beinin’s defense of Palestinian extremism was wholly in keeping with his earlier support for the former University of South Florida professor and chief North American fund-raiser for Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Sami al-Arian. As president of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), Beinin issued a 2002 statement on behalf of MESA’s board of directors condemning Al-Arian’s dismissal from the university. This, after the O’Reilly Factor progam had exposed Arian calling for “Death to Israel” at a fund-raiser for terrorists, where one of the speakers asked for “$500 to kill a Jew.”
The MESA statement said that its professors were “deeply disturbed by the University of South Florida's decision to fire Professor Sami Al-Arian.” It unquestioningly dismissed Al-Arian’s well-documented involvement with Palestinian Islamic Jihad, describing them as only “old and never-proven accusations” (in fact, the accusations were based on ten years of wire-taps and surveillance and al-Arian has now confessed to his involvement in the terrorist group). The statement further said that al-Arian was being targeted not for his criminal activities but for his “opinions,” and asserted that the “Al-Arian case is about academic freedom.” (Beinin has been noticeably less willing to extend the benefit of the doubt to Israeli scholars, and has shunned academic collaboration with Israeli professors in order to “keep a distance from the occupation.”)
Al-Arian was not the only terrorist to win Beinin’s support. Although he was occasionally critical of Yasir Arafat’s leadership abilities, Beinin long defended the late Palestinian terrorist leader. While addressing an anti-Israel rally at Stanford University in 2002, Benin chastised then-Secretary of State Colin Powell for pressuring Yasir Arafat to forswear terrorism. As reported by The Stanford Daily, Beinin demanded that Powell and the U.S. government stop “lecturing Yasir Arafat about the need to do more to stop terrorism.” Instead, Beinin insisted that the terrorist Arafat had to be recognized as a respected statesman and treated accordingly. Arafat, said Beinin, “is the elected president of the Palestinian Authority and the symbol of Palestinian national aspirations and should be respected as such.”
Beinin took a similarly indulgent view of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), several of whose official components are terrorist organizations including the Al-Aksa Martyrs brigade, which was specifically created by Arafat to conduct suicide bombings against Israeli citizens. Beinin has refused to describe the PLO as a terrorist group.
On the contrary, in one article (co-authored with Lisa Hajjar), Beinin criticized as “intransigent” Israel’s designation of the PLO as a terrorist organization. Orwellian subterfuges abound in Beinin’s writings, where the PLO is routinely labeled a “resistance movement,” as though Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza was not the result of three aggressive wars waged by the Arab states against their tiny neighbor and despite the fact that the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade is still carrying out suicide bombings against American and Israeli citizens.
Another of Beinin’s preferred bowdlerisms is “moderate,” a word he deploys with reckless disregard for the facts. For instance, Beinin has repeatedly portrayed Palestinian terrorists and extremists as “moderates.” In a December 2003 article, Beinin wrote that Hamas operative Adnan Asfur is “generally considered a moderate within Hamas.” Maybe within Hamas. Asfur has been arrested at least 16 times, and has voiced support for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. Moreover he belongs to an organization whose charter calls on its members to “kill the Jew” and dismantle Israel. What can “moderate” possibly mean in the the context of Hamas? Only a Stanford professor could explain that. Similarly, in a 2006 op-ed in the San Diego Union Tribune, Beinin described Palestinian legislator and spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi as “one of the most moderate Palestinian political figures.” In fact, Ashrawi is a PLO mouthpiece, notorious conspiracy theorist and terror apologist who has defended attacks against Israeli civilians as a form of “self-defense.”
When not demonstrating his solidarity with individual terrorists and terrorist groups, Beinin has aided their cause by furnishing excuses and justifications for terrorism, especially Palestinian terrorism.
Of the first Palestinian Intifada (1987- 1993), which claimed the lives of 193 Israelis, the majority of them unarmed civilians, Beinin has said that it was a “strike for peace.” With similar moral hypocrisy, Beinin has discounted the murders committed by Palestinians, alluding vaguely to a “small number of violent incidents” while rapturously praising one Palestinian terrorist as “the first martyr of the uprising.” On the infrequent occasions that Beinin did get around to mentioning Palestinian terrorism, he shied away from the term itself, citing “violent attacks against Israeli targets by HAMAS,” but failing to point out that the targets were Israeli civilians.
His sympathies for Palestinian terrorism were on full display in Was the Red Flag Flying There? (Beinin is a Marxist), his 1990 survey of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Lamenting that “Palestinian attacks on civilians (and even armed soldiers) were widely condemned as terrorism by international opinion and media,” Beinin defended the Intifada on the grounds that it was the “Palestinians’ primary weapon of resistance” against what he called the “colonialist thrust of the Zionist project.” Beinin argued that Palestinians’ commitment to terrorism, euphemistically termed “armed struggle,” was an “understandable error for people who felt themselves otherwise powerless.” Backed in three aggressive wars by the armies of Saudi, Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, the Palestinians were hardly powerless. On the other hand, no powerless people in all history, however oppressed, had made the “error” of deliberately killing women and children. Yet, rather than hold Palestinian terrorists to account, Beinin listed “desperation” and the fact that Palestinians lacked a “stable territorial base” as the leading “factors that made attacks on unarmed civilians a salient part of early PLO strategy against Israel.”
Beinin was equally forgiving of Palestinian terrorism during the second Intifada. In a 2004 article for The Nation, Beinin justified terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians as an understandable response to Israel’s superior military capabilities. Of Islamist terrorist groups, Beinin wrote: “As it became clear that they were hopelessly outmatched by Israel's military force, they resorted to the strategically and morally catastrophic deployment of suicide bombers, targeting civilians.” The “morally catastrophic” comment was merely a tactical concession to make suicide bombing seem understandable – and sympathetic. It somewhat contradicted his other bold apologetics claiming that such acts were fully justified.
Beinin even found a way to exonerate the terrorists responsible for the attacks of September 11. The real culprits, Beinin charged, were Israel and the United States. In an October 2001 column in the Jordan Times, Beinin wrote that the 9-11 attacks could be attributed in part to “Israel's disproportionate use of force in attempting to suppress the Palestinian uprising” and the fact that Israel was willing to assassinate Palestinian terrorist leaders, which Beinin called “extra-judicial assassinations.” In short, the Jews did it. Beinin also cited United Nations’ sanctions against Iraq and the Clinton administration’s feckless retaliation against al-Qaeda in the Sudan as factors that “nurtured the fury of those who attacked us on Sept. 11.” In other words, the Great Satan was also responsible for the attacks on itself.
It is noteworthy that Beinin’s strained attempt to shift the focus away from Islamic terrorists to Israel and the United States was a less honest accounting of the 9-11 attacks then the one provided Osama bin-Laden himself, who stated in a 1998 fatwa that killing Americans and their allies was an “individual duty for every Muslim.” But as any sustained reading of Beinin’s work suggests, there is hardly an act of terrorism, no matter how horrific, that he cannot explain away as the inevitable response to allegedly worse crimes committed by the U.S. and Israel.
Indeed, denying the role of Islam in terrorism is a recurring theme in Beinin’s work. In his introduction (co-authored with Marxist Joe Stork) to the reader Political Islam, whose topics included Hamas, the PLO, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hezbollah, Beinin stated his view that these terrorist groups, a designation that he specifically avoided, “can be and have been meaningfully compared to politically activist, socially conservative movements mobilized by revivalist Christian, Jewish and Hindu identities.” For some reason, Beinin didn’t then offer to sell his readers the Brooklyn Bridge.
Beinin also expressed his dismay that “the label of terrorist…is now deployed against Hamas and Hizb Allah, even when they target not civilians but troops and armored patrols.” In other words, if a terrorist organization that has sworn to kill the Jews and destroy the Jewish state also targets some military personnel, it instantaneously becomes civilized. Thus Beinin insisted that “Palestinian Islamists” (i.e., Palestinian terrorists) “hardly warrant” the economic and military aid that Israel receives from the United States. Evidently Beinin thinks that economic and military aid from the United States is another source of evil in the world.
Turing to Iran, one of the leading state sponsors of terrorism, Benin claimed that its leaders were not fundamentalist but merely nationalist and posed no threat to the Western world. The idea of an Iranian threat, he insisted, was promoted by “Israel and its U.S. partisans” who were engaging in “threat construction.” Scoffing at the notion that Islamic fanatics were “ranged against Western civilization,” Beinin allowed only that “[m]any Islamist movements are not unequivocally committed to democratic forms of government.” It appears that Beinin missed the million strong demonstrations in Tehran, sponsored by the Ayatollahs chanting “Death to America.”
Even after the attacks of September 11, Beinin continued to sneer at the notion that Islamic terrorism posed a threat to the West. In a 2002 address to the Middle East Studies Association, Beinin acknowledged that he had earlier rejected the idea that some Muslims have a “propensity for violence and terrorism” as the fantasy of “sensationalist writers” and scholars obsessed with what he derisively called “terrorology.” Yet he insisted that he, and Middle East scholars who followed his lead, showed “great wisdom” in ignoring the role of Islam in terrorism.
The reason, he explained, was that terrorism was caused by “historical and social causes,” which he identified as American foreign policy and Israel’s actions. The Garden of Allah, the 72 virgins and the Koranic texts calling for the slaughter of infidels evidently had nothing to do with it. Moreover, Beinin insisted that “the contention that Muslims or Middle Easterners hate the United States for what it is rather than because they perceive, rightly or wrongly, that it has done something to harm them, must be dismissed as arrant nonsense.” Professor Beinin, meet Sayyid Qutb.
Beinin stressed the same point in a 2003 essay in the Radical History Review titled “Is Terrorism a Useful Term for Understanding the Middle East and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict?” Dismissing the notion that Islam was a causal factor in terrorism, Beinin averred that terrorism was a “product of post-colonial anxieties about U.S. global supremacy, and the regional dominance of the U.S. alliance [with Israel] in the Middle East.” It was a typical Beinin screed, admitting the reality of Islamic terrorism only to the limited extent that it could be blamed on the twin evils of the United States and Israel.
Interviewed about his law suit against the Center for the Study of Popular Culture recently, Beinin self-righteously claimed that, “The title of the booklet clearly means to say that I am a supporter of terrorism and there is absolutely no truth to that.” Well, in Professor Beinin’s world, we suppose, anything is possible.
But the facts tell a different story. The puzzle of why Beinin has elected to pursue an oblique legal course over an unremarkable photograph rather than forthrightly answering his critics is thus answered: Joel Beinin, always ready to defend Islamic terror, is unable to defend his own record.
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