"There is a new blacklist across the country which is having a chilling effect on campuses everywhere,” exclaimed Monique Dols, a student of Columbia University professor Joseph Massad at a April 13 “public service” session at New York City's Cooper Union. Sponsored by the appropriately named group ‘Censoring Thought’ the event was a perfect example of how simply paying attention to the abuses of academia has been turned upside down into "censorship."
Flanked by Massad and radical pundit Tariq Ali, Campus Anti-War Network “activist” Dols offered living proof of indoctrination at Columbia. Launching a tirade against the racist “new McCarthyism today,” orchestrated by “Washington and Tel Aviv” and directed against Middle Eastern professors, according to Dols, these two omnipotent governments are “afraid” of “a real debate that allows people to make up their own mind when confronted with occupation and dispossession. And today they want to reach in to regulate the terms of the debate in the university.” Dols is also a willing participant in Massad's dark fantasies of conspiracy and persecution: Massad is the target of a “systematic attack at Columbia university,” she declares, in which “spy rings” infiltrate his classroom—the same spies who hope to decommission Middle East studies everywhere.
When he speaks, Massad unveils more details of the sinister conspiracy. According to him, “right-wing forces” with Zionist “ideological positions” have hijacked “political power and political discourse in this country.” Meanwhile, true “scholarship is de-legitimized as ideology” by these “witch hunters.” Massad rues that "students with political agendas" began "bringing unannounced, unregistered guests with them to class"; worse, one student soon began circulating a petition to get him fired “on the recommendation of people from outside the university." These upstart students were joined by "two major traditional propagandists, Daniel Pipes and Martin Kramer, who after failing in U.S. academia, excelled as thought policemen.” This comment produced much knowing laughter from the appreciative audience.
According to Massad, Columbia's Middle East studies classes are threatened by a vast right-wing campaign cleverly “engineered to cancel out” freedom of thought. Moreover, at the center of recent attacks on those who disagree with U.S. and Israeli foreign policies lies not a concern for truth or classroom decorum and balance, but academic freedom—“and specifically scholarship on Palestine.” These witch hunters, Massad says, want us to “live the life of servitude to the state power, as technocrats and as ideologues.”
Academic freedom for Massad is being able to freedom to teach without challenge that “Established scholarship enumerates all [Israel's] racist flaws and institutional racist practices” which he says render the Jewish state “a racist state by law.” But any disagreement, Massad says, can be safely discarded as Zionist ideology, part of the conspiracy “propped up by the likes of Campus-Watch, the David Project, and the ADL [Anti-Defamation League],” who “make it...their business to attack scholarly criticisms of Israeli policy.” Failing to discard studies by “Israel's apologists” amounts to “shutting down the educational process in favor of religious theories of creationism.” Evidently America can learn from Palestinian society’s principled anti-racism and passion for historical truth.
Tariq Ali then spoke and took the conspiracy mania fully over the edge. He sees “what is taking place on the campuses as part of the larger and wider project which was initiated by the Sharon government, soon before they went into Jenin [in March 2002] in the big attempt to crush the intifada.” The decision to persecute the poor academics “was made in Israel,” then “circulated” to Israeli embassies, which somehow made it happen worldwide. The Elders of Zion must be working overtime.
Dols, Massad and Ali object to Zionism, and want no criticism of their position voiced anywhere, especially not in college classrooms. They reject the very idea of balance and actual debate, and claim they are within their rights to deny it, since “scholarship” proves their case. A right-wing conspiracy, Ali argues, wants “to impose the same balance so called on campuses as they have imposed on the media.”
In short, according to Dols-Massad-Ali, there is free speech for some but not others, and criticism is censorship.
Alyssa Lappen wrote this piece for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum, which is designed to critique and improve Middle East Studies at North American colleges and universities.