He has performed with Mick Jagger, Johnny Copeland, Chuck D, Albert Collins, and Ben E. King. He considers himself, with his long blond hair and penchant for aging rock stars, a “disgruntled ex-hippie,” who renounced his Jewish faith in his late teens after witnessing his father’s death, as well as “a lot of suffering and injustice.” A liberal antiwar activist who frequently guest-stars at “peace” rallies across the country, he views globalization, capitalism, and any form of nationalism – especially American and Jewish – as forces of evil that do nothing but foment war and misery.
He’s also a professor of Middle Eastern studies at the University of California-Irvine (UCI).
Meet Mark LeVine, an academic known not for his music but for his steady stream of anti-American and anti-Israel diatribes from a Marxist perspective that present Washington and Jerusalem as aggressors in a war against Islam.
LeVine’s hipster persona is on ample display at his website. Casting himself as a latter-day Renaissance man, he tells how he “interviewed senior international political figures, reported from Beirut's green line, taught Qur'an to Muslim Brothers, performed from Woodstock to Paris to Damascus Gate, lived next door to Hamas mosques, stood against bulldozers, dodged terrorist bombs, and uncovered damning files in dusty archives. He knows the history, politics, religions – and most important, the peoples – of the region as a friend, but with a highly critical eye.” Perhaps most menacingly, he confesses to a “long history of blending art, scholarship and activism” and his being “uniquely positioned to offer such analysis in a manner that will be especially appreciated by members of generations X and Y.”
Beneath this trendy if dreary and predictable exterior, LeVine, with degrees from Hunter College and New York University, is an utterly unoriginal reincarnation of some very old thinking.
His worldview envisions a quasi-communist utopia: a world free of class, where all racial, nationalist, and cultural identities are expunged. To bring this about, he claims that we need to “dig beyond the easy symbolism of ‘freedom,’ ‘democracy,’ ‘Zionism=racism,’ and other mantras and challenge a matrix of discourses – modernity, colonialism, capitalism and nationalism; what I call the ‘modernity matrix’ – that are each based on the creation of zero-sum oppositions between (individual or collective) Selves and Others, us and them, and which together have supported a five-hundred year old world system that supports slavery in the Sudan and Mauritania and IMF bailouts, organized terrorism and ‘le peuple du Seattle’ alike.” For a historian to suggest that modernity consists simply of “oppositions” is especially crude and preposterous, as is his lumping together slavery, terrorism, and the International Monetary Fund. There is only one cause, capitalism, that produces every effect. This is a simplification worthy of a rock musician.
When the UN Development Program and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development released the Arab Human Development Report (AHDR) 2002, LeVine criticized the Western media for their enthusiastic acceptance of its chief premise, which “does not simply blame all the Arab world’s problems on the West or the confrontation with Israel.” For LeVine, the AHDR was an inherently flawed document because it failed to address the external “issues of money and power” that prevent Arabs from instituting substantive reform. The West’s unabashed capitalism is to blame for the Arab world’s apparent inability (or perhaps unwillingness) to create real economic prosperity. LeVine’s patronizing attitude absolves Arab societies of the responsibility that the AHDR wishes to restore, for their own successes and failures.
LeVine’s oeuvre boils down to a single, overarching thesis: if certain Islamic groups harbor murderous rage against America and Israel, then America and Israel must have done something to warrant that fury. Islamic religious ideologies and corrupt, dictatorial leadership constitute only the minute factors in today’s global conflict. The main causes of terrorism, in his view, stem from capitalism and American and Israeli imperialism: “without both an acceptance of responsibility for past policy and the transformation of future policy toward the Islamic regions of our planet, there will be no solution to terrorism, only continued violence and war.”
“[W]ar and occupation,” he informs us, “are wonderful opportunities for corporations to make billions of dollars in profits, unchecked by the laws and regulations that hamper their profitability in peace time…Because of this, in the postmodern global era, global corporations and the government elites with whom they work have great incentive to sponsor global chaos and the violence it generates.” Exaggerated reports of widespread civilian casualties in Iraq prompt LeVine to hysteria, calling the United States “a criminal nation, and it must be stopped.”
When an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) bulldozer inadvertently killed pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie as she tried to prevent it from destroying a Palestinian home used for weapons smuggling, LeVine praised her “spirit and courage” and extolled the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), under whose banner Corrie demonstrated against Israel. “As America’s war on Iraq grows bloodier, we would do well to reflect on the meaning of Rachel’s life and death, and the powerful message of the ISM,” LeVine wrote at the time. “She and the other human shields, like their colleagues in Iraq, are true soldiers of peace.” By discounting ISM’s overt endorsement of terrorist groups like Hamas, and commending activists who seek to prevent the IDF’s counter-terrorism operations, LeVine implicitly provides moral support to the very murderers he presumably deplores.
But the deepest problem is identity itself. LeVine views any nation that attempts to assert a distinct identity as inherently immoral. “What I am is anti-nationalist,” LeVine told the Orange County Register. “Each nation has an exclusive identity, and that’s been an abysmal failure. They need to imagine an identity that isn’t dependent upon excluding the other.” Israel, he says, “as the occupying power bears primary responsibility for the continued conflict,” and constitutes a “belligerent,” “autocratic,” and “violent” regime that should receive no funding from the West. Thus, LeVine effectively reduces his worldview to a simplistic dichotomy of oppressor vs. oppressed, powerful vs. weak, rich vs. poor. Nations that retain any sort of national identity are abhorrent, especially if they are successful. Not surprisingly, in many of his writings, LeVine deliberately places “war on terrorism” in quotation marks – the evil of airplanes destroying skyscrapers can hardly compare with the evil of capitalism destroying, well, communism.
With views like these finding a welcome home in the halls of academia, perhaps the music industry ought to conduct more recruiting in our nation’s universities. Record labels might appreciate their musical talent – while the abysmal state of Middle Eastern studies would certainly improve with the exit of individuals like Mark LeVine.
Tzvi Kahn is an intern with the Middle East Forum. This was written on behalf of Campus Watch, a project designed to critique and improve Middle East Studies at North American colleges and universities.