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A pox on both houses

Reader comment on item: [Hamid Dabashi:] Columbia University's Hysterical Professor

Submitted by Irfan Khawaja (United States), Dec 5, 2004 at 13:22

This is one of those controversies in which the only proper response is: a pox on both houses.

Mr. Luria has accused Prof. Dabashi of anti-Semitism. This is a gigantic claim for which he offers only the feeblest evidence. I don't see any evidence in the "Fistful of Dust" article for anti-Semitism. Some of the article is silly, some of it offensive (e.g., the comparison of the white Israeli soldier to a cobra), but Mr. Luria has not offered any bona fide evidence of anti-Semitism. Perhaps there is anti-Semitism in some of the other articles to which Mr. Luria alludes, but if so, Luria is the one who has the burden of explaining exactly what those articles say that is anti-Semitic. Based on his misstatements about the "Fistful of Dust" article, he can't expect us to go rummaging through Al Ahram hoping to confirm his statements. Given his misdescription of the "Fistful" article, it's reasonable to infer that he's distorting the content of the others. He doesn't give us any citations, anyway.

Incidentally, Dabashi's offensive comparison of the Israeli soldier to a cobra is no different from the dozens of offensive comparisons I have seen of Arabs or Muslims to various predatory or scavenging animals--invariably by supporters of Israel. In the Sept 2001 issue of Commentary, I have an exchange with Midge Decter where I take her to task for referring to Palestinians as "tigers." She makes the excuse there that the reference to tigers was just a metaphor (and then adds for good measure that I don't understand English). Well, maybe Dabashi's reference to cobras was "just a metaphor," too? Or maybe what we need is a general moratorium on the use of animal metaphors for people.

Prof. Dabashi's response to Luria is about as cogent and rational as Luria's accusation. He's right to be offended by the 'anti-Semite' accusation, but there was not a bit of evidence that Luria intended Dabashi the slightest bit of physical harm, and it's simply embarrassing to watch a person of Dabashi's supposed stature react in the childish way that he has to what is, ultimately, an unwanted email. For decades I've heard supporters of the Palestinian cause complain that people unfairly stereotype them as "violent". And what do we then get from the supporters of that cause? The same exact stereotypes, employed the same way, for the same ends.

And frankly, I don't for a minute believe Prof. Dabashi's narrative of what happened in the interchange with the three Israeli soldiers near the Dome of the Rock. A person who reacts to an irate email with a pompous email to the provost and the threat that he's going to call the police (or rather: thathe's magnanimously going to REFRAIN for NOW from calling them, but reserves the right to do so) can hardly be trusted when he claims to discern racism in the sideward glances of a few soldiers. This is a person so hypersensitive to supposed "threats" that there is no reason to believe his first-hand account of anything--any event he witnesses is inevitably going to be refracted through a dozen distortions, less related to objective reality than to his overactive imagination.

Can we, at some point, grow up and get beyond all of this? Is it too much to ask that adults act like adults when it comes to the Arab/Israeli conflict? Isn't the failure to do so really the root of the problem? And when Arabs and Jews (or their partisans) turn to the rest of us non-Arabs and non-Jews for moral support for their causes (as they invariably do), can they be surprised when we turn away from both parties in disgust?
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