Monthly Archives: November 2008

No breaks for academics: Joel Beinin and Yasir Qadhi

Stanford Middle East Studies professor Joel Beinin, a world-class scholar who wrote, among other things, the definitive book about the dispersion of the Jews of Egypt, was long ago declared trayf by some for his critical views of Israeli policy. Beinin, who once lived on a kibbutz, has had more than his share of cancellations and attacks from groups like Campus Watch. Willamette Week has the latest about Beinin’s decision to remove himself from consideration for a tenure-track position at Portland State University after being politically vetted by one of the interviewers. This was not his first experience with unprofessional political vetting at PSU. In a leaked email, Joel wrote:

…Tom Luckett asked me a highly inappropriate political question during my private meeting with him. He too, was unaware of the impropriety of this line of discussion. And when I mentioned, as light heartedly as I could, to Marvin Kaiser that I had been politically vetted by Michael Weingrad, his response was, “Of course.” It appears then, that at all levels at PSU there is a serious lack of appreciation for academic freedom. This is especially unfortunate for a public institution

Muslim academic Yasir Qadhi, a vocal advocate for religious coexistence and moderation, and a critic of terrorism, is working on his doctorate in Islamic Studies at Yale. He tells an all too typical story about the impossible standards to which Muslims are selectively held. In a refreshingly honest piece, he acknowledges making some dumb comments in a lecture years ago that even then, did not amount to Holocaust-denial. But years later, thanks to the hysterical right wing Frontpage Magazine, he is denounced by a leading British politico from the stage of the Global Peace and Unity event for just that reason. (Meanwhile, real anti-Semites like Pastor John Hagee get to be keynote speakers at AIPAC conferences…) Qadhi writes:

People change over time. Views develop, are modified, or discarded outright. Simplistic notions, especially those held in younger years, are typically shown to be stereotypical and false. And this is exactly what happened in this case as well, and I have no qualms admitting my mistakes, even as I criticize the exaggerated response it generated.

One final point of advice to speakers out there: realize that you never know when and how something you say may be used against you. When I gave that lecture, so many years ago, I was a completely unknown nobody. I honestly had no idea that one day I would be as recognized as I am today, so much so that the Shadow Home Secretary of the UK feels compelled to dissociate himself from the likes of me! I gave that lecture in a local masjid, to a small audience, and it was only recorded on audio cassette. To hear such material – a passing comment made so many years ago – exaggerated to the level that it has been, causing such a large scandal, is really quite amazing. I wonder how such people discovered my blunder. Did someone actually compile all of the thousands of hours of my recorded material, including these audio cassettes, and sift through it with a fine-toothed comb, or was it an accidental ‘discovery’? And why did no one – and I mean no one - attempt to contact me to clarify my current stance?