Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Tenure, Creationism and Galileo:

It appears to me that el Haj’s type of scholarship wishes to reverse scientific scholarship for a politically self-indulgent Palestinian narrative. In her book "Facts on the Ground" she actually aims at re-instating her own private case of “the earth is the center of the universe” thinking. I say, in the name of academic freedom, and for the sake of preserving sacredly intact that tenure-decision process, she ought to be allowed to teach these anti-historical histories to a bunch of ignorant students who will then carry this information within them as though it were gospel truth.

Likewise, maybe “creationism” should be given its full rights to be regarded as science within Physics.

Alternatively, maybe the university should have the courage to admit that her book is a work of fiction and maybe offer her a seat in the Depratment of English Literature, where she will fit in more snugly. It was, after all, Edward Said, a professor of English Literature, who started this fashion of denying Jewish history when he wrote his book about Moses and Freud, in which he made a psychoanalytical historical analysis "proving" that the Jews were really Egyptians. He tried to erase the millennial identity of an entire people and she is trying to complement his project by subverting archeological finds, facts on and in the ground, into manufactured myths.

Here is a nice bit of restrained criticism of Said's book from Richard H. Armstrong:

Right at the outset, then, Said's deployment of Freud's rather patchy historical argument seems a violation of his own championing of good historical research as a method of humanistic understanding. The moral tone he takes in confronting Israelis with the "carefully maintained opening out of Jewish identity towards its non-Jewish back ground" rings rather hollow, since Freud's "careful maintenance" could easily be dismissed as an elaborate fantasy, or even an obsessive projection. Hence, a hostile Jewish reviewer, like The New Republic's Leon Wieseltier, can make short work of refuting Said's central gesture of marshalling Moses as a kind of counter-history with which to shame the Israelis (or, as Wieseltier takes it rather personally, all Jews).

And here is one commenter's opinion of el-Haj's "scholarship":

She conjoins the extremism of Rejectionist Palestinian activism with the intellectual slop that characterizes so much of academic “postmodernism”. I note with some asperity that she marshalls, on behalf of her dubious assertion of the unreality of Jewish history, the stock phrases and double-talk that originates in postmodernist, social constructivist “sociology of scientific knowledge”, borrowing the idle nonsense of such tainted sages as Bloor and Latour in order to claim that there is no such thing as objectivity or science, that all such claims are traces of political power plays, and that therefore, one may publish away, endlessly, without any attempt to consult hard evidence or to face up to its implications. (Norman Levitt )

And here is a good advice:

I think that the state of Israel is strong and legitimate enough to be able to survive and thrive after her writings, and the attacks to her only fuel those who are looking for excuses to attack Israel. Jeremiah Haber is right, let the tenure process in peace and concentrate in produce scholarship refuting her strange findings. ( F. Barrio )

To rephrase Aryeh Neier's statement, in the 1979 case of Neo-Nazis's right to march in Skokie, Illinois: Keeping a few ideologically-corrupt professors off the campus will serve Israel and Jews poorly if it means that the freedoms to write, publish or teach are thereby weakened.

When all is said and done, it really comes down to the kind of education this institution offers. It's Columbia's choice whether it grants the coveted prize of tenure to an academic who supplements what amounts to hate speech for genuine historical inquiry. And as choices go, they come with consequences for which real people will bear responsibility. This may be a very unsatisfactory state of affairs as far as defamed Israeli archeologists are concerned, for it does not redress the lies and distortions that impeached their own integrity and the integrity of the entire Jewish people. Still, this is the price we pay for living in a democracy.


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