Phi Beta Cons

The New Yorker on Nadia Abu El Haj

Jane Kramer’s New Yorker article (not online) on the controversy over Nadia Abu El Haj’s book, Facts on the Ground, is biased and totally non-informative about the nature of the book itself. As PBC has noted, the book sparked a dispute about its author’s bid for tenure at Columbia, which has now been granted. Two good analyses of the book appear here.
They detail how Abu El Haj does not have the requisite linguistic ability to do work on Mideastern archaeology, which involves knowing a number of ancient languages. She mistakenly says that the Hebrew word “bayit” is a “secularizing” term and does not mean “temple,” when it does, or can in certain contexts. Nor does she have sufficient background in archaeological sources and texts.
She is an anthropologist working in the “construction of knowledge” school of thought. She uses many anonymous sources, and this is serious when she claims, for example, that evidence counter to the Israeli “narrative” that she posits has been hidden or destroyed. And at a couple of points she seems to justify Palestinian looting and destruction of sites as a form of political resistance.
Evidently, her dissertation was more closely based on facts and scholarship and was properly reviewed at Duke, but when she turned it into a book, she went way beyond what her evidence legitimately entitled her to say.

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