Writing in an Egyptian newspaper, Hamid Dabashi, an Iranian professor at Columbia, lapidates University President Lee Bollinger for his recent harsh criticism of President Ahmadinejad of Iran.
An overheated Dabashi accuses Bollinger of “mind-numbing racism” and propagating “the most ridiculous clichés of the neocon propaganda machinery, wrapped in the missionary position of a white racist supremacist carrying the heavy burden of civilizing the world.”
Other of Dabashi’s charges demonstrate the view, prevalent among many academics, that university presidents and other administrators have no right to express views out of line with the political consensus on campuses as determined by academic “experts.” When a president such as Bollinger has the temerity to deviate from this party line, he is gratuitously attacked as a pawn in the hands of all-powerful “newcons” and – get this – “a spokesman for the Bush administration.” Driving home this same implausible point Dabashi expostulates:
The fact that this speech was delivered at the same university where Edward Said used to teach, where Gayatri Spivak is now a University Professor, and where its current Vice President, Nicholas Dirks, has assembled by far the most distinguished array of postcolonial and subaltern theorists and scholars all go to show that the political import of these bureaucratic functionaries called “university presidents” is entirely severed from any organic link to the actual content of these institutions and has assumed a political reality sui generis, geared entirely to the apparatus of power in the United States.
What’s white racist supremacy to do with what Bollinger actually threw at Ahmadinejad? What he said was that the Iranian leader is a “petty and cruel dictator” void of the “intellectual courage” to account for his denial the Holocaust, persecution of women and scholars in his country, calls for the destruction of Israel, and funding of terrorism. There was nothing anti-Persian or otherwise racist about Bollinger’s remarks, which instead constituted a well-founded political, intellectual, and moral critique.
As one Columbia professor told the New York Sun, Dabashi’s tirade is “sheer demagoguery.” Another professor on campus, Judith Jacobson, who is the co-coordinator of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, also rightly said “attributing President Bollinger’s remarks or behavior to racism is absurd.”