Victimization of Edward Said fails

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Oct 19 07:27:13 MDT 2000

NY Times, Oct. 19, 2000

Columbia Debates a Professor's 'Gesture'


When Edward W. Said, a celebrated literary scholar, Columbia University
professor and outspoken Palestinian advocate, hurled a rock toward an
Israeli guardhouse toward an Israeli guardhouse from the Lebanese border in
July, a photographer caught the action. The photo, which captured Mr. Said
with his arm reached far behind him, ready to throw, appeared in newspapers
and magazines in the Middle East and the United States.

When challenged later, Mr. Said, who had been on a trip with his family at
the time, dismissed the action as trivial, "a symbolic gesture of joy" that
Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon had ended. But others saw it as
scandalous and called on Columbia to reprimand Mr. Said, or at least
repudiate his behavior.

For two months, Columbia gave no reply. But yesterday, in response to a
request from student government leaders of Columbia College, Columbia broke
its silence.

Its answer: Mr. Said's behavior is protected under the principles of
academic freedom.

"To my knowledge, the stone was directed at no one; no law was broken; no
indictment was made; no criminal or civil action has been taken against
Professor Said," Jonathan R. Cole, the provost and dean of faculties, wrote
in an open letter to Columbia's student government and the student
newspaper, The Columbia Daily Spectator.

The five-page letter, which quoted from John Stuart Mill as well as from
the Columbia Faculty Handbook, did not provide the reprimand that some
critics of Mr. Said had sought.

"If it were not for Professor Said's well-known political views this would
not have become a matter of heated and ongoing debate," it read. "This
matter cuts to the heart of what are fundamental values at a great

Mr. Said was not available for comment yesterday. An associate, Zaineb
Istrabadi, said he was flying back to the United States from a trip abroad.

Mr. Said made his academic mark with his view that Western scholars were
misinterpreting the Middle East, where he was raised. He became a member of
the Palestinian National Council and an adviser to Yasir Arafat, but broke
with Mr. Arafat in 1993 when the Palestinian leader signed the Oslo peace
framework agreement with Israel. Mr. Said has called those accords "an
instrument of Palestinian surrender."

Mr. Said's rock-throwing occurred during a visit to Lebanon with his family
last summer. He has given several explanations for it. In an interview with
the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, he said it was merely a competition with his
son to see who could throw farther.

But his explanations did not satisfy critics like Abraham H. Foxman,
national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. Mr. Foxman
wrote to Columbia's president, George Rupp, calling Mr. Said's behavior "a
crude, disgraceful and dangerous act of incitement" and saying that it
warranted "clear repudiation and censure from the Columbia University

Mr. Foxman said yesterday: "They should say something to make clear that
this is unacceptable behavior. I don't think they should take away his
parking space or his tenure, but they should say that this is not what
professors should do."

Two Columbia professors, Awi Federgruen, a senior vice dean at the business
school, and Robert E. Pollack, a biologist, also condemned Professor Said's
behavior, calling it "abhorrent and primitive" and a "gratuitous act of
random violence," in an opinion column in The Spectator.

They added that had the act occurred at Columbia, it would have resulted in
suspension or dismissal, according to the university's rules of conduct.

As the matter percolated in The Spectator, however, other professors and
students defended Mr. Said's right to political free expression.

In a letter to The Spectator, Fatima Bhutto, a Barnard College student,
said she was surprised at "how little freedom of expression seems to matter
on this campus."

And seven Columbia professors accused the newspaper of allowing itself to
be "used as a forum holding inquisitions against professors deemed by some
Columbians as `errant.' " They also said that it was Israelis who were
killing Lebanese and Palestinian civilians who should be condemned.

Ariel Neuman, the 21-year-old Columbia College student body president and a
political science major from Tucson, Ariz., said yesterday that he was
pleased that Columbia had issued a statement.

"I think it will be healing," Mr. Neuman said. "What we really needed was
just an explanation of what was the university policy."

Louis Proyect
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