In 2020, based on my many decades of studying cultures of the Middle East, including years of living in a Middle Eastern tribal society, I wrote an article for a general audience about the nature of that region. Before spelling out the details, I offered a summary statement about the politics:
The Middle East is a place where doing harm and being cruel to others is regarded as a virtue and a duty. Middle Easterners see their world as a zero-sum game in which there are winners and losers. They believe that others conspire to advance their own interests, so each must conspire to protect his own against the conspiracies of others. Middle Easterners see their political environment as a war of all against all, with only their closest friends as potential allies.
Eight McGill University student groups took offense at what I had written, and published a public letter denouncing me, saying that the university must punish me, and further demanding that students determine what may and what may not be said and written by university faculty. (The students’ letter can be found in full here.) Which groups initiated this letter I do not know, but these are the signatory groups:
Muslim Students Association, Students in Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, Thaqalayn Muslim Association, World Islamic & Middle Eastern Studies Association, The Students’ Society of McGill University Executive Team, The Anthropology Students Association, The Anthropology Graduate Students Association, Black Students Network.
The justification given in the letter was the need to protect “the right of Muslims and People of Colour have to feel safe, … [and the need to forbid] racist and Islamophobic dialogues.” What the letter does not claim is that my published statement is false. An academic critique would have challenged the truth of what I argued, and pointed out weaknesses in evidence or logic or both. But there was no academic critique of my article, only a denunciation of what some students took to be an unflattering description of the region with which they identified or wished to express solidarity.
It would have been difficult to challenge my description of Middle Eastern politics on factual grounds. The world had recently seen the Islamic State (ISIS) engage in extreme acts of barbarism and then proudly display the videos. The Islamic State had gleefully beheaded prisoners on camera, burned enemy combatants alive in cages, and gang raped and then murdered “infidel” girls and women. This is strong evidence of the truth of my description of Middle Eastern politics. It is remarkable that my article made students “feel unsafe” considering these acts by ISIS. But then, the students were safely ensconced in Montreal, Canada—far, far away from the realities of the Middle East.
Turning to current events, we have seen Hamas’s multiple video tapes of their invasion of Israel. Of course, Palestinian terrorism is not new to Israel. Palestinians have been attacking and murdering Jews for a hundred years. The Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria has been running a “slay for pay” scheme for years, currently funded in the millions by the Biden administration. The ramped up small scale terrorism in the last years accurately reflects the Palestinians’ absolutist religious commitment to destroy Israel “from the river to the sea,” and to reclaim the entire region for Islam. Yet, the Hamas invasion was much more ambitious.
Over the last decades, since Israel pulled out of Gaza and turned it over to the Palestinians, Hamas (Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya, or Islamic resistance movement), elected by the Gaza population (one man, one vote, one time only), turned the territory into a terrorist operation. As clearly stated in the Hamas Charter, the supreme goal is to destroy Israel and murder all Jews around the world. We might have taken a hint from the tens of thousands of rockets that Hamas has shot into Israeli communities. They have now graduated beyond shooting rockets.
With the likely guidance, funding, training, and permission of Iran (also funded by the Biden Administration), Hamas invaded Israel and attacked on October 7, not only military posts, but unarmed civilians. They entered Israeli communities and broke into homes, murdering women, children, and the elderly wherever they found them. They butchered hundreds. They attacked a rural music festival of young people, first bombing and then shooting hundreds. Those trying to escape were murdered in their cars. Not satisfied with killing, they gleefully burnt children alive, decapitated babies, raped children and women, and ran back to Gaza with hundreds of hostages. They proudly publicized their videos to show their “great triumph” over the Jews. In the light of Hamas’s atrocities, is my description of the Middle East defamatory or not sufficiently strong?
At Harvard University, thirty student groups circulated a letter supporting Hamas. At McGill University a similar letter was publicized by an Islamist student group. This is not unrepresentative of student opinion. Hatred of Jews and of Israel is widespread and virulent in universities across the Western world. Of course, vilifying Jews, discriminating against them, stealing from, exiling, and murdering Jews has been a 2000-year-old habit in Christian and Muslim spheres of influence. This culminated in the Holocaust, the Nazi genocide against the Jews.
There have always been justifications, that is to say rationalizations, for Jew hatred and abuse. Religion has been prominent over the centuries. In Christianity, Jews were “Jesus killers” (notwithstanding that Jesus and his followers were all Jews, and that it was the Romans who executed Jesus), until later centuries when Jews were deemed to be an inferior race. In Islam, Mohammed, furious that Jewish tribes refused to recognize him, after he borrowed so much of their religion, denounced Jews as the worst enemies of Muslims. Palestinians often claim all of the Levant as an Islamic Waqf (endowment) that should never be alienated from Islamic control.
But Jew hatred in our universities rests on two updated academic theories: Marxist-Leninist “postcolonial theory” and critical race theory. Postcolonial theory rightly states that imperial conquest and colonial occupation has a major deleterious effect on the indigenous population. But then, quite oddly, asserts that all worldly problems are due to European imperialism and only European imperialism. The world’s long history of many imperial states, including current non-European ones, is ignored. No mention is made of Islamic imperialism in which Bedouin tribes from Arabia conquered and occupied half the known world, from Arabia to the Mediterranean, from India to Morocco, from the Maghreb to Sicily and Iberia. Nor do we hear of China’s current imperialism and colonialism in Tibet, Chinese Turkistan, and Inner Mongolia, and now grasping out across the Pacific. No, only Europeans are to blame.
Postcolonial theory is the most popular and dominant theory in anthropology—even archaeologists claim adherence to this new gospel. The contamination has spread to all of the other social sciences. The application of this theory to Israel takes considerable contortions, given that Jews were the indigenous population when Rome invaded, that Jews in the diaspora were subjugated, and that Israel was founded by homeless refugees as part of a liberation movement of the Jewish people. Nonetheless, Israel is characterized by postcolonial theorists as a colonial settler state that oppresses the “indigenous” Palestinian population, most of whom came from Syria and Egypt in recent times.
Critical race theory, a neo-Marxist racial class theory, hits both Israel and Jews everywhere. In Israel, Jews are classified as whites and Palestinians as “people of color,” although many Jews are of Middle Eastern origin and are physically indistinguishable from Palestinians, who have always been classified as white. The truth is that Arabs look down on people of color, called them “abeed,” slaves—a historical and racist remnant of the vast Arab slave raids of Africa. This application of American racial categories is nonsense, but serves to activate BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) against Israel.
Critical race theory also vilifies Jews everywhere, classing them as white, white adjacent, or hyperwhite, and therefore obvious oppressors of BIPOC. It is odd that Jews were only recognized as white once it became a bad thing. So Jews, like whites, are deemed oppressors on campus, and increasingly excluded and attacked. But Jewish supporters of Israel get both barrels as oppressors at home and abroad.
If you wonder why university students celebrate the barbaric atrocities of Hamas, the lies of postcolonial theory and critical race theory explain a good part of it. Celebration of student identities, Middle Eastern identities among them, rather than Canadian and American identities adds fuel to the fire. This is what comes of multiculturalism—tribalism.