Multiculturalism Begets Tribalism: Hamas in Our Universities

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.

Image: Annie Spratt on Unsplash


  • Philip Carl Salzman

    Philip Carl Salzman is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at McGill University, Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and Past President of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

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10 thoughts on “Multiculturalism Begets Tribalism: Hamas in Our Universities

  1. Thank you for the excellent analysis, especially as pertains to “post-colonial theory” with blinders on China and non-European empires. I appreciate McGill University (where I got my Ph.D.) having such an enlightened professor. As a Polish-born American, I disagree with racial categorization of everyone by skin color and fill out my census form as “other” – “Polish” – certainly not “white” or “Caucasian.” I feel that the Polish nation does not belong to “oppressive colonialist Europe” – my country never had colonies. Instead, it was a target of so many wars and so many enemies, occupied for 123 years by Russia, Prussia and Austria. During WWII it was attacked together by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939, then “sold” to Stalin for his changing sides to the Allies by the U.S. and U.K. Churchill, Stalin, Roosevelt – the infamous three. For 45 years, Poland was enslaved by Soviet Union, until that regime fell apart, but not before exporting its toxic Marxist ideology to European and then American universities. Poland has the greatest number of Righteous among the Nations – over 7 thousand trees in Yad Vashem Institute for saving Jews at a cost of life of whole families. Like the Ulam family recently beatified by the Pope – the parents and children and the Jews they sheltered were caught and killed, but this does not diminish their heroism. In comparison to selling-out to Stalin and giving to Soviet Union the control of Eastern Europe, the creation of Israel was a great deed of the British, a historical necessity. The previous inhabitants of this land could have been accepted by and assimilated into neighboring Arab countries, with so much empty space available all around, there was room for them to build a civil society. All who owned property were bought out. All who did not could have moved away. Instead, they were kept in refugee camps and taught hatred. Hatred breeds hatred, only forgiveness bring peace. What happened to the Abraham Accords?

  2. “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.”

    As a Christian, I must strenuously object to this because it is NOT what my religion teaches!

    Lets start with Matthew 21:12-13 — Jesus and the moneychangers:

    “And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.”

    This was the *outer* temple, where trade was routinely conducted and Jesus had no problem with that. Jesus was upset about the fact that they were *cheating people* — they were violating JEWISH law and he, an observant Jew, was upset about that — and that the corrupt Jewish officials weren’t doing anything about it.

    That extends into the Crucifixion — it’s not that “the Jews” crucified Jesus but that corrupt Jewish individuals did — and that they used the Romans as a tool to do so.

    I’m not justifying everything my religion did — hanging Quakers on Boston Common in the 1640s and searching Danvers (not Salem) for witiches a half century later come to immediate mind. And history is messy, and trying to resolve it even messier — but today we teach that it was specific corrupt individuals who conspired to have Jesus executed.

  3. It’s mostly about Jew hatred, pure and simple. All the other talk is just window dressing. You don’t hear about any other group being burned alive and then that being cheered on campus. I grant the stuff about the middle eastern cultures being savage, just look at isis.

    I believe the problem on campus is not the multiple cultures mainly; rather it is the spoiled mainly white kids playing at radicalism. Including horribly some left wing Jews. It is right for the donors and others to crack down on this.

    1. It’s not just Jews that they hate, they don’t think much of socially-conservative Christians either. And it goes beyond merely that — it’s an outright hatred of all Judeo/Christian values, starting with the nuclear family. It’s a weird sort of social (i.e. non-economic) Marxism that Orwell (himself a socialist) warned us about over 70 years ago.

  4. Let’s not forget what the Jews did to Jericho (for the uninitiated, they slaughtered every man, woman and child). The point is not that the Jews are more terrible than any other peoples, but rather that occupation of a land has typically relied on brute strength, and historically, those who occupied the land decided its fate. We would like to pretend that we are different now but are we (consider Ukraine)?

    1. What the Israelite army did to Jericho may have occurred 3,300 years ago MAYBE. To use that as a precedent for today is a little weird.

      1. Which Holocaust?

        I think it is important to remember that some very nasty things were done in the 20th Century, most internally which means that they also lack the defense of military necessity. Taking them in sorta chronological order, there were the pre-Soviet Russian Pogoms, the Armenian genocide, the Holodomor (also known as the Great Ukrainian Famine), the Nazi Holocaust, Stalin’s assorted niceties, Mao’s Cultural Revolution, and Pol Pot’s Killing Fields.

        I’ve long argued that Stalin killed more Jews than Hitler.

    2. The official record is that the Israelites slaughtered every man, woman, & child in Jericho.

      Reality is that they didn’t have electric lights, night vision goggles, helicopters, FLIR (Forward-Looking Infra Red detectors) on said helicopters, radios, or any of the other stuff that our FBI has today, and it still took a sizable army (300+ LEOs) three days to find the Lewistion shooter, and they only found him after he was dead of a self-inflicted GSW.

      They wouldn’t have *found* everyone in Jericho.

      Then there is how the American Indians fought 300-500 years ago — they didn’t kill attractive women, they took them home as brides. Likewise children, they did exactly what Putin is doing now with Ukrainian children — agrarian cultures valued children as a source of future labor.

      I don’t know if this makes the Biblical record better or worse — and I can’t remember why the Israelites were at war with Jericho in the first place — but it was a LONG time ago…

      Hamas’ atrocities were a few weeks ago….

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