The late Edward Said was and is a legendary figure in academia, as well as a stalwart defender and amplifier of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim voices.
That’s one of the reasons why it’s so deeply disturbing and disheartening to hear that California State University, Fresno, decided to cancel the search to fill the Edward Said Professorship after intense pressure from right-wing groups.
As per Vida Samiian, former Director of the school's Middle East Studies Program, a documented campaign of harassment and intimidation of search committee members by right-wing Israel advocacy groups led the school to abruptly cancel the search, even as it was reaching its final stages.1
Fresno State was in the process of finding a new person to take the mantle of Edward Said Professor, and had narrowed their selection down to four excellent options. The problem?
All four finalists for the Professorship were of Middle Eastern ethnicity and had researched Palestinian interests—which spawned a heavy backlash by several far-right Israeli advocacy groups.
Professor Vida Samiian decided to resign from her post at Fresno State just last week, in protest of the Professorship being canceled. Before doing so, Professor Samiaan wrote an open letter detailing some of the protests and pressure placed on search committee members for the Professorship, including herself.1
When an academic position is abolished due to political pressure borne out of someone’s ethnic/national background, it means that academic freedom is under attack. Please stand and help protect academic freedom for everyone—regardless of their background.
Perhaps the worst part of the cancellation of the search by Fresno State is that it's not an isolated incident. It's part of a larger trend—whenever someone from a Palestinian, Arab, or Muslim background becomes visible in public or academic life, there's a targeted campaign by far-right interests to defame and discredit them.
In this case, some of the opponents of the Edward Said Professorship referenced the Canary Mission as justification for their attacks. If you're not familiar with it, Canary Mission is a McCarthyite blacklisting website, which profiles students and faculty who have been vocal supporters of Palestinian rights, with the express intention of ruining their careers. In the past, Canary Mission profiles have lead to credible threats of violence against activists.2
Just a few weeks ago, my own neighborhood—along with that of a Jewish activist for Palestinian human rights—was targeted by KKK-style anonymous flyers filled with anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric.3
If we allow the far-right to intimidate us on college campuses, it'll only encourage them to ramp up their attacks elsewhere.
Thank you, and Ramadan Mubarak to you and all your loved ones.
Dr. Hatem Bazian (via MPower Change)
Teaching Professor, Near Eastern Studies and Asian American Studies, UC Berkeley
1. "Could I ask you to take one important action? Cancellation of Edward Said’s Professorship Search at Fresno State University." Facebook - Dr. Hatem Bazian, May 26, 2017
2. "Exposed: Pro-Israel Modern Day McCarthyites Going to Extremes to Slime Human Rights Activists" AlterNet, Sep 30, 2015
3. "Islamophobic smear campaign targets Muslim and Jewish activists' homes in NYC, Bay Area" Mic, May 12, 2017