Open Letter to President Robert A. Brown of Boston University

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Dear President Brown,

I was surprised by the letter you are sending out in reference to the Sarah Ihmoud case. Given my experience with you during the years I taught at BU, and the integrity you showed in dealing with the various problems that arose during those years (I retired in 2015), this seems out of character. Although the Sociology Department has voted not to offer her a position, the issues I bring to your attention remain salient, especially in view of the fact that she’s still up for a position in BU’s Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program.

In this case, unlike “all cases involving review and assessment of candidates for faculty positions,” your evaluation and hiring process can not have been based on “peer evaluation of a candidate’s scholarly and professional achievements within the appropriate discipline and according to established disciplinary criteria.”  Rather, it is nearly impossible that anyone in support of her candidacy has checked any of Dr. Ihmoud’s footnotes, which are uniformly based on unreliable, unverifiable, claims, which cites either a self-referential literature (much like Holocaust denial “scholarship”), and notoriously unreliable propaganda sites like Electronic Intifada. Nowhere is there any reference to the extensive controversy surrounding her claims (e.g., her lurid and unsubstantiated claims of what happened at Deir Yassin). In the “old days”, this kind of ranting would not have passed muster as an undergraduate paper. SPME is currently preparing a review of her references which we will publish upon completion.

It is, therefore, not just an issue of “disapproving of some of Dr. Ihmoud’s rhetoric and positions she has advocated,” as you wrote. Dr. Ihmoud is not a scholar but a professional propagandist, whose task, much like traditional practitioners of the longest hatred, is to accuse Israel (i.e., sovereign Jews) of deliberately and maliciously attacking innocent Palestinians. She does this with manufactured claims (hence the importance of her unreliable references), which she then folds into a post-colonial theoretical structure that turns Israel into the embodiment of evil, guilty of genocide, the world’s misfortune.

All of this is done in violation of every element of scholarship, from invented claims to one-sided concerns that result not in a nuanced and rich analysis (e.g., Ben Gurion), but a one-dimensional morality tale – evil Israelis and innocent Palestinians. Indeed, the world of patriarchal domination that she accuses Israel of, is actually a good description of Arab (and especially Palestinian) men, an issue which might not occur to someone unfamiliar with the Middle Eastern scene, but jumps off her pages to anyone informed of the region’s practices (e.g., vaginal cutting, shame-murders, religiously sanctioned wife-beating, etc.), none of which makes any appearance in Ihmoud’s empirical or theoretical discussions.

Indeed, I suspect that when we examine carefully her claims, it will turn out that many of her accusations against Israel are projections of the culture she does not discuss, a pattern very common in antisemitic charges past and present. (Certainly, her citing of Mordechai Kedar mistakes his description of Palestinian culture for a call to Israel to behave in such a manner; and she accuses Ben Gurion of weaponizing Zionist wombs when that is explicitly a Palestinian theme.) The reason so many enthusiasts for the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, from the Nazis and Communists of the 20th century, to the global Jihadis of the 21st, found that forged document so exciting, was because it allowed them to accuse Jews of precisely the criminal ambitions they themselves embraced.

As for the role of the administration where faculty is concerned, it is precisely the University’s obligation, where relevant, to challenge the authority of the faculty and academic leaders when they make uninformed or partisan decisions. (I know, I served on the UAPT committee for two years when I taught at BU.) In this case in particular, you owe it to the credibility of the University to establish and ad hoc committee and bring in some independent specialists who can speak to the reliability of Ihmoud’s scholarship should WGS offer her a post.

As a scientist and a university president, you must be aware of the growing problem of the corruption of scholarship, especially in the social sciences and the humanities (but also even in the natural sciences). Indeed, the field of “grievance studies” in which the Palestinian narrative holds a prominent place, has produced a disastrous corruption of scholarship and some truly comic scandals in “peer reviewed” journals. Ihmoud’s candidacy is not a case of “searching for excellence and diversity,” as your Faculty Search Manual claims, but diversity at the radical expense of excellence. Do you want BU to become a by-word for this kind of folly, no longer restricted to pseudo-journals, but now also at work in major institutions?

In our conversations, you once asked me about Richard A. Norton’s book, Hezbolllah. Not having read it yet, I was reluctant to comment despite my fundamental disagreements with his scholarship, including his presentation of a vibrant “civil society” in the ME, especially Syria, where his work has, in more recent years, proved so wide of the mark. But this case is ten times as egregious in its non-existent scholarly commitment and its malicious accusations of malevolence.

The decision to hire her would not, as you claim, be “made consistent with our established criteria and processes.” On the contrary, in the long run this appointment will only embarrass your institution, and appear in later histories of the decline of the humanities and social sciences in Western academia in the 21st century, as a milestone in the process. It would also contribute to a well-documented correlation between this kind of hate-filled scholarship and wider antisemitic activity on your campus. As a scientist and administrator, do you want to attach your name and your institution’s reputation to such a turn of events?

 

Sincerely,

Richard Landes
Chair, Council of Scholars SPME

Open Letter to President Robert A. Brown of Boston University

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AUTHOR

Richard Landes

Richard Allen Landes is an American historian and author, specializing in Millennialism. He retired from teaching history at Boston University in the Spring of 2015. He currently serves as the Chair of the Council of Scholars at SPME.

His work focuses on the role of religion in shaping and transforming the relationships between elites and commoners in various cultures. He has coined the expression "demotic religiosity," an orientation that prizes 1) equality before the law, 2) dignity of manual labor, 3) access to sacred texts and divinity for all believers, and 4) a prizing of moral integrity over social honor. Trained as a medievalist, his early work focused on the period around 1000 CE, a moment, in his opinion, of both cultural mutation (origins of the modern West), and intense apocalyptic and millennial expectations.

From 1995-2004, he directed the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University which held annual conferences and published an online journal, Journal of Millennial Studies. This involvement refocused his work on millennialism the world over and in different time periods, and has resulted in the Encyclopedia of Millennialism and Millennial Movements, (Berkshire Reference Works; Routledge, NY, 2000); Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience (Oxford U. Press, 2011), and The Paranoid Apocalypse: A Hundred-Year Retrospective on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (NYU Press, 2011).

His work on the apocalyptic currents that built up during the approach to 2000 has led him to focus on Global Jihad as an apocalyptic millennial movement, whose relationship to the internet may parallel that of Protestantism to printing, and whose active cataclysmic apocalyptic scenario (Destroy the world to save it), makes it potentially one of the most dangerous apocalyptic movements on record.

In addition to his courses on medieval history, he offered courses on

Europe and the Millennium,

Communications Revolutions from Language to Cyberspace

Honor-shame culture Middle Ages, Middle East

The Biblical origins of the Democracy.

In 2011, he is a fellow at the International Consortium on Research in the Humanities at Alexander University, Erlangen, Germany. There he is working on the study with which his medieval work first began, the history of the “sabbatical millennium” with its expectation of the messianic kingdom in the year 6000 from the creation of the world: While God Tarried: Demotic Millennialism from Jesus to the Peace of God, 33-1033.

In 2005 he launched a media-oversight project called The Second Draft in order to look at what the news media calls their “first draft of history.” Since January 2005 he has been blogging at The Augean Stables, a name chosen to describe the current condition of the Mainstream News Media (MSNM) in the West.

As a result of this work on the MSNM, he has come to understand the role of cognitive warfare in the campaign of apocalyptic Jihad against the West in the 21st century, and the abysmal record of the West in defending itself in this critical theater of War. He plans a book addressing these issues tentatively entitled They’re so Smart cause We’re so Stupid: A Medievalist’s Guide to the 21st Century. 

Books

  • Landes, Richard A.; Head, Thomas J. (eds.) (1987). Essays on the Peace of God : the church and the people in eleventh-century France. Waterloo, Ontario: Waterloo University. OCLC18039359.
  • Landes, Richard A.; Paupert, Catherine (trans.) (1991). Naissance d'Apôtre: Les origines de la Vita prolixior de Saint Martial de Limoges au XIe siècle. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols. 9782503500454.
  • Landes, Richard A.; Head, Thomas J. (eds.) (1992). The Peace of God: social violence and religious response in France around the year 1000. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press. ISBN 080142741X.
  • Landes, Richard A. (1995). Relics, apocalypse, and the deceits of history: Ademar of Chabannes, 989-1034. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674755308.
  • Landes, Richard A. (ed.) (2000). Encyclopedia of millennialism and millennial movements. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415922461.
  • Landes, Richard A.; Van Meter, David C.; Gow, Andrew Sydenham Farrar (2003). The apocalyptic year 1000: religious expectation and social change, 950-1050. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195111915.
  • Landes, Richard A. (2011). Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Landes, Richard A.; Katz, Stephen (eds.). The Paranoid Apocalypse: A Hundred Year Retrospective on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. New York: New York University Press.


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