Readers respond to Juan Cole's article on academic McCarthyism at Columbia, and defend Howard Dean's position on Iraq. Plus: Eli Pariser defends MoveOn's position on the bankruptcy bill.

Published April 26, 2005 8:21PM (EDT)

[Read "The New McCarthyism," by Juan Cole.]

Juan Cole's argument about Columbia University professor Joseph Massad and the campaign against him would be stronger if Cole had simply let the facts speak for themselves, rather than adding unnecessary hype.

For example, he wrote, "The attacks on Massad, and two other professors in the department, were led by off-campus right-wing Zionist organizations aligned with Israel's Likud Party -- notably a murky Boston-based organization called 'the David Project'..."

Why "murky"? The David Project Web site has information on the purpose of the organization and who speaks for it. The speakers page lists 13 speakers, and they are not all aligned with Israel's Likud Party, nor are they all right-wingers. For example, Boston University professor Richard Landes speaks on this topic: "I'm a Leftist and Pro-Israel: Progressive Politics and the Jewish State." There is no basis for calling the David Project right-wing.

Yes, the Israeli government has committed evil acts in the name of Zionism. The American government commits evil acts in the name of democracy; does that mean democracy is evil? But apparently to Cole, anyone who loves Israel and recognizes its historical, religious and cultural centrality to the Jewish people (a Zionist) is ipso facto a right-winger.

Cole might have a good argument, but his inflammatory rhetoric lost me.

-- Joel Rubinstein

Mr. Cole's charge that publicizing accusations that a pro-Palestinian professor bullies students who disagree with him amounts to "McCarthyism" seems hysterical and exaggerated to me.

I do not see how, if there are groups that wish to monitor and disclose the sort of political views being expressed in Columbia courses, the next step is installing a "party line" at Columbia and suppressing liberal views at the New York Times.

I think that ethnic studies departments that mix scholarship with political advocacy ought to be scrutinized by people in the outside world. Middle East Studies professors, it seems to me, are protecting their turf against the more pro-Israel views held by people in the larger American society.

Mr. Cole does not explain how this flap at Columbia is the vanguard of the great wave of totalitarianism threatening universities he seems to worry about.

-- Steve Abrams

Thanks to Professor Cole for stepping up to be the next shrieking, finger-pointing, fear-mongering provocateur to make the left look as crazy as the right.

Cole's implication that there exists a powerful Zionist conspiracy to silence anti-Israel voices in America is irritating, but of course I've heard that before. Cole's dilution of history to make it serve his facile and hysterical comparison is what I really find offensive. McCarthyism? Massad has not been fired, fined or blacklisted. What an insult to actual victims of red scares.

The sky is not falling because a university, after much foot dragging, investigated claims of professor misconduct and the NYT wrote something with which another professor disagrees. Please, Salon, in the future, print more controversy of the fun Ayelet Waldman variety and fewer screeds.

-- Ester Bloom

I took the opportunity to read Massad's response to the Columbia University Ad Hoc Committee report that found "public harshness" in the professor's classroom conduct. He dismantled its "moving target" methodology and the report's logical flaws, and condemned its unfairness.

Heated exchanges are bound to take place during discussions about Israel and Palestine, especially in a university classroom setting with a diversity of student backgrounds.

If it happens under the microscope of the responsible New York press, then strap in your seatbelts. Throw in Rep. Weiner, and you have cooked up a congressional witch hunt fueled by fear and paranoia.

What is happening to academic freedom? Ward Churchill may be a charlatan, but I support his freedom to skewer the government and attack capitalism. Larry Summers may be a ham-handed rube, but I'm interested to hear his thoughts on evolutionary biology and the institutional discrimination against women.

John Massad is under intensified scrutiny because of his field, the Middle East, and because of his dedication to honesty and examination in broader university dialogue. Moreover, he is a dynamic interlocutor to his students -- even the ones who aligned against him and behaved like the paparazzi during class.

-- Chris Hoerter

[Read "The Dean Scream Gets Softer?" by Julia Scott.]

You're making much of nothing here. Having been a Deaniac since the very beginning (you can even catch a picture of me working a Dean event on his blog months before the first primary), I can tell you that his recent statements are not a change in his position. While he has always been critical of the decision to go to war in Iraq, the Guv has said on many occasions that, now that we're there, we can't simply pull up stakes and leave.

For this statement to be a surprise to anyone means they haven't been paying attention. And honestly, I saw a lot of this in Dean's far-left-wing support. (I consider myself more of a moderate). If they really paid attention to what everyone was saying, they would've been in the Kucinich camp. They got wrapped up in Dean's charisma and didn't look at the details.

Anyway, no flip-flop here.

Go Howard!

-- Dominic Cianciolo

Regarding Progressive Democrats for America and Tim Carpenter, I'm glad they supported Chairman Dean in his run for head of the DNC, but they obviously didn't do their homework before doing so. While he was indeed an avid protestor against the war, Dean has also been consistent in his opinion that, now that we are there, we need to stay until the job is done, just as he said in the article quoted. Their accusation that Dean flip-flopped on Iraq is ill-informed.

And by the way, some of us do agree with the Chairman. We all want the troops to "depart at the earliest time," we just disagree on when that is.

-- Janet Kaul

[Read "MoveOn, Moving In After the Fact," by Tim Grieve.]

We love Salon, but we take issue with a recent post in which Salon's War Room unfairly attacked MoveOn PAC for joining the fight around the bankruptcy bill too late. Without contacting us or giving us a chance to respond, the War Room pointed to an apparent contradiction between what we'd told a Salon reporter a couple of weeks ago  that we thought the bankruptcy battle was unwinnable -- and our more recent campaign to alert the constituents of representatives who did vote for it.

We would have been happy to explain the change: We realized that while we wouldn't be able to swing the vote, we could make an impact by ensuring that there were consequences for those members of the House who voted for this egregious bill. So thousands of MoveOn members contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to run radio ads in the districts of House members -- many of whom will face tough races in 2006 -- to let their constituents know what their Rep had voted for.

Our point: Come 2006, we want Democrats and Republicans who voted for the bankruptcy bill to regret that vote, even if we couldn't win it outright.

Creating change is a long process, and we're in it for the long haul. We welcome Salon's strategic critique. But as allies in the same fight, we ask for some respect. With stories abounding about radical Republicans' corruption and power grabs, there are plenty of targets for attack without attacking friends.

-- Eli Pariser

[Read "Is Al-Jazeera Ready for Prime Time?" by Corey Pein.]

In his article, Mr. Pein remarks that Alhurra Television is "the region's widely ridiculed American propaganda channel." In fact that statement could not be further from the truth. Through accurate and objective news and information, Alhurra is quickly gaining in popularity and credibility throughout the Middle East.

One year after the launch of Alhurra, Ipsos-Stat conducted in-depth surveys in 13 major cities throughout the Middle East. According to the research, Alhurra has a weekly viewership of 34 percent of adult (15 and older) satellite viewers, and 61 percent of Alhurra viewers find the news to be reliable. That study, along with AC Nielsen surveys and others, confirms that Alhurra reaches tens of millions of viewers. By any standard of television measurement, these are impressive numbers.

Alhurra is clearly a serious player in the Middle East media world.

-- Norman J. Pattiz

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------