Our Town: A 'dangerous' professor | August 30, 2006 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto Weekly

Notes & Comments - August 30, 2006

Our Town: A 'dangerous' professor

by Don Kazak

Joel Beinin has been a Stanford history professor since 1983. Among the courses he regularly teaches are "Economic and Social History of the Modern Middle East" and "Palestine, Zionism and the Arab-Israeli Conflict."

A scholar of the Middle East, Beinin has also spoken at peace rallies, criticizing the United States invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Beinin is highly thought of by his colleagues in other universities, enough to be elected president for 2001 of the Middle East Studies Association, an organization of Middle East scholars.

And, oh yes, he is a known supporter of terrorism.

That last bit of information is according to David Horowitz, the conservative author, commentator on Fox News and editor of FrontPageMag.com.

Horowitz published a booklet earlier this year, "Campus Support for Terrorism," which had Beinin's photograph on its cover.

It wasn't the first time Horowitz has taken aim at Beinin. He included the Stanford faculty member in his book, "The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America."

So if Horowitz is writing about Beinin and putting his photo on his booklet, he must have interviewed him, right?

"I have never spoken to Horowitz or anyone associated with him," Beinin said last week from Cairo, Egypt. He is on leave from Stanford until 2009 to serve as the director of the Middle East Studies Center at the American University in Cairo.

Beinin responded to the "Campus Support for Terrorism" booklet by filing a lawsuit against Horowitz in federal court. Not for libel, which would be interesting, but for the unauthorized use of his photograph on the cover. Horowitz has since removed Beinin's photo from the cover, but the lawsuit is moving forward.

"Obviously, I don't feel good about it," Beinin said of the use of his photo on a booklet claiming he supports terrorism. "But it's so patently ridiculous that no reasonable person has taken it seriously, certainly not my colleagues at Stanford and elsewhere. They are far too intelligent for that."

Beinin noted that a freshman student took his "Worlds of Islam" course and, after listening to Beinin lecture, couldn't find any evidence that Beinin supported terrorism and wrote an article to that effect in the Stanford Review, a conservative publication. The student wrote that Horowitz may have made a mistake.

Beinin, who is Jewish, spent six months living on a kibbutz in Israel when he was a boy. He had earlier studied Hebrew because he wanted to able to speak to a cousin who was about to visit America.

In Israel, he told the people at the kibbutz that he wanted to learn how to speak Arabic. So they found an Iraqi Jew who taught him.

That started what became a study of the Middle East and ultimately led to his academic career.

Being a Stanford history professor and Middle East scholar is respectable professionally, to say the least. But being labeled as "dangerous" and an alleged supporter of terrorism doesn't exactly fit with the scholarly life.

Being painted as a dangerous radical by Horowitz probably stems from Beinin speaking at a post-9/11 peace rally organized by the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center in Palo Alto. Beinin was critical of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. He said the government's support for Israel was a reason why many Muslims in other countries are angry at America, which were hardly inflammatory words since they are so obviously true.

But the ability to reasonably disagree may be one of the post-9/11 casualties of American policies.

"Teaching should be about developing the ability to think critically," Beinin told the Stanford Report newspaper a few years ago. "It requires people being willing, and being led to challenge received truths."

He also freely acknowledges his own political views.

"In my view, moral commitment and passion are a good thing," he said in the Stanford Report article.

Maybe David Horowitz, instead of labeling someone a supporter of terrorism, should sit down and talk with a Middle East scholar who knows the history of the region.

Someone like Beinin.

Senior Staff Writer Don Kazak can be e-mailed at dkazak@paweekly.com.


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