Last semester, Prof. Ali Mazrui, Africana studies, was cited as a “left-wing extremist” on the website Campus Watch at www.campus-watch.org. According to the site, it is an “online think tank” sponsored by the Middle East Forum which aims to improve Middle Eastern studies programs in the United States by compiling dossiers on professors they consider to be political extremists and listing the institutions where these professors teach.
The website gathers information from students and other sources and makes this information available online. Campus Watch invites student complaints of abuse, investigates the claims and publicizes that information.
Mazrui has a joint professorship at Cornell and the State University of New York (SUNY) at Binghamton. At Cornell, he is a professor in the Africana Studies and Research Center. At SUNY-Binghamton, he a professor in the Department of Political Science and the director of the Institute for Global Cultural Studies.
In spring 2002, Prof. Robert Ostergard, politics, who is also one of Mazrui’s colleagues at SUNY-Binghamton, taught a class of nearly 500 titled “Terrorism and War.” The purpose of the course was to examine different perspectives on issues surrounding U.S. politics, terrorism and warfare.
Ostergard invited Mazrui to guest-lecture in his class, according to the site. His speech, titled “Islam between Zionism and Pax Americana,” was not well received by many students. After Mazrui’s speech, several angry students approached the two professors, complaining that the speech’s content was too extreme and bordered on anti-Semitism.
“After his lecture, [Mazrui] stayed and chatted and debated with students for a full two hours the points of his lecture, never cutting off students and never denying them the right to speak or to challenge his ideas and opinions,” Ostergard said.
For a second opinion, Mazrui asked the campus rabbi at Binghamton to look at a video recording of his lecture to determine if it was actually anti-Semitic.
“Though my lecture had been strongly critical of Israel, the rabbi seemed satisfied that my lecture had not been anti-Semitic,” Mazrui said.
Mazrui’s lecture angered one student so much he that he contacted Campus Watch and had Mazrui and Ostergard placed on the website. According to the student, Mazrui’s speech was a “45-minute diatribe against Israel.”
The two were included in an initial list of eight professors who were deemed political extremists.
David Pipes, the website’s founder and a writer for the New York Post and the Jerusalem Post, included Ostergard and Mazrui in an article he wrote for the former publication on June 25. Co-written with Jonathan Schanzer, the article argued that the “radical notions espoused in the classrooms and in campus demonstrations have had dangerous consequences.” It accused Ostergard of turning his course into an “anti-Zionist platform.” Mazrui’s speech was said to equate “Zionism with fascism, Israel with apartheid South Africa and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with Hitler.”
“When [Pipes] leveled his accusations against my course and [Mazrui] in his bizarre New York Post article, I e-mailed him and asked him what exactly he knew about my course. He replied back to me that he knew absolutely nothing about my course,” Ostergard said.
“[Ostergard] was in reality guilty only of having been the coordinator of the course on terrorism and war, but David Pipes denounced Ostergard also as an anti-Zionist extremist. Guilty by association,” Mazrui said.
Professors at other Ivy League institutions — including Harvard, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania and Yale — have also been criticized by Campus Watch.
“I fully agree that Middle Eastern studies in the country stand to be debated and discussed and improved, but that healthy debate does not look like it will come from the scared insecure quarters of ideologues who perceive scholarship as another tool of political propaganda,” said Prof. George Saliba, Middle Eastern and Asian languages and culture, Columbia University.
Like other Columbia professors who have been labeled as “politically extreme,” Saliba’s name has also appeared on Campus Watch.
“Criticism and debate at such times not only shows courage but demonstrates most brilliantly one’s patriotic commitment to save the nation from its folly when it is committing a folly,” Saliba said.
According to the website, its mission is to “engage in an informed, serious and constructive critique that will spur professors to make improvements.”
“This blacklisting is already backfiring as it exposes Campus Watch as an ideological organ attempting in vain to stifle speech and freedom of expression — certainly not the most democratic of organizations that one should look up to. … Campus Watch is a desperate attempt by a few ideologues who seem to be scared of debating issues, thus resorting to name-calling and the like,” Saliba said.
Some, however, sympathize with Campus Watch’s actions.
“I think [Campus Watch] will be helpful to students who want to know where their professors’ biases are. Since it’s a watch group, it doesn’t seem dangerous to me, at least not until Cornell starts writing a blacklist, which I strongly doubt will happen,” said Matt Lowenstein ’06.
“Professors have the right to say whatever they want and critics have the right to criticize them for what they say,” said Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin, government.
As a result of being on the Campus Watch website, Mazrui has been affected personally through anonymous e-mails, he said. Unsolicited messages containing false statements with Mazrui’s name signed at the bottom were sent to many people. He then received a slew of angry replies from people who thought he had written those e-mails containing language offensive to them.
Hundreds of derisive e-mails written by anonymous critics were also sent to Mazrui. At times, his department’s entire e-mail system was rendered inoperative from congestion.
“We considered reporting all this Internet harassment to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But as Christmas and the holiday season approached, our tormentors apparently came to their senses. The harassment seemed to peter out,” Mazrui said.
Mazrui has also been written about in Binghamton’s conservative publication, The Binghamton Review.
“I have even been accused [by The Review] of raising money for Saddam Hussein,” Mazrui said.
Mazrui’s house was additionally pelted with raw eggs, he said.
“Was the egg attack just youthful exuberance by some young people? Or was it political and influenced by right-wing propaganda? Either interpretation is feasible,” Mazrui said.
Despite these disturbances, Mazrui will be preparing for a class he is to teach on Islam and the black experience at Cornell next fall.
Archived article by Jonathan Square