“Shut Up” She Explained

So here’s something new and different in BDSland.

By now, some of you may already have heard about the University of Texas Middle East Studies Department that recently canceled a book project that would have included essays from 29 women writing about their experiences living and growing up in the Middle East.

This anthology was meant to honor Elizabeth Fernea, a U of T scholar who had spent decades studying and documenting African and Middle East cultures, who taught at the university until 1999 and passed away in 2008.  All was going well with the project (which would have been published by the University of Texas Press) until one of the authors, Huzama Habayeb, discovered that two of those 29 authors were Israeli.

“Foul!” cried Habayeb who insisted that if Israeli women’s voices would be included in a book of Middle East women’s voices that she wanted no part in the project.  “Fine.” replied the University, which informed her that her request to have her essay pulled would be honored and that the book would go on without her.

But apparently the press honoring her request was not good enough for Habayab who worked tirelessly over the next several weeks to convince other Arab woman contributing to the volume to also pull out.  And the press, which was not about to cave into pressure to censor the Israelis authors, but who could not publish the book with only their contributions, was left with no alternative but to cancel the book entirely.

There was a brief moment when this decision was mistakenly seen as a cave-in by U of T to boycott pressures before calmer voices realized that the university had in fact made the only possible honorable decision (the alternative being to exclude the Israelis at the behest of the boycotting writers).  But, as night follows day, this disgraceful episode was being hailed across the “I Hate Israel” multi-verse as the latest great BDS “victory.”

Why I describe this story as “new and different” is because until now most BDS stories have fallen into a tight set of distinct categories:

* Actual BDS wins (rare, and usually accomplished via backroom deals cut in the dead of night – such as the  Olympia Food Coop);

* BDS failures (much more numerous, often occurring at the very places where BDS activist had previously gotten their way – such as the Presbyterian Church);

* Ambiguous decisions or non-events deliberately portrayed by BDS activists as victories, despite the fact that they are actually BDS hoaxes (such as fraudulent stories of BDS taking place at Hampshire College or at various financial firms)

But the University of Texas story does not fall neatly into any of these categories.  If a boycott is meant to describe an institution (like the university) agreeing or acceding to BDS demands that Israelis be excluded from a project or program, then in this case the school clearly refused such an exclusion.  But a book that would have included both Arab and Israeli voices is not being published due to activist pressures, which means the boycotters did achieve a result that included the silencing of Israelis, but only by forcing all voices (including their own) be silenced as well.

In order to accomplish such a “victory,” Habayeb also had to not just renege on a promise made to the university, but work tirelessly to ensure other authors also broke their word in an astounding organized breach of academic protocol, all in service of the alleged “higher ethics” demanded by the principles of BDS.  All so a book created to honor a woman who spent her life helping the voices of Third World women be heard got sent to the shredder rather than the book store.

Years ago, a UN report on cultural underdevelopment in the Middle East highlighted the fact that the number of foreign books translated and published in the Arab Middle East over the last century totals less than the number of translated books published in Spain in a single year.  While there are a number of measures that can be used to determine the strength or weakness of a society other than book publishing, the ability of members of those societies to celebrate the stilling of unheard voices (including their own) does not bode well for the future.

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2 Responses to “Shut Up” She Explained

  1. Ben June 3, 2012 at 3:59 pm #

    I read about this entire affair at Inside Higher Education and a few other links (The Alcade has a good article about it) and several things struck me as interesting in it–the huge amount of integrity and intelligence that comes across when the UT MESD point person explains why the BDS effort is just flat out WRONG, the fact that a tribute to a giant in the field was ruined largely by an untalented blob, the flat basically “screw you” response to the pressure from the BDS acolytes to demands that we're only getting one voice (the untalented blob) responding to happiness that she killed her own work–but there's a larger issue here that's pretty disturbing. One of the main features of the BDS side is the base insistence that the ME conflict is a zero-sum game: for Palestinians to get what they deserve, they have to get EVERYTHING they deserve, and Israelis have to get nothing. That's the kind of logic that says any price paid in the Middle East to eliminiate Israel is worth it, and the thinking that argues seriously that a nuclear exchange between Israel and Iran would be fine because the damage to Iran is “worth the cost” of achieving that endgame. And it's not that far off, on a straight logic front, to go from those ideas to what happened here, which is that the BDS group was happy to destroy something good (and non zero-sum, as it was a tribute to a woman who didn't, as far as I know, subscribe to BDS tenets) in order to fuck over any Israeli Jews they could find, even if it also meant fucking over themselves. It's a bad precedent in so many ways, and that it's not really a surprise is probably the most disheartening thing about it.

  2. The Wifely Person June 4, 2012 at 4:05 am #

    How can there ever be peace when women preach hatred like this. Huzama Habayeb does more to destroy than to build and there is just no excuse for her words and actions. Women like that make angels weep.

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