By M. Shahid Alam
In April 2012, Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT), a Zionist organization headed by Charles Jacobs, began a smear campaign against Muslim students, the staff of Spiritual Life Center, and some faculty at Northeastern University.
The APT posted three videos on the internet accusing Muslims students at Northeastern University (Boston, MA) of advocating ‘Islamic extremism’ and concocting charges of anti-Semitism against several members of the faculty and staff of the Spiritual Life Center at Northeastern University. I was one of the principal targets of these smears. After launching the videos, the AMP has used a variety of tactics to bring pressure on Northeastern University to ‘punish’ the faculty it had targeted in one of its smear videos.
When this campaign persisted I decided to write a letter to the President of Northeastern in November 2012 providing some background to APT’s smear campaign. At the time I had no intention of circulating this letter more widely. However, since APT has persisted in its defamatory campaign against me, I think it proper to publish this letter to set the record straight. Here is the text of the letter (partly revised) that I sent to President Aoun of Northeastern University.
It has come to my notice that Mr. Charles Jacobs – head of Americans for Peace and Tolerance – has been circulating letters among NU faculty and administration that make baseless and defamatory charges against me. I am concerned about the damage to my reputation and to the reputation of the university from these charges, which is why I am writing to you. In this letter I briefly outline the main charges, and provide you with my key points to refute them.
First, I would like to present some information on the source of the charges, why they are aimed not only at me but at other faculty at NU, and why they are likely to have broader impact beyond just an attack on myself. Mr. Charles Jacobs has been engaging in sustained attacks for several years to silence critics of Israeli human rights violations. He is the co-founder of the David Project, an organization established in 2002 with the specific purpose of silencing critics of Israel. In 2004, the David Project produced Columbia Unbecoming, a documentary that spearheaded a smear campaign against several Arab-American professors, including two very prominent academics at Columbia University. In 2012, he began a campaign directed against Northeastern University, producing a series of videos smearing faculty, staff and students at NU.
Second, I want to set out a few specifics about the three videos produced by APT to smear Northeastern University, several of its faculty, its Muslim students and the staff of Spiritual Life Center. One of these videos, Anti-Semitic Education at Northeastern, directs its smears – amongst others – against Professor Denis Sullivan and myself. In addition, following the release of this video, Mr. Jacobs began sending letters to NU faculty, making false statements about me that he claims are caught on video. In one of his letters to NU faculty, Mr. Jacobs makes the claim: “(Alam) Caught on video urging students to be proud anti-Semites.” In another letter, he claims: “Prof. Alam tells students it’s alright to be called anti-Semitic because it shows they’re on the right side of history.” These charges are simply untrue, and I categorically deny them. They are not supported even by the doctored video clips from a talk I gave at Northeastern University. It is worth noting that my talk was videotaped surreptitiously, without my knowledge or consent.
I would like to set the record straight about the source of the clips on me in the video produced by APT. At the end of a talk I gave last spring at an event organized by Students for Justice in Palestine at NU, a student complained that their advocacy of Palestinian rights often invites slurs of anti-Semitism. She asked, “How should the pro-Palestinian activists respond to these smears?” I responded: If someone smears you as anti-Semitic because of your advocacy of Palestinian rights you should ignore your accusers. I urged the student to disregard such attempts at intimidation, stating that if their accusers persist in these smear tactics, at some point in time those who are falsely accused might wear these smears as a mark of distinction; as a mark of distinction – because this would signify that they have been smeared for supporting a just and honorable cause, the human rights of the long-suffering Palestinians. My remarks were cut and distorted for purposes of the slanderous video.
There are other issues likely being raised by the letters Mr. Jacobs is emailing to some faculty at Northeastern, but I am confident that I can refute every one of them, and shall do so if the need arises. Unfortunately, Mr. Jacobs is not working alone on this campaign. Among others, he has help in his smear campaign from several other organizations, including Campus Watch, headed by Daniel Pipes, Center for Islamic Pluralism, headed by Stephen Schwartz, and Freedom Center, headed by David Horowitz. All of them illustrious organizations headed by men of impeccable reputations as truth-tellers.
Over the 25 years that I have taught at Northeastern I have made a few modest contributions in the fields of economics, politics, history, religious studies, and poetry; launched three new courses on capitalism, the history of the global economy and the economic history of the Middle East; taught four classes every year nearly all of which were filled to capacity; and mentored many students. During this quarter century of teaching courses that critically analyzed many of the assumptions of the social sciences, not one of my students has gone to any of my colleagues or official at Northeastern to complain of bias against any ethnic group or nationality in my classes.
On the contrary, my students can attest that I place the study and critique of biases – whether Orientalist, Eurocentric, racist, nationalist, religious, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, sexist, jingoist or ethnic – at the center of my approach to the study of the social sciences. I begin every one of my courses with readings, videos and lectures that seek to create an awareness of overt and covert biases in the social science texts, in our public discourse as well as our private conversations. I tell my students that recognition of our biases is the first and necessary step towards pushing back against the same in our own thinking.
In order to help my students in these explorations, I tell them stories from the wisdom traditions of Islam, the West, India and China, I recite to them poems – from Rumi, Shakespeare, Whitman, and contemporary American poets. I show them videos on biases in our perceptions, and I read to them from some of the Founding Fathers and Abraham Lincoln. It is therefore ironic that accusations of anti-Semitic bias should be hurled against me. It is doubly ironic that such accusations should come from individuals who have never taken my classes or engaged me in discussions; and this speaks pointedly to the falsity of their accusations.
At the end, I must confess that as I write this letter I cannot avoid feeling diminished by the need to defend my reputation against outrageous smears by people who have made lucrative careers out of hate-mongering and Islamophobia. A scholar’s life is an open book: you can examine his ideas in his books, articles, essays, and speeches. My work too should speak for itself.
I am available to meet with you at your convenience should you wish to discuss the matter further.
– M. Shahid Alam is professor of economics at Northeastern University; he is also the faculty advisor to Students for Justice in Palestine on the campus. He is an economist, essayist, translator and poet. His most recent book, Israeli Exceptionalism, was published in 2007 by Palgrave. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.