Monday, December 31, 2012

Steven Salaita and Liberal Racism (Part Two)

I have now finished reading Salaita's essay collection. It was quite enjoyable. His essays on Virginia Tech where he works as an English professor and approaches to comparative study in this case of Native Americans and Palestinians are particularly interesting. He expresses a deep attachment to Virginia Tech and he is right about the physical beauty of the region. Although given his description of the left liberal white academics and their embrace of racist stereotypes regarding Arabs one gets the feeling that he would be more comfortable teaching at a place like University of Ghana where such people don't exist. The main theme of his collection as already noted is after all the anti-Arab and in some cases anti-Persian racism inherent in much of the discourse of white academic leftists in the US. He returns to this theme with a vengeance in his conclusion. Here the left wing feminist Katha Politt is taken to task for her racist generalizations about Arabs. Salaita notes as I have that while white leftists embraced movements seeking to establish communist dictatorships in Central America, the struggle of the Palestinians for basic human rights and national self determination remained almost completely ignored. Arabs unlike Latin American communists did not have the necessary "cool" factor to attract any concern from white leftists in the US.

Very few white leftists, then or now, have held potlucks in support of the Palestinians, long facing vicious ethnic cleansing, a situation at least as drastic as Central America's faux socialist revolutions (which often replace horrible political systems with renamed horrible political systems). (p. 164).

Indeed lacking pot lucks is the least of the problem. Many American leftists openly supported Israel as a revolutionary socialist regime justified in ethnically cleansing the Palestinians. The basic problem of course is that white academic leftists do not see people in the "third world" as humans equal to themselves. They view them merely as one dimensional props in a morality play and hence the reduction of complex humans to a binary pattern of victims and oppressors. In some cases there is some basis in reality for this view. For instance the white oppression of Blacks in apartheid South Africa. But, the leftist trope of Jews always being victims and good guys does not fit the reality of Palestine. Nor does the typical white leftist American academic view of the world fit  most situations. There is no room  in this leftist world  view for instance for African regimes like Togo backed by "progressive" European states like France repressing Black Africans. It simply does not fit into their preconceived notions of who the are the good guys and who are the bad guys. So it is completely ignored. Salaita is correct to call out the racism and hypocrisy of the privileged white leftists that dominate US academia. Until the dominant left liberal discourse in the US recognizes Arabs, Africans, Asians and other people outside of the US and Europe as being fully human with an equal claim for respect and consideration we will continue to see the very real and negative effects of liberal racism in this world.


Steven Salaita, The Uncultured Wars: Arabs, Muslims, and the Poverty of Liberal Thought - New Essays (London: Zed Books, 2008).

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