Born in Ahvaz, Iran in June 1951, Hamid Dabashi is Columbia University‘s Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies, Chair of the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC), and Director of Graduate Studies at the Center for Comparative Literature and Society. The author of nine books dealing with Islamic and Iranian culture, he received a dual PhD in Islamic Studies and the Sociology of Culture from the University of Pennsylvania in 1984. Among his more notable colleagues in MEALAC are Professors Joseph Massad and Gil Anidjar.
The defining characteristic of Dabashi’s scholarship is his pronounced aversion to the United States and Israel. In this, he follows in the tradition of his idol and colleague, the late Professor Edward Said. (Following Said’s death, Dabashi, writing in Counterpunch, penned a worshipful tribute to his colleague’s “heroic character.”) Parroting almost verbatim Said’s rhetoric, Dabashi maintains that “It is impossible to understand Islam outside colonialism.” He portrays the Middle East as a historically hapless victim of Western colonialism, explaining that the current political realities of the region are reducible to the Saidian paradigm of the “abuse of labor by capital.”
Exempt from this history of victimhood is the state of Israel, which Dabashi depicts as “a military base for the rising predatory empire of the United States” rather than as an independent nation. In one 2004 article for the Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram, the professor condemned “Israelis” as cold-blooded oppressors culpable for “[h]alf a century of systematic maiming and murdering of another people [that] has left its deep marks on the faces of these people, … the way they look at the world.” These Israelis, according to Dabashi, had “sullied, vacated, [and] exiled the Palestinians.” He further claimed that Israeli Jews are characterized by “a vulgarity of character that is bone-deep and structural to the skeletal vertebrae of [their] culture.”
Dabashi has denounced supporters of Israel’s right to exist as “warmongers” and “Gestapo apparatchiks,” calling the Jewish state a nest of “thuggery,” as well as a “ghastly state of racism and apartheid” which “must be dismantled.”
On more than one occasion, Dabashi has cancelled classes he was scheduled to teach at Columbia—in order to take part in anti-Israel political rallies. In April 2002, for example, Dabashi, on the pretext of the Israeli military incursion in the town of Jenin, suspended classes and urged his students to attend the rally. Dabashi was a featured speaker at the rally, where he likened Israel’s presence in Jenin—calculated to avoid civilian casualties while rooting out terrorists—to the Nazi Holocaust. When a student objected that classes had been cancelled so that Dabashi could engage in a political cause, the professor derisively retorted: “I apologize if canceling our class in solidarity with [Palestinian] victims of a genocide … inconvenienced you.”
Similarly, when Rabbi Charles Sheer, the Director of Hillel at Columbia, criticized Dabashi’s role in the rally, the professor answered in the campus newspaper, wherein he condemned Sheer for launching a “campaign of terror and disinformation reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition” simply because he—Dabashi—had “publicly spoken against the Israeli slaughter of innocent Palestinians in refugee camps.” Subsequently, in an October 2003 article in The Times Higher Education Supplement, Dabashi insisted that he had been spurned to action by “evidence pointing to a massacre” of Palestinians in Jenin by Israeli forces. (Dabashi declined to point out the fact that, as news reports had positively confirmed, there was in fact no such evidence.)
In May 2003, Dabashi once more cancelled class in deference to an anti-Israel teach-in, this time against the U.S.-led war in Iraq. “Because there are no answers to our questions about this war, we just get angrier and angrier” the Columbia Spectator quoted Dabashi as saying. “But this is where the blessed thing called ‘teach-in’ comes in handy.” In an apparent reference to President Bush, Dabashi claimed that the teach-in was a “Revenge of the nerdy ‘A’ students against the stupid ‘C’ students with their stupid fingers on the trigger.”
On another occasion, Dabashi said: “…Hamas is the poor and impoverished representative of a poor and impoverished people. The obscenity of first demonizing Hamas and then blaming it for the vicious war crimes that Israel is perpetrating against Palestinians has now passed any measure of common decency. Hamas is the legitimate and democratically elected representative of Palestinian people – a grassroots organization deeply embedded in and integral to the Palestinian national liberation movement.”
Dabashi has stated that as a result of domestic counter-terrorism legislation such as the Homeland Security Act and the Patriot Act, American civil “liberties have been systematically corroded to … create political conditions worse than those found in the Islamic Republic [of Iran].” “In [Iran],” adds Dabashi, “there is a democratically elected government. If you ask me, [Iranian President] Khatemi has more clear legitimacy than Bush does.”
Denouncing American “imperialism” in all its “horror,” Dabashi likened former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to Attila the Hun as “a destroyer of civilization” for his role in the Iraq war. “After this catastrophe of the looting of cultural heritage [by U.S. troops in Iraq],” said Dabashi, “you realize that for the people in Washington, there is no culture, there is no civilization, there is no heritage, there is no need for domestically cultivated institutions of democracy in Iraq or elsewhere. There are just oilfields with flags on them.”
In April 2003 Dabashi told the Boston Globe:
“The Shiites are horrified [by America’s brutality]. Not only are their fellow Shiites and, in fact, their fellow Muslims maimed and murdered right in front of their eyes by the Americans, but the most sacrosanct sites in their collective faith are now invaded by foreign armies. The next time the British and Americans ask themselves, ‘Why do they hate us?,’ they [had] better remember the horrid scenes of their armies trampling on the sacred sites.”
In June 2006, Dabashi wrote an article in _A_l-Ahram damning “the madness of U.S. military adventurism around the globe”; accusing America of “global warmongering” and “making a mess around the world, with no moral or political accountability for the terror that it is perpetrating on humanity at large”; and accusing the Bush administration of “[f]abricating instantaneous enemies and moving targets.”
After a jihadist named Omar Mateen, who professed allegiance to the Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIS or ISIL), used a gun to murder 49 people and wound 53 others at the gay nightclub “Pulse” in Orlando, Florida in June 2016, Dabashi lamented the challenges confronting “two people, Americans and Muslims, converging on the edges of their common destiny,” who “now face two traumatic experiences of Islamophobia and homophobia together.” He urged Muslims to engage in “urgent soul-searching concerning homophobia,” but then turned his attention to “other factors involved here,” including “the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq,” “the major U.S. allies’ state-sponsored fanaticism in the Arab and Muslim world,” and “the obscenity of the availability of assault weapons in the U.S.” While acknowledging the existence of “homophobic Muslims,” Dabashi also emphasized that there were “homophobic Jews, homophobic Christians, homophobic Hindus, [and] homophobic atheists.” “There has been homophobic violence in all communities and among all religious denominations,” he concluded.