Prof. blacklisted

By Brendan Reilly

A Northeastern professor said he was harassed and “blacklisted” because of his views about the political unrest in the Middle East. Now, the question has been raised: does anti-Semitism plague Northeastern’s campus?

The discussion about anti-Semitism began when professors in Northeastern’s economics department received e-mails from Professor M. Shahid Alam, a tenured professor in the department, containing anti-Semitic material.

Professor Alam said he is not anti-Semitic and never sent the e-mails, but knows how they were sent.

About two weeks ago, Alam said he discovered that a website started by a pro-Israel research group had posted a dossier (file) on him. The site (www.campus-watch.org) posted dossiers on a number of professors at universities throughout the country, asking students to spy on them and report back to the website, Alam said. The site alleges that the professors in question are not sufficiently pro-Israeli, therefore they are anti-America as well, Alam said.

Alam said he has been targeted by Campus Watch because of a commentary he wrote in July that was published in a few Middle Eastern newspapers. He said his words were later taken out of context and published in the Jerusalem Post to make him appear anti-Semitic and supportive of terrorists.

As a result of the dossiers, Alam claims that he and the other professors named on the website were “spoofed,” an internet term meaning that someone illegally hacked into their e-mail accounts and sent messages disguising themselves as the individual professors.

“After an investigation, we have concluded that professor Alam did not send the e-mails in question,” said the Director of University Communications Ed Klotzbier.

Klotzbier said the investigation revealed that the e-mails did not originate from a Northeastern account or machine, and that at no time did Northeastern believe Alam supported terrorism or anti-Semitism.

Alam said the website is allowing the masses to continue to badger those on the list.

“By posting this blacklist, they are telling interested parties ‘here are the targets we have identified, now go out and harass and intimidate them,'” Alam said.

He added that this is an intimidation tactic on the part of Campus Watch and that it is a serious threat to public debate and free speech on college campuses, but not everyone at Northeastern agrees.

“If the website is responsible for any harassment, then people should take it for what it really is, nothing,” said associate professor of engineering Stephen Kane. “But I oppose everything Alam said and think he is a complete and total fool.”

Campus Watch is a project of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum. The director of the forum, Daniel Pipes, told The New York Times in a recent interview that, “To bring in this notion of academic freedom is nonsense. No one is interfering with their right to say anything they want.”

Some professors agree with Alam that these dossiers could have negative effects.

“Posting dossiers like this on professors could have a potentially chilling effect on academic debate and free speech because people are intimidated,” said professor Stephen Morrison, chairman of the economics department.

Klotzbier cited Northeastern’s responsibility as an institution of higher education to promote the free flow of ideas. However, he said the views and opinions of Northeastern faculty and staff are solely those of the individual and do not reflect the views of the university.

As of Monday, the dossiers have been removed from the website. A number of universities, including Northeastern, are still profiled on the site which describes its mission as monitoring and gathering information on academicians and universities that “fan the flames of ignorance.”

The controversy surrounding Alam began shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks. In October 2001, he gave a speech on campus about the history of the conflicts in the Middle East and America’s policy towards them. Alam said that after his speech he was “accosted” by another Northeastern faculty member and told that he was spreading hate speech. Later, Alam learned that a formal complaint was lodged against him with his department chairman, alleging that he did not adhere to the advertised topic of discussion. Alam does not know if the complaint was lodged by the same faculty member that approached him after the speech.

After portions of his commentary were published in the Jerusalem Post, Alam continued to be the topic of controversial news stories. On September 5, 2002 he made headlines again, this time in the Boston Herald. The headline read “Professor shocks Northeastern with defense of suicide bombing.”

Alam has not yet decided whether he will pursue a libel lawsuit against the Boston Herald.

“This is completely false and totally malicious,” he said, “Myself and the other professors are being singled out and harassed because of our views.”

An editor for the Herald said they stand behind the article written by Ed Hayward, but would make no further comment.

The article quotes professor Kane, who is Jewish, as saying “I think his arguments, his rationale and vitriolic behavior are unacceptable.”

Alam said the “academic boycott” mentioned in his commentary means refusing to attend Israeli conferences and other forms of non-violent protest. Kane said Alam is advocating violence and attempting to justify suicide bombings and other killings.

“It is killing and killing is wrong any way you look at it,” Kane said. “It can’t be justified; no way.”

To read professor Alam’s full commentary, “The Academic Boycott of Israel,” go to www.counterpunch.org/alam0731.html.

Leave a Reply