Prof. blacklisted for liberal views

Prof. blacklisted for liberal views

By Brendan Gupta

Dr. M. Shahid Alam once brought Northeastern into the spotlight of Fox’s “The O’Reilly Factor,” and now has attracted the media attention again, landing on David Horowitz’s list of the “101 Most Dangerous College Professors.”

The economics professor’s left-leaning views on terrorism and the Middle East have drawn criticism and debate, both in the online “blogosphere” and on the small screen. O’Reilly called Alam “un-American,” and Horowitz’s list accuses professors of “brainwashing” students.

Alam is unfazed by the charges.

“Socrates, too, was accused of corrupting the youth in Athens,” Alam said. “In a way, I do what he did, and try to help my students question the mainstream approaches to economics, politics and history.”

Critics like Horowitz claim Alam is giving students a skewed version of economics, particularly the politics that shape them. Alam said he is only trying to give students a more thorough understanding.

“Economics deals with facts, theories and policies,” Alam said. “All of them are affected by politics. I teach my students to undertake a deeper critique of economics. This demands that I talk about the ways in which politics influences how economists choose their facts, theories and policies.”

In February 2005, “The O’Reilly Factor” featured Alam in a segment of the show called “un-American professors.” O’Reilly concluded: “This guy Alam, he walks a line saying that we’re the bad country, and it’s understandable that we’d be attacked.”

In response to O’Reilly’s criticisms, the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee of Massachusetts Web site called for public support of Alam, and specifically called on Northeastern faculty to ensure Alam’s position as an educator, according to the committee’s Web site. The committee published a statement, saying “Bill O’Reilly aired a misinformed segment featuring Professor Alam, portraying an inaccurate picture of him.”

Then and now, the university stands behind Alam.

“The university is a place where free speech is encouraged and we would defend the right of any faculty member to express his or her views, even if it’s controversial or provocative,” said Fred McGrail, director of communications.

Sophomore economics major Christopher Nelson, who took Alam’s “Economic History of the Middle East” class in the fall, said although Alam occasionally touched on controversial issues in class, he did so in a way that was beneficial to students.

“I thought he did it in a very professional manner and in an educational way as well,” Nelson said.

Alam has written many books and articles since 1978, but two of his essays in particular were criticized among conservatives.

His first essay, “America and Islam: Seeking Parallels,” published Dec. 29, 2004, discussed similarities between Americans who ignited the Revolutionary War and the 19 Islamic hijackers responsible for the September 11 attacks.

The second essay, “Making Waves: Testing Free Speech in America,” published Jan. 1, 2005, elaborated on his prior essay, which had incited many hateful e-mails and death threats.

These essays prompted discussion in online weblogs, and in December 2004, two sites published a statement by blogger Leopold Stotch, who posted, “The real problem, and the true source of all the anger against Professor Alam, is that he seems to be rooting against America and for the enemy. This is Alam’s treason.”

Despite these accusations, Martin Masarech, a freshman undecided major presently taking Alam’s Principles of Microeconomics class, said he doesn’t perceive Alam’s teaching as anti-American.

“He never bashes America or anything,” Masarech said. “It [the class] is not too controversial at all. … I think it’s ridiculous to say that he brainwashes people.”

Leave a Reply