Rashid I. Khalidi: NYT Profile

Historians in the News

Chris Hedges, in the NYT (April 20, 2004):

THE appointment of Rashid I. Khalidi as the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University last fall brought to the campus not only a noted Middle Eastern scholar, but also a man who, like Dr. Said, has been assailed by conservatives and many supporters of Israel for being critical of United States policy on the Middle East.

He is a scathing critic of Israel's treatment of Palestinians, although he says he supports Israel's right to exist. He also says he feels that the perceptions of the conflict in the West are heavily skewed in Israel's favor. He calls suicide bombings war crimes.

Dr. Khalidi, 55, lived for a few years with his family in Libya, returned to graduate from the United Nations School and went to Yale University. George W. Bush, two years his senior, also lived in his building in college. "I recall him sitting with his buddies out on the front lawn in penny loafers drinking beer and playing touch football," he said.

He went to Oxford to get his doctorate in history, writing on British policy in Syria before World War I. After his father died in 1988, his mother moved back to Beirut. He spent his summers in Lebanon, did much of his doctoral research there and finally ended up teaching in Beirut until the civil war drove him out.

Before coming to Columbia, he spent 16 years at the University of Chicago, where he was professor of Middle Eastern history and director of international studies.

WHILE his critics call him an apologist for the enemies of America -- The New York Sun called him "the professor of hate" -- he doggedly insists that he is merely carrying out his role as a historian, working to show how historical forces, largely ignored in the United States, have shaped the modern Middle East. He takes particular delight in demolishing the various cliches used to describe the Middle East, bred out of what he terms "America's historical amnesia." "Resurrecting Empire," his most recent book, came out in bookstores this week and was written with the aim of shattering these myths.

"There are all sorts of accepted wisdoms about the Middle East that are not true," he said, "as I try to show in my book. There is little awareness of the long liberal and democratic movements, especially in the 20's and 30's, the way the Western powers sabotaged these movements in places like Egypt and Iran. We assume Iraqis do not have a national identity or that they are uncivilized, forgetting that they established a legal code 3,800 years ago, when most Europeans were illiterate. We need to learn a little humility and a little history."

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