Dabashi Explains Comments on Militarism of Israel
To the Editor:
I read with much concern Robbie Majzner's "An Alumnus's Disgust With Columbia" (Jan. 24, 2005). I am deeply sorry to have inadvertently offended one of our alumni. But I am afraid that he has taken my statement out of its proper context and as a result has not read it carefully. That passage is not a racial characterization of a people, but a critical reflection on the body politics of state militarism, and as such talks about the effect of a military machinery that in Israel itself has long been subject of discussion as "checkpoint syndrome."
That passage could have easily been written about North Korea, Cuba, or about Pinochet's Chile, the Shah's or Khomeini's Iran, Apartheid South Africa, Nazi Germany, the French in Algeria, the Belgians in Congo, the British in India, the Americans in Iraq, or the Janjaweed in Darfur—indeed about any state apparatus that is predicated on systematic use and abuse of power.
The sentence, "there is an endemic prevarication to this machinery, a vulgarity of character that is bone-deep and structural to the skeletal vertebrae of its culture," clearly describes a "machinery," not a human being. The passage is a reflection on the effect of that military machinery on human beings—their bodies and souls.
This is not a racial characterization, to which Majzner rightly objects, but a fearful reflection on what such a military machinery can do to the body and soul of a people—victims and victimizers. He is perfectly entitled to disagree with my characterization of Israel as a military state, or disagree with my assessment of what a half century of occupation does to a people. But accusing me of racism on the basis of that passage is not textually warranted. Nonetheless, no author is exempted from the misreading of a passage he or she has written.
Though I remain convinced of the enduring terrors of state militarism on the body politics of both its victims and victimizers, I sincerely apologize for any hurt that I may have inadvertently caused Majzner or anyone else.
Jan. 25, 2005
The author is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies.
Who is Demosthenes? We Should Know
To the Editor:
I was surprised by your question. In my pre-undergraduate studies of Ancient Greece at Clarksburg Elementary School (in Maryland), Demosthenes' name was mentioned frequently. Perhaps my teacher, Mr. Fichter, was a protégé of Nicholas Murray Butler. The story Mr. Fichter would tell was that, in order to overcome a speech impediment, Demosthenes would go to the beach to practice enunciation by filling his mouth with stones while projecting his voice over the roar of the sea. Sort of like training for a race with weights on your legs. This technique helped him overcome his impediment and become a famous orator.
Daniel C. Beaudoin
Jan. 24, 2004
author is a foundation relations officer with Columbia's University Development and Alumni Relations department.