A lecture last week at the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies (CNES) offered a mixture of intellectually deficient material mixed with a dash of bigotry. It was delivered by Joseph Massad, associate professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University.
The topic of Massad’s lecture was “Pre-Positional Conjunctions: Sexuality and/in Islam.” While past CNES lectures resulted in Israel-bashing and anti-Semitism, UCLA finally decided to honor its commitment to diversity by attacking another minority group. This time, homosexuals had their turn in the multicultural bile wheel.
From inception to completion, Massad’s lecture was nothing more than gay-bashing. This was on par with the thesis of Massad’s 2007 book, Desiring Arabs, which posits that gay sexuality among Muslims does not exist. Rather, it is a Western plot designed to undermine the Muslim world.
Massad echoed many of these bigoted themes in his lecture. He explained that “Queer is about resistance to Islam.” Similarly, he said that “There is no Arabic transliteration of queer. It is a judgmental notice of deviance.” In a particularly striking claim, Massad insisted that, for Muslims, concepts like “hate and sexuality are only translatable to English-speaking people.” Muslim honor killings, presumably, are only a figment of non-Muslims imagination.
Massad also used the occasion to present a novel – and decidedly homophobic – conspiracy theory. “Queer is an imperialist term,” he announced. “It is part of the Anglo-American gay agenda.” Indeed, according to Massad, “queer is an example of cultural imperialism.” It followed, by his perverse logic, that the “use of ‘gay’ in Iran is imperial politics.” The claim called to mind Mahmoud Ahmadinejad notorious speech at Columbia University, in which he assured the audience that there are no gay people in his country. It’s notable that the views of a theocratic despot should find such staunch backing in the hear of supposedly progressive academia.
Most bizarrely, Massad admitted he was “very interested in talking to people about their sexual experiences if they want to tell me.” Ostensibly, Arabs and Muslims would have been excluded from that discussion, since Massad also claimed that “there is no such thing as Iran/Arab/Muslim sexuality. Sexuality is an English notion.”
During a question and answer period, an audience member brought up Massad’s apparent discomfort behind the word “queer.” What word should be used instead, the questioner wanted to know? Challenged on his views, Massad offered up an answer that revealed much about the close-mindedness of modern academia. “I am not sure any discourse is necessary,” he said.