Here's a nasty little review where I learned next to nothing about what Nadia Abu El-Haj had to say and a lot about Hugh Fitzgerald. Jim West has also made good comments on this review.
There is a complete lack of engagement with Nadia Abu El-Haj's book despite the usual high minded rhetoric of the reviewer. This is a scholarly trick still widespread. Some of us have been victims of condescension and evidence-free criticisms but this is off the scale.
But look at the utter hypocrisy here. First look how bad the enemy is in comparison with the goodies:
For the past, like the present, is merely a cruel and daring fiction foisted on the world at the expense of Palestinians, a social construction, as the orotund phrase has it. Ignoring or destroying whatever got in their way, Jewish archaeologists have been relentless in their pursuit of the Jewish past to claim the land and its history for modern Israel, and of course to dispossess Palestinians and their “claim” to the past.
But El-Haj, it seems, is not really an archeologist. There is not the slightest evidence that she has ever seen the work of Israeli archeologists, ever visited a dig, ever studied the history of the development of Israeli archeology, ever inquired as to how Israeli archeologists choose the sites they do choose for digs (do they get instructions from the Jewish Agency? The ZOA? The Mossad?). She appears not to have any record of the kinds of artifacts the Israeli archeologists, often working with Western, non-Israeli and non-Jewish colleagues, have discovered, catalogued, and meticulously studied.
Shabby or pseudo or nonexistent scholarship disguises a naked political assault. Israel is guilty. Its crime: daring to dig, under the soil of Israel, on land where Jews lived from perhaps 1000 BCE until this very day. And built temples, and wrote on pottery and left scrolls on parchment, and fashioned menorahs, and cups for drinking, and dishes for eating – in short, a rich variety of artifacts for uses sacred and profane. But to demonstrate a connection between Jews past and Jews present is unacceptable, an abuse of archaeology, serving the cause of a “construct,” a Western imperial falsehood. That is, a Jewish state.
Is it surprising, is it illegitimate, is it deplorable, that in once again having a restored Jewish state, that the Jews of Israel should not have dug into the earth, not attempted to study the past, including – and this must be emphasized for it is left entirely out of El-Haj’s account – artifacts from every period, and not only artifacts of the Jewish past? Israeli archeologists have, often with foreign colleagues, discovered Roman coins and mosaic floors and temples, have uncovered Byzantine artifacts, and those of the Islamic conquest, both of the Arab period, and of the period of Ottoman rule. Many of the Islamic artifacts have, in fact, been meticulously and scrupulously catalogued, studied, and preserved – all serious students know about the Islamic Museum in Jerusalem and its exceptional collection. Does Nadia El-Haj? El-Haj seems to think that the study of the Jewish past by Israeli archeologists, observing the highest professional standards, known for the meticulousness, is an outrageous political act, an act of “Jewish settler-colonial nation state-building” (that phrase itself deserves analysis, for the hysterical confusion of its English).
El-Haj’s political fulminations may attempt to hide behind the rhetoric of “scholarship.” Is there a single example of attempts by Israeli archeologists to either hide the past, or destroy the past, or to create a false past? If so, she has failed to mention it in her book – which, by the way, relies entirely on quite recent, English-language publications, as critical reviewers noted. And since she is a Palestinian nationalist, how does her charge sheet compare with the treatment toward ancient sites by the Palestinian Arabs and by the Arabs more generally?
So those horrible Arab, Muslims, Palestinians, and so on are all nothing like the honorouble dignified types Fitzgerald idolises. And of course there is no ideology, pseudo-scholarship in Fitzgerald's lofty existence:
As is well known, in Islam there has been an almost total indifference to the non-Islamic or pre-Islamic world. Many of the artifacts of that world have been destroyed over 1350 years of Muslim conquest and subjugation of Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Hindus, Buddhists. In India, the Muslim conquerors destroyed as much of the Buddhist and Hindu heritage as they could, sometimes in order to quarry the stone, sometimes to destroy statuary. The Indian historian K.S. Lal has provided a meticulous list of tens of thousands of identified Hindu temples destroyed by the Muslim invaders, for example. The recent destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas was not an aberration; those Buddhas were virtually the last remnants of the Greco-Buddhist civilization that Afghanistan had once possessed.
The systematic assault by the Palestinian Arabs on all sorts of significant sites, some of them regarded as holy, was on display again in 2002, when the systematic and complete destruction of Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus (that destruction can be seen on-line), took place. This was no aberration. Even El-Haj had to mention the matter in her book (knowing that if she omitted it altogether, reviewers might notice), but she justified it as the uncharacteristic, but understandable reaction of desperate people, brought to the end of their collective tether by the diabolical behavior of the Israelis.
In Egypt, members of the Muslim Brotherhood even muttered about destroying the Pyramids, but cooler heads prevailed. It was not out of Egyptian nationalism, save among the Copts and a small sliver of the Egyptian elite, nor out of any respect for the pre-Islamic past, but rather the fact that too many Egyptians depend for their livelihood on tourist dollars, that managed to prevent attacks. Similarly, the tourist attraction of Petra seems safe, precisely because it is a money-maker, not out of some deep conviction that these Roman-era ruins are otherwise of note.
In Iraq, the old Sunni elites, trained by Gertrude Bell and others, did acquire a certain taste for preserving the pre-Islamic artifacts, and that seems to be the one exception – and an exception only among a very small sliver of Iraqi society – to the general indifference to any artifacts except those representing the time of Islam, not that of the pre-Islamic Jahiliyya.
Indeed, many Muslims oppose even Muslim sites which would distract from worship of Allah. When the Wahhabi under Abdul Aziz ibn Saud conquered Mecca, they razed to the ground virtually every old building then standing. An old Ottoman fort was one of the few buildings spared. In 2002, overnight, that Ottoman fort was also destroyed.
That is the usual anti-Muslim racism that has become all too common. As it has been documented by scholars of Islam and journalists and others, and as is pretty well known, Muslims and Arabs have contributed massively to civilisation and preserved and retained all sorts from the ancient world. If Fitzgerald doesn't know this is is rich commenting on the work of another as he does. If he does know this then he is deliberately omitting important facts which again says something significant about his comments on the work of another. Who is the pseudo-scholar?
This reflects a trend among scholars of a certain persuasion to make out that they have some kind of fidelity to the facts, have an old-fashioned and proper attitude towards history untainted by ideology (!!!!). This all sounds wonderful in the abstract but Fitzgerald's ranting on Islam and Arabs shows he is exactly like his constructed enemies: omits what some might seem as important facts and ideologically driven by certain Western and anti-Arab/Muslim ideals.
And then this:
That such a book was written, and published, is a disgrace. That its author was, at a time when hundreds or indeed thousands of worthy graduate students in this and related fields cannot find employment, was given a job at Columbia, is deplorable.
I suspect many people might think similar things about Fitzgerald and his article. Besides, if it was a disgrace and should not have been published, what should have happened to the book and what should happen to El-Haj?
Hugh Fitzgerald wrote this piece for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum, which is designed to critique and improve Middle East Studies at North American colleges and universities.
In that case he's failed miserably.