Last month I reported here on an ongoing controversy at the U.S. Army War College (USAWC) involving Strategic Studies Institute research professor Sherifa Zuhur, who authored a monograph published in December by the War College advocating for dialogue with the terrorist group Hamas. That Pajamas Media article prompted considerable discussion in the military community and a heated defense of Zuhur by her USAWC colleague Steven Metz in the comments section of the article. Zuhur even posted a response to an article critical of her positions published by the Investigative Project, claiming that her positions had been “misunderstood” and decrying that “blogs simply copy from each others’ comments.” (The short IPT report made seventeen different citations to two different published works by Zuhur.)
But Washington Post military affairs reporter Tom Ricks has added to the intrigue surrounding Zuhur’s tenure at the War College in a post last week on his foreign affairs blog, noting that Zuhur has appealed to the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) for help, claiming that her academic freedom has been hindered by USAWC authorities.
MESA president Mervat Hatem sent a letter this past June to USAWC commandant LTG Robert Williams outlining Zuhur’s complaints of censorship and harassment:
USAWC policy states that “academic freedom for its faculty and students is fundamental and essential to the health of the academic institution.” However, Professor Zuhur has reported to us that, in apparent violation of this policy, she has been subjected to censorship and harassment because of views she has expressed or which have been imputed to her. Among other things, Professor Zuhur reports that she has had one or more scheduled lectures at USAWC cancelled at the last minute, apparently because some USAWC officials disagreed with her opinions about, and analyses of, U.S. policy in the Middle East, and also that she has been harassed for allegedly failing to comply with USAWC’s procedures for prior review of publications and public statements — procedures that she believes have been applied arbitrarily and inconsistently and that may in any case not conform to USAWC’s avowed commitment to academic freedom.
Prof. Zuhur’s charges of infringement of her academic freedom ring hollow in light of the publication by USAWC’s Strategic Studies Institute of her recent defense of Hamas and attacks on U.S. foreign policy. That notwithstanding, Hatem’s letter reveals that Zuhur’s contract with USAWC has not been renewed.
Whether there is any truth to Zuhur’s claims is clearly for the commandant and USAWC to sort out. What should be noted, however, is that Zuhur has played the grievance game before in 2000 when she was informed that her contract with the American University of Cairo (AUC) would not be renewed. Her response in that case included filing an unsuccessful EEOC complaint charging discrimination on the basis of gender and national origin, claiming suppression of academic freedom, organizing petitions and letters from colleagues to the AUC provost, and going on a hunger strike in protest.
Predictably, she appears to be engaged in the same grievance theater in response to the loss of her current position at USAWC. As she had done in her present dispute with the USAWC by having the president of MESA appealing directly to the USAWC commandant on her behalf, in 2000 she enlisted the help of UCLA professor Sondra Hale, who sat on Zuhur’s dissertation committee and at the time was the immediate past president of the Association for Middle East Women’s Studies (AMEWS).
Hale sent a letter to the AUC president and provost, which was widely circulated on various academic email lists, making a range of charges against AUC’s decision to not renew her contract. A few days later, Zuhur made an open appeal for others to send letters to the AUC president, provost, the committee on academic freedom, and the board of trustees pleading her case. She also solicited signatures for a petition demanding her reinstatement.
Having flooded the academic community with her side of the story, AUC provost Tim Sullivan issued a response providing a very different set of facts. He first expressed concern that Zuhur had decided to go on a hunger strike while her appeal of the decision not to renew her contract was still underway. He also stated that while Zuhur and her supporters had repeatedly cited an EEOC investigation into her claims that she had been discriminated against on the basis of gender and national origin as proof that something was amiss at AUC, they had failed to also say that the EEOC had thoroughly investigated the matter, dismissed Zuhur’s complaint, and already closed their file — information that would have been highly relevant to communicate to her supporters.
And while Zuhur and her supporters had been claiming that “there are no adequate grievance or appeal procedures available to Dr. Zuhur,” Sullivan observed that she had initially declined to take her case to the AUC University Senate Grievance Committee, which eventually heard and rejected her appeal. A final June 2000 public letter from Zuhur informs her supporters that her final appeal to the AUC president had been denied. Amazingly, she claimed that she regretted having to take her complaint public when it seems most of her efforts were directed in that venue.
How much Sherifa Zuhur’s past grievance theater will eventually play out in her present dispute with the USAWC remains to be seen, but there already appear to be some commonalities to the script.
It does seem particularly odd that a USAWC research professor who has dedicated significant energies in just the past year to rehabilitating the image of Hamas — a designated terrorist organization — would claim that her academic freedom has been impinged by the very institution that published an entire monograph of hers dedicated to that proposition. Her published remarks on Hamas at a recent forum hosted by the Middle East Policy Council (video) and a short book review in the fall 2008 edition of Middle East Policy could be added as exhibits of her views of Hamas as an “evolved” and “democratic” organization, in addition to her USAWC Strategic Studies Institute monograph continuing that theme. Despite her protests, those of us who have read her writings and listened to her presentations have not “misunderstood” her position, but understand her quite clearly.
And it does smack of hypocrisy when an academic who is so quick to offer herself up repeatedly as a martyr to academic freedom is patently annoyed when those of us who criticize her apologetics for a murderous and brutal terrorist organization exercise those same freedoms. Surely the U.S. Army War College has better things to do than indulge Sherifa Zuhur in a repeat performance of her grievance theater. They should be glad to see the curtain come down on this play.