Op-Ed: Statement in support of CST-0094, Professor Thomas Abowd and Palestine Studies and Colonialism Studies

Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) unequivocally supports Professor Thomas Abowd and all professors teaching curriculum relating to justice in and for Palestine. The hostile environment towards Palestine and Palestinians at Tufts and other schools threatens the academic freedom and inclusive community that a university strives to foster.

Professor Abowd’s course offers a unique opportunity to explore a critical, often silenced study of Palestinian history at Tufts. The syllabus includes multimedia sources from esteemed Palestinian academics, artists, thinkers and filmmakers whose work is globally recognized. For those students interested, there are still spots in CST-0094 at this time, and we encourage everyone to consider enrolling. Tufts SJP looks forward to continuing our work this semester in building a Tufts campus and world committed to justice in and for Palestine.

The Palestinian narrative is regularly targeted and marginalized in university courses, making Professor Abowd’s course CST-0094: Colonizing Palestine (offered through the Consortium of Studies in Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora (RCD) and the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program) all the more vital.

In the past few weeks, Professor Abowd has received multiple threatening emails including directed racist and Islamophobic attacks. Smear articles and hate emails are part of a broader attack on Palestinian academics like Rabab Abdulhadi, Rashid Khalidi, Noura Erakat and Hatem Bazian, among many others. Influential Palestinian writers like the famous Edward Said, whose historic work will be featured in Abowd’s class, have been the source of many racist attacks because of their Palestinian heritage. The attacks on this class are not about free speech, dialogue or peace, but are a part of a broader effort to suppress and silence conversations that promote Palestinian freedom and self-determination, and acknowledge the erased Palestinian narrative.

A statement released by the RCD recognizes the attempts to silence Professor Abowd and his course: “We know that teaching about colonialism and racism often produces backlash. We see, unfortunately, more and more that valid criticism of Israel is being portrayed as anti-Semitic as an attempt to shut down debate. We know there is an obvious difference between criticism of a state and racism against a group of people.”

Looking at Palestine through the lens of colonialism is to study history and its reach today. To dismiss the factuality of the ongoing colonization of Palestine is to erase history and ignore the present situation. The ‘Nakba,’ as it’s known in Arabic (The Catastrophe), occurred in 1948, when more than 800,000 Palestinian Arabs were ethnically cleansed from their homes, and their villages destroyed. In just one village, known today for the 1948 Deir Yassin massacre, over 100 Palestinians, including women and children, were killed by Zionist militias.

Palestine is not an example of a “two-sided conflict,” but instead a case of great power imbalance for Palestinians subject to a violent military occupation, apartheid legal policies, settler colonialism and a crushing siege on Gaza. Courses at Tufts routinely ignore these foundational concepts in the study of Palestine/Israel, creating a large bias at the beginning. When we talk about colonialism, it is absolutely critical that we highlight and center those narratives which have been erased as a result of the settler-colonial project. Erasing and appropriating indigenous stories, culture, history and art is a well-documented settler-colonial strategy, and the case of Palestine is no exception.

This course has faced more backlash than any other Tufts course exploring the role of colonialism, and it’s clear that this is the result of anti-Palestinian racism. Colonialism studies does not seek to highlight or validate the perspective of the oppressor, because the narrative of the colonized is always and already being violently suppressed.

If you have more specific questions about the class and why Tufts SJP stands so firmly behind it, please come to Tea with SJP on Friday, Sept. 7th in the Campus Center from 122 p.m.


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