Steven Salaita is the author of six books: Israel`s Dead Soul; Modern Arab American Fiction: A Reader`s Guide; The Uncultured Wars: Arabs, Muslims, and the Poverty of Liberal Thought; Anti-Arab Racism in the USA; The Holy Land in Transit; and Arab American Literary Fictions, Cultures, and Politics. He is a former Associate Professor of English at Virginia Tech. See more on Steven`s case here and here.
Please find the transcript of the interview below the player.
Noura Erakat (NE): My name is Noura Erakat, hosting Status Hour. Today we are with Steven Salaita, who has been the center of recent controversy around his stellar activism and also the reprisal for that activism with the revocation of his tenure from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Welcome with us, Steven.
Steven Salaita (SS): Thank you.
NE: So, Steven, for those listeners who have had their head in the sand and [have] no idea what is going on, can you give us a brief recap of your journey to this moment?
SS: I was offered a position as associate professor in the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Illinois. About, exactly two weeks before my contract was to begin, I was notified by the Chancellor, Phyllis Wise, in a letter sent to me via e-mail—on a Saturday morning, in fact-–that they would not be appointment. So, essentially, I was fired from that tenured position. And, it turns out, because of some statements I had made on Twitter regarding Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip this summer.
NE: And in that letter that she sent, did she specify that this was in response to the comments you had made?
SS: There was no reason given.
NE: So what was your reaction in that moment? What is the first thing that you do? How do you call the Chancellor?
SS: My first reaction was to read it, and then re-read, it and then re-read it. Because I did not understand exactly what the letter was saying. It was clear that I was being fired, that my contract was being terminated. But, it was also strangely ambiguous the way that it was worded. You could tell that it had, you know, that it had passed over the desks of a bunch of lawyers, because it did not commit to anything except to the fact that I was not to turn up on campus and begin teaching.
NE: So how do you come to find out what the reasons are?
SS: I never spoke with Chancellor Wise, and I still have not, in fact. I spoke with Robert Warrior, who is the chair of the American Indian Studies Program, and he started asking around on his campus. It turns out that, yes, it was a termination letter, that it was what I had suspected, and Cary Nelson–you know, who is Emeritus professor of English—kept indicating in some of his public statements that it was because of intemperate tweets that I had sent. So, the university’s rationale shortly thereafter became, was because of my incivility.
NE: And so before we get into the question of the tweets themselves and respectability politics, I think that your personal narrative of having dealt with similar issues before in your prior appointment at Virginia Tech–which is why you even reached, right, to UIUC in the first place–can you tell us a little bit about what happened there in a similar campaign against you?
SS: Yeah, and it was kind of with a different audience of upset folks at Virginia Tech. I had published a piece in Salon, you know, critiquing the unthinking use of the slogan, “Support Our Troops.” And I think that essay was misconstrued and turned into something where I was aggressively defaming soldiers, when in fact I was performing a pretty simple discourse analysis of a particular slogan and the unsavory uses to which it is put, and urging people to think closely about these elements of patriotism that we are asked to accept. A brouhaha ensued from the right-wing Fox News crowd, more than anything, and they put a lot of pressure on Virginia Tech to get rid of me. I was tenured at Virginia Tech, and so the dean at the time - she has since left—to her credit, basically said, “He is tenured, he has speech rights. There is nothing we can do about this, nor is there anything we should do about it because he has not done anything wrong.” But the upper administration at Virginia Tech, the President’s office, ended up sort of joining the attack against, me, though, and ended up sort of fanning the flames. So, it was a pretty dicey period there for about two weeks.
NE: And so this is probably mind-blowing to most listeners who consider tenure as this sacrosanct position, so young PhD students who work tirelessly to, first land the job, and then keep their head in the sand so that they do not raise any controversy until they get tenure, before they basically put out all their fireworks. Because this is the moment they have been waiting for, where they can actually experience and enjoy academic freedom and contribute to the production of knowledge in critical ways that they may have felt not able to do before because of their vulnerability. And isn’t this a little bit crazy to think that once you have tenure, that it could be as vulnerable to an article about discourse analysis, as it was in your case?
SS: It is not just tenure itself, also, but the reward and merit system in academe. So, there is always a reward to chase. There is always a merit promotion to look after. There is always something that can be dangled in front of you to keep you at least, you know, more obedient, right, and to keep you sort of in check. But what you just described, I think, is part of the problem philosophically with tenure, right? In that it takes six/seven years to earn, six/seven years of hard work, six/seven years of sort of keeping out of the limelight, so to speak.
NE: After you have done all your dissertation work of course, and all of that [. . . Salaita interrupts . . .]
NE: [. . .] other climbing.
SS: And getting a job in the first place.
SS: [It] is extremely difficult, depending on the field. And so, you get socialized to a sort of obedience and cowardice. And so I have always seen the tenure process as one in which academic freedom is protected but also one in which people are socialized, right, into the culture of academe in which the sort of dissent that exists against state power is very much discouraged. And so people sort of learn the ways and means of campus and what you can critique and not critique.
NE: But is that really true? Is it really that you learn to respect state power or that there are certain things that are subject to exception, certain forms of power that you must respect and others that are fair game. I mean, not everything is as controversial, for example, as critique of US troops in time of war or, for example, of Israel during its assault on a stateless, besieged population.
SS: Yeah, exactly right. And I think you named the two things. I think anything that has to do with a critique of institutionalized state power is always going to tend toward controversy. And that is especially true with critique of—not just of Israelbut a critique, let me say, a critique more specifically of Zionism. It is also true of any critique of the platitudes of the exceptionalism of the American war machine. Those are things are always going to land someone in trouble. And tenure only goes so far to protect. Think about the-if you go back to January, the university, Urbana-Champaign had an exceptionally cold day in January, and you know, Chancellor Wise decided to hold classes, and she is of Chinese background, and she was subject to a torrent of racist invective and sexist invective on Twitter. And her response to it was to publicly state that she disagrees with the content but she supports the free speech rights of the students and therefore no punishment would be forthcoming. And we often hear professors, administrators, or otherwise sort of go to bat for the speech rights of people who are saying hateful things, right? But it’s much more difficult–that’s the irony of it—it is much more difficult to go to bat for people, right, who are not engaged in hate speech, but who are engaged in systematic critique of state power, right, of patriotic discourses, of governmental hegemony, and these sorts of things. Those are things that less people will go to bat for. But I would argue that is precisely why we need to have free speech and academic freedom, to protect those things.
NE: Yeah, academic freedom is not supposed to be the place where you can contravene some kind of PC norm, but instead where you are shaping, shaping and challenging society to reflect upon itself. Which makes me wonder about your faculty. How did your faculty at V. Tech respond to the response to your article? One, did it send shockwaves amongst them? Two, did they rally behind you, regardless of the content?
SS: Some of them rallied behind me, some of them were really strong in their support. But, I would say the majority of them just kept quiet and stayed away from it all together. I would not say that they piled on, they just kept quiet, they kept the way, they know. You know, the ones who had been at Virginia Tech for a while, especially, they know what type of administration they were dealing with, what type of acrimony exists in Burruss Hall—that is the administrative building on campus—and so they just wanted to stay out of it.
Some faculty did come to bat for me, including one of my colleagues in the English department who was a military retiree. He really went to bat for me in strong ways. And, you know, some other faculty, particularly faculty of color. But, otherwise, I think everybody else had their heads in the sand.
NE: To protect themselves [. . . Salaita interrupts . . .]
NE: [. . .] and stay out of the line of fire. So how do we go from this place where the dean is protecting you, there’s a campaign against you from the top administration, to the time where you are now offered tenure at UIUC? Do you decide that you want to just leave? Or is there actually something official from Virginia Tech?
SS: No. It is just a decision, and once I tell them, they decide how strongly they want to retain me or not. And then I tell them that I intend to submit my resignation letter, it is as simple as that. Just, you know, a paragraph, a sentence or two, saying I am resigning on such-and-such date. I had actually applied for the job at UIUC before this controversy at Virginia Tech ensued. So I was already significantly through the hiring process. I would end up being offered the position at UIUC like four weeks—maybe five weeks—after the support the troops controversy came about.
NE: Oh, so this was perfect timing as far as you were concerned.
NE: And were you interested in UIUC because you felt maybe that would be a campus that was more receptive to your scholarship and your politics?
SS: Yeah. And the department of, or the American Indian Studies program there is just fantastic, filled with brilliant, committed, principled scholars. The humanities and social sciences in general at UIUC are extremely exciting. It is a rich and vibrant intellectual environment, maybe not as much now as it was, but you know, actually in way, maybe more so, right? Because they are, sort of, they are bringing out these issues that we have needed to talk about for a long time. I think my situation has given them that opportunity. But when the controversy over my tweets first came about, it started, as far as I know, from the Daily Caller—that is Tucker Carlson’s website. And they ran, you know, your sort of standard hit piece: “You know, this guy is too pro-Palestine, he is a terrorist, you know, look at all these horrible things that he is saying. And oh, by the way, he has got a job at the University of Illinois and he is getting ready to begin. We need to keep our eye on him.” And the local paper, the Champaign-Urbana News Gazette, you know, picked it up and wrote a story about it. And Robin Kaler, who was at the time—I think she still is—the university spokesperson, said, I am paraphrasing, “We support the speech rights of all our employees.” And I thought that that was a wonderful response. I thought that was the response that the Virginia Tech administration should have had: “Look, we do not agree with this guy but, you know, he said what he said, and he is protected by law and he is protected by our institutional rules.” I think that Ohio University needed to say that vis-à-vis Megan Marzec who got in trouble for putting the bucket of blood on her head for the ice bucket challenge. But, you know, that is all that administrators need to do, that is all that they should do. Say, “Look, we protect the speech rights. If you don’t like it, argue with this person in the public arena, that is what a university is for. That is what a campus is for.” So I was extremely pleased with the university’s response at that time. But, a week later, of course, the university was singing a very, very different tune.
NE: So, and this is interesting because one of the things that is most valorized, right, in the United States is this idea of speech rights, and how, in fact, how high we hold them, to the point, like you described, where you can even use it to defend hate, of course. In law, there are certain limits on whether or not that hate is actually threatening and creates some sort of reaction. So there are certain limits, but certainly nothing that would look like what was described in your case as legitimate political critique. And so, you know, even the ACLU, for example, goes as far as protecting the rights of the KKK of protesting. And so here we have a situation where you are tweeting in a time of onslaught, some of your tweets are taken out of context, and anything out of context, of course, can be shaped and deployed in ways, and manipulated to fulfill a particular purpose. And so, what are the tweets, why do you think they chose the certain tweets that you had written, and chosen only those to highlight, notwithstanding everything else that you had been tweeting in the course of fifty days.
SS: Because, I think, out of context and read without any sort of critical eye, it is easy to point to those tweets and say, “this guy is crossing an imaginary line, you know, into hate speech or into anti-Semitism, or whatever the case may be.” And that it is a standard tactic of Zionist organizations, anyway, to keep moving that line around. And finding ways to put academics, BDS activists those publicly supporting the Palestine cause, sort of putting them on the line of unacceptability. And I think those tweets gave them that opportunity.
NE: And there are two things we are talking about here, right? Because one of them is, yes, there is a machine. There is a pro-Israel machine that is shaping the discourse around what is acceptable to talk about vis-à-vis Israel. That line has been shifting, especially since we have seen a bifurcation between what is in the United States’ best interest, in terms of its foreign policy, and what is in Israel’s best interest. And so we see a widening space to have that discussion. And yet, obviously, this machine is pushing back and saying no, this is creating a hostile environment on campus. There are title VI efforts within the DOJ [(Department of Justice)]. But there is something else going on, and that is this–and we saw that in the FOIA [(Freedom of Information Act)] requests in your case–the neo-liberalization of universities, the idea that universities are quite privatized, to the point where even the university is very vulnerable to private donor interests. So, I would love to talk about each of this in turn and maybe turn our attention first to this idea of the vulnerability to private interest, and the university in and of itself having be–to respond to its donors in ways that–I mean, has that always been the case? Is that something that we are seeing increasingly in recent years? How would you describe that?
SS: Okay, I will try my best, and I will try my best to be brief, which is the more challenging option.
SS: I am hearing a lot about how the university is being increasingly corporatized and increasingly enthralled to neo-liberal policies. And I do think that that is true, but I do not think that it is anything new that universities, no matter where they get their funding, are cracking down on dissent. Especially dissent around issues of race and racism and colonization. You know, the American university has always cracked down on those sorts of things. The impetus might be a bit different now, the strategies might a bit different now, the scenery is a bit different now. But, you know, these sorts of things have been happening to black folks in universities for as long as they have been around. It has been happening to women. It has been happening to indigenous people. So, the repression of dissidents, people of color particularly, is not new. You know, it started way, way, way before I was born. It is sort of coterminous with the university. Again, universities have, in my mind, never been—with some exceptions—they have never been receptive to systematic critique of state power or of colonial power, or of imperialism, these sorts of things that administrators have never particularly liked and this is one of them. But now, I think, as you point out, as the state appropriations go down, they become more enthralled to the whims of private donors and, you know, that is a serious problem, I think, for a lot of reasons. And one of the problems is that people tend not to give money without strings attached, explicitly or implicitly. And so the universities end up, in some sense, getting sold to the highest bidder. And that used to be politicians with agendas, you know, and the state legislatures, but now it is increasingly private citizens who, let us say, are not as constrained as the politicians in terms of what vision they have of the university and what they want it to look like.
NE: Often times these donors are making donations with specificities about who they would like to see hired, about even the student body, what kind of culture they want to see cultivated amongst the student body. I mean, how appropriate is that when even, you know, students are then constrained, who are not subject to any kind of hiring protocol.
SS: It is terrible. It is a bad idea for everybody involved, except the people who are cashing the checks and writing them. They are the only ones who benefit from this. Students do not benefit, faculty do not benefit, staff do not benefit, the community does not benefit. It is a consolidation of power, once again, in the hands of a very small elite. What has really allowed American academe to progress and to do a lot of the excellent things that it is able to do, in terms of critical thought, path-breaking research, these sorts of things, is the fact that faculty are supposed to be in charge of the academic side of things, and the upper administrators—the boards of trustees, etc.—are supposed to be in charge of the business end of things. And now, the two have gotten confused and when we outsource the hiring process, and you know, you have been involved in academe for a while, anybody who has knows just how big a deal it is to get funding for a tenure-track or a tenured position, and what a big deal it is to fill that position, and how much time and energy and resources, etc. go into that process. It is a huge process. So, people need to be invested in that process as experts in their fields, right? As people who understand the landscapes of academe, and not donors who have no idea what it is that faculty do in the first place. You know, they have an idea of academe based on a notion of professors as symbols of particular political interests or political points of view, but that is quite simply not what professors do. That is not what we do in the classroom. That is not what we do when we conduct research. And they have no idea of these processes. And they are wanting to turn the campus and the entire hiring process into a joke.
NE: Well, one of the things that comes up in your case is the idea that students are not going to feel comfortable in your classroom, which assumes that we have, as students--because we have all been students--have been made to feel comfortable in classrooms where, obviously, especially for students of color, women, these gender-variant students, are in classrooms where they are, one: probably not reflected by the faculty itself, and then two: not necessarily, they are not catered to. And so when we talk about respectability politics and this idea of making the student feel comfortable, I feel like that is code. And it is code for a certain way that we should behave. I am interested to hear, do you agree, and if so, what is it double-speak for?
SS: I agree adamantly. I think it is a racialized code, first of all. I think it is very often a class code and a gendered code. But it is a code that protects the normative students, you know, the white students, the Christian students, it is the students, basically, with the most privilege. That is who it ultimately protects and that is who they are talking about when upper administrators and donors say “students.” They are talking about a particular class of student. Look at it in the inverse. Cary Nelson, for example, has proved himself to be a fanatical ethno-nationalist, right? He has admitted as such. He didn’t use those words, but that is how I would interpret his words. You know, his commitment to Zionism puts him in that category. How are Palestinian students to feel in his class? Nobody ever asks that question.
NE: At all.
SS: You know, they have had a homophobic professor at the U of I. Who, by the way, they protected. The administration protected. They said academic freedom applies here. How are queer students to feel in his class? They had a white supremacist on faculty, I do not know for how long, but certainly over a decade, and somebody who still has emeritus status. A white supremacist. I want people to think about that for a second. [laughs] I am not talking about somebody who has said things that might be construed as racist, we are talking about a devoted white supremacist, yes, an Aryan, yes, somebody with a neo-Nazi ideology. How are black students or Hispanic students or white students who are not racist to feel? But these questions never get asked. It is always a question of what the normative students are going to feel like. And so it positions the Palestinian professor, or the African-American professor, or the woman professor, or whatever, it positions that person in an automatic role of aggression, even when there is no evidence to support that sort of claim.
NE: Unless the Palestinian, the African-American, the woman decides to research topics that have nothing to do, for example, with those marginalized issues. In which case, there is this trope that we assume of color-blindness and bias-blindness: “Oh, now everybody is equal!” But I think that takes for granted the content, whether or not state power is being challenged, whether or not the norm is being challenged. Which is why academia is so attractive and so necessary. We are not subject to, for example, even the non-profit industrial complex, certainly corporate interests, or if you work in government. It seems to be the one safe enclave–or it is supposed to be–where you can have these discussions and you can have them in ways where you are invested in reproducing them. So, on that note, maybe the other part of it, this idea of, what is the pro-Israel machine that is restructuring part of the discussion of respectability politics, of reshaping who is the normative student, of defining what is acceptable in regards to discussing Israel, right? And the collapse of the critique of Israel with bigotry. I think that they have done that very explicitly.
SS: Yeah, they have, and very adamantly. And they have managed to get the ear of a lot of administrators and important segments of the public using that particular discourse. So, they sort of draw from these classic liberal discourses of multiculturalism, and they sort of position, in turn, Israel as an embodiment of Jewish culture. And so, to criticize Israel is to criticize Jewish culture and is potentially to engage in anti-Semitism and at the same time, is to engage certainly in intolerance, to use another buzz word. And so they are very adept at drawing from this particular discourse. And no matter how apocryphal it is, and how, when you look at the situation closely, how unjustifiable it is. But yeah, I think this is the interesting thing about pro-Israel activism on campus. It does not bill itself as being in support of the nationalism of a nation-state, much the way that maybe, for example–and this is probably a sloppy comparison—I think a lot of Hindu-nationalists, who migrate to the west, would be explicitly in support of Hindu nationalism in India, sort of a right-wing Hindu nationalism. But, and they would bill themselves as being in support of that. But Zionists do not do that. They bill themselves as being in support of an ethnic community, a cultural group, a religion. When, in fact, what they are articulating support for is the violent behavior of a nation-state. But they keep that distinction firm, and obviously they are not happy when somebody tries to blur that distinction.
NE: Well they keep that distinction firm and simultaneously collapse them. And so, the idea that they want to be billed as a cultural group, and I think they also want to make sure that Israel is unlike any other state. So it is constantly in a state of exception, and so that it is the embodiment of the cultural group. And so the idea of critique of the state becomes the critique of the cultural body as well. But we do not do that in regards to all other states, and I think that is what is missing in this discourse. Whether or not it is acceptable to challenge the question of conflation of nationalism, of an ethno- or religious nationalism, with a state, which puts the state beyond the legitimate realm of critique. And I think that is part of what is coming up in this discussion and yet, very easily obfuscated through the language of respectability politics. I wanted to ask you also about the response to you. The response has been overwhelming, even from those who disagree with you politically, they have come to your defense. You, as an individual, for the subject matter that you are speaking about, and because they are also worried about this could be the tip of the ice burg of very disturbing new trends. So can you talk about that, about the response to you, the public support, and what that has done as a campaign for you?
SS: Yeah, it has just been unbelievable. I have seen a type of kindness and compassion and integrity in people that have really opened up the world anew to me. Those parts of me had grown cynical have, you know, dissipated a little bit, and I am really overwhelmed by the amount of community—for lack of a better word—that I have been subject to. People have been really loving, concerned about me and my family, personally. They have just been remarkable. And a lot of them are having to put politics aside in order to do that, and that is something that I appreciate deeply.
I think one reason people feel so invested is not, obviously, because of me particularly, but because of what this situation represents: a type of conflict that is coming to a head through, you know, you could say the University of Illinois and me, as particular symbols or avatars of a broader, deeper, more important conflict. But I basically think that a lot of people, including significant faculty at the U of I, just do not want the administration to win because of the precedent it will set. Because of what might happen to the rest of us in the future, what campus might look like if administrators get their way on this. So I think a lot of people are not necessarily invested in me, but they are invested in this particular battle, and this particular struggle. And, of course, I or the University of Illinois can not be separated from it, but it is pretty easy in this situation to recognize what is at stake here and people have been very responsive to that, because if we stare down, or if they stare down the administration and sort of, “win this,” whatever that might mean—I guess it could mean different things to different people—then, you know, there will be a feeling that administrators will perhaps think twice before doing this sort of thing again.
NE: I wonder if maybe not? Could they be impervious to this? So, the response, for example, at UIUC, faculty have decided across the country to boycott the campus. Faculty who have been invited to apply for jobs have refused to apply for jobs in public letters. Faculty who have received honorarium have donated that honorarium to your legal fund. I mean, the response: students have waged a campaign, faculty on that campus have waged a campaign, and yet the trustees, in their most recent vote on this issue, voted nearly unanimously but for one vote. So, I wonder if they are not impervious to this public charge and to this public mood, and that is actually very frightening.
SS: It is extremely frightening. It is a perfect symbol, or representation, or metaphor of what is going on in general. We see the real university, in the actions of the students and the faculty, you know, who are fighting for it, who are fighting to make it a better place. Versus the intransigence of the administrators who just do not seem to give a damn one way or the other, right? Who are beholden to a different set of interests, and who are stubbornly clinging to them. And they, again, it is a perfect metaphor for the struggle more generally.
NE: So could an outcome look like where the trustees back down? Do you think that is within the realm of possibility?
SS: Personally, I do not think so. But we are certainly hoping so. We are hoping so. I am personally, and my friends and colleagues are hoping for that as well. I think that would be, not an ideal outcome, but let’s say an appropriate outcome. Not just for me, and for the faculty and students at the U of I who want me to be there, but I think for the administration also. I think that it would show that there can be, despite a tremendous about of tension and publicity, that there can be reconciliation.
NE: For those who have not seen the tweets that are in question–I mean, one of the things–those who know you have been approached about those tweets and whether it includes proper content, something within the realm of civility. You know, one of the things that you mentioned to me, and I would love for you to be able to talk about this, is that your writing and your personality in the way that it is presented in the tweets is quite universal. So, you have been indiscriminate in your “tirades” against Israel, as well as Arab monarchs, as well as despots globally. And so, has this--has your personality and the universe of your twitter personality been taken to account at all? And if so, how and who is making that case for you?
SS: Yeah, people have made that case. They have sort of looked at the entire twitter feed and said, “woah, woah, this guy is not at all what his detractors are making him out to be.” So that has been much appreciated and really helpful. But, I think it tells us a lot about the way that the particular tweets are decontextualized and then used as a pretext for getting rid of a vocal advocate of BDS, a vocal critic of Israel and these sorts of things. And the reason I say that is because, of all the intemperate tweets, of all the inappropriate tweets, all the tweets that people have complained about because of the foul language, every single one of them has in some way been about Israel. Now I have used, as you pointed out, I have used plenty of foul language to describe Arab monarchs. I have used plenty of foul language to describe ISIS. I have tweeted, I would say, in even stronger ways when it comes to the leadership of, say, Jordan, or Palestine. It is obvious from reading my twitter feed that I am not a fan of the PA. You know, I am not a fan of Hamas leadership. I am not a fan of really much leadership in general. I am pretty critical of all leadership, and sometimes I use pretty strong leadership to condemn leadership and to condemn policy. But it is only the cursing, right, and it is only the intemperance towards Israel that has been singled out. Nobody from the other side of things has pointed to me and said, “F- ISIS” is an example of intemperance and incivility. Only when it has to do with Israel.
NE: And, you know, I think for those who do not know, you are not the first to go through this on this issue. Unfortunately, it is very well known for folks in academia. Joseph Massad went through a campaign at Columbia University. Nadia Abu El Hajj wen through a campaign at Bard. Norman Finkelstein went through a campaign at DePaul. There is a number of others that have written to me when I have written about you explaining their story. And then there are people outside of the realm of academia similarly targeted. Rasmeah Odeh, who is a torture survivor in Israeli prisons, is now being targeted by the FBI on her immigration status. In ways that appear and can be demonstrated as targeting Palestinians, and targeting Palestinians from the top to the bottom. So it is this power attack. And so, if we contextualize this, not just in academia, but beyond academia, we can go back to the LA Eight and the infringement of free speech of Palestinians during the 1980s, which did not get resolved until only a few years ago as an issue of free speech. It went all the way up to the Supreme Court. Are we changing? Are we making any progress if from the time of the LA Eight until now we are seeing this similar type of McCarthyism towards Palestinians and their personhood and speech around Palestine as well?
SS: I am in fantastic company, and there is a lot of it. [laughs] I mean, there is a lot of it. There have been a lot of people that this has happened to and that this continues to happen to. In terms of us making progress, I think we are. I think that something, and I do not know exactly what, and I cannot say empirically–this is all anecdotal, this is all just based on reading things and interacting with people–but I feel like something changed in the past few years. I feel like Operation Protective Edge led to a sort of criticism of Israel in places where it normally could count on media white washing. The images of the dead children flooded social media. The outrage around the world was just tremendous. We have had all of the academic boycott victories in, what is it now, six or seven scholarly associations, maybe even more. I am losing count. It has been so successfully. This, to me, indicates that, while we might not be making progress in terms of being protected from recrimination, we are making progress in terms of our grassroots activism, in terms of our effectiveness. I think that that has a lot to do with the type of intense backlash we are seeing now. I think we are making progress also in terms of connecting Palestine to other important issues of racism and decolonization in North America and around the world. I definitely see progress being made. What has happened to me is systematic and it has been happening to Palestinians in the United States, and supporters of Palestine, for a very long time. I do not think it is going to keep happening at this rate for much longer.
NE: You mentioned these new strides that are being made. The American Studies Association Academic Boycott Resolution was a major sea change in the landscape of BDS in the United States. So has, you know, the discussion around fifty days of onslaught onto the Gaza Strip and the way that those images and that discourse could not be controlled. In many ways it seems like the response to you is backlash, it is reprisal. It is reprisal to the ASA. It is also reprisal for failure to shut down BDS both by revocation of state funding in New York, in Illinois, in Maryland, who have all tried to revoke state funding for the ASA and have failed. Reprisal for the failure of being able to control the discourse of how we talk about these issues anymore. How much of this seems like, one: this is just revenge, and two: you are the lesson to be learned by everyone else who dares to continue moving forward. It just seems like failure to stop boycott in any other way, you might be the lowest hanging fruit for the opposition campaign.
SS: I suspect that both are important to this. I definitely suspect that under your second point that they are incorrect. That rather than being cowed, people feel emboldened. Rather than feeling scared, people are feeling energized. Look, you can try to protect your sacred nation state all you want, that is your right, go for it, do it, you know, protect it. But, in the end, you have to realize–and I think that Israel’s supporters have realized this, and this is why they are so hysterical at the moment–when in the course of less than two months, you shoot dead in cold blood 519 children, unless humanity as a whole has failed completely, there is going to be a backlash, and people are not simply going to accept this based on any justification, much less some silly, ethno-nationalist justification. That is the reality that is Israel right now and people are going to fight against that because people are fundamentally descent.
NE: So, Steven, do you regret anything that you have done? I mean, this is just, sitting back, where you are, now at the helm of a campaign in the center of a campaign. You are an activist yourself. And now, you know, for the first time, maybe–or not the first time, obviously, your struggles at V. Tech–but you have become the center of controversy again. Do you have any regrets about how this unfolded?
SS: I am still trying to acclimate to it all. But I am not a particularly religious or mystical person, so I am not going to say I am just going to submit myself to my destiny, but life has become interesting enough to where I am willing to see where it takes me in the coming months, and I have gained literally thousands of new friends in the past two months and that has been a really beautiful thing. That has been a really beautiful thing. It has been uplifting and it has been wonderful.
NE: You have certainly become a symbol of something much bigger than yourself in this moment, and I wonder how can people continue to support you and also support the broader campaign that you represent?
SS: Oh, I guess there are lots of ways. In terms of personal support, there is a Facebook page, “Support Salaita,” that has a whole bunch of information, and I think a website by the same name. But, also, if I have a second, I would also really urge people to look towards the American Indian Studies program and to the faculty and students at the U of I. They are, I think, feeling really overwhelmed by the amount of negative attention that the university is receiving because of the behavior of the administrators. So, you know, I am urging people to invite them out to give talks, to try to find ways to show the students there your support. They have really been screwed over by their administration and they are really at the center of what has been an extremely time consuming and difficult scenario. So, I would say that supporting me necessarily entails supporting them. And it necessarily entails supporting the people of Palestine on whose behalf all of us are ultimately working, the people of indigenous communities in North America and elsewhere, etc. These things are all interconnected.
NE: Well, we certainly look forward to hearing more from you and having you back on the program, and also listening to you speak across the country. We want to see more of you, more of your writing, more of your speaking , and be side by side with you in a victory, both in this case and in broader victories for justice and humanity as a whole. Thank you Steven.