Imperialism’s War Against Truth, Palestinians, and My Friends 

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

On October 7th, the Palestinian Resistance did not only strike at the Israeli military and settler outposts. It struck at imperialism. Wounded, unaccustomed to defeat or to the merits of self-restraint, Imperialism is responding viciously. An endless supply of ammunition, of international political cover, and of lies, blood libels, and racist canards is constantly being provided by the powers of imperialism to fuel the bloodbath the settler colonial state of Israel is perpetrating against the people who dared to resist the empire.

Parallel to the ongoing war against the free people of Gaza, the cultural apparatus of Empire is waging a war against the truth and its sayers. In the media, this unfolded in the form of a misinformation campaign spreading the most disgusting lies that aim to at once tarnish the Palestinian resistance and demonize Arab and other non-European populations, indeed resting on a racist repository that pathologizes the West’s others.

In academia this unfolds in the form of campaigns of intimidation, doxxing, blackmail, and threats against the students and professors who dare speak the truth. I want to talk about someone I know personally, someone who has been targeted repeatedly by the tentacles of imperialism in US academia, and repeatedly prevailed.

I speak of my friend, comrade, and mentor Joseph Massad.

At a time when academia makes the truth about Palestine unsayable (in a manner that leaves the field open to the lies spread by the media about the bloodthirsty brown-skinned horde that, like any other ethnic horde in any colonialist archive, kills babies and rapes women) Joseph Massad dared to say the truth: that Operation al-Aqsa Flood can potentially become “ the start of the Palestinian War of Liberation or yet another battle in the interminable struggle between the colonizer and the colonized”.

The sharp-sightedness that allowed Massad to see the attacks for what they are, did not make him overlook his compassion. He did acknowledge “a horrifying human toll on all sides” – contrary to Judith Butler’s disingenuous allegations, we, the supporters of a free Palestine, do not have the power or the will to censor the grief of the colonizers or their kin- even the resistance, moved by practical considerations if not mere compassion, has shown more sensitivity towards the grief of the settlers than the Israeli government that has been attempting, in accordance to its draconian Hannibal directive and through carpet bombing Gaza to kill off the Israeli prisoners held there (and that may have indeed killed most of the settlers that died since October 7thaccording to new mounting evidence).

A rabid campaign unfolded against Massad (part of a larger rabid campaign that also targeted students and activists). His words were twisted and misrepresented. An online petition calls for firing him. Imperialist media –always masquerading as mainstream— are publishing defamatory and libelous pieces that pass themselves as news reports. Others took to social media posting statements that amount to death threats or instigation for murder. It is the night of the long knives all over; once again the rising forces of fascism are searching for Semites to scapegoat in order to silence any intellectual resistance.

Clearly, Massad is penalized for his integrity: for daring to cross the intellectual red lines drawn by Empire.

In a conversation with Joseph a few years ago, he told me how, before the first campaign that targeted him in the early 2000s, he made sure to speak out against Zionism and imperialism before being tenured, in order to provide the next generation of academics with the example that they should not wait for academic job security to speak the truth. The result, of course, was a vicious campaign that aimed to jeopardize his career. But Massad, one of the most erudite and studious researchers you can ever meet, a dedicated mentor, and a brilliant writer, always persevering, never giving up, was able in 2009 to get the tenure he deserved (on a personal level this was good news even though I had never met Massad: in 2009 I was applying for a PhD and wanted to work with him, which I eventually did).

Massad could have avoided all this hassle by simply waiting a few more years before speaking the truth. The fact that he didn’t is a most valuable lesson for us, his students, friends, and comrades.

For more than seven years, I was Massad’s student. I took his graduate courses, served as his teaching assistant, attended most of his public talks that took place in New York (some of which I organized myself), in Beirut, and in Cairo, and had endless meetings, discussions, and conversations with him. All this time I heard accusations by his political detractors claiming him to be a nasty, irritable, and irrational human being (the typical stereotype of an Arab man). All the time I witnessed him to be friendly, accommodating, highly compassionate, and extremely generous. At times I was surprised by his ability not to lose his temper, or by how accommodating and kind he is towards all of his students, including students who make a point to antagonize him.

But I do not want to make this about how nice Joseph Massad is. Right now I am not supporting him because he is nice, but because he is right.

These anecdotes, however, are important, in order to understand how the campaigns against Massad are rooted in the pathologizing of the Arab man. Contra the personal experience of his students who testify to the qualities I just mentioned, there is a transcendental fact that trumps all other evidence: that Massad must be the pathological figure his detractors make him out to be. This is only believable because it rests on the racist stereotype of the pathological brown man.

It is no coincidence, then, that it is the same stereotype that made believable the utter disgusting lies about unfounded crimes that the western media is attributing to the Palestinian resistance. While extant evidence shows that it is the state of Israel that has historically weaponized rape and sexual violence as tools of torture and blackmail, that it is the state of Israel that systematically kills and dismembers Palestinian babies, the imperialist mind believes in the transcendental truth, unchanged by material facts, that it is the Arab crowd that commits such crimes because the pathological brown man is a tenant of the faith of western imperialism (some were even surprised to see Palestinian men weeping for or trying to comfort their babies in the middle of the carnage; the imagery ran in contradiction with their deeply held belief in the pathology of the brown man even though it is white masculinity that shuns emotions and the display thereof).

Many other academics and authors, including ones who masquerade as supporters for justice in Palestine when convenient, were quick to believe, spread, and base their responses on the litany of racist lies and blood libels (even on CounterPunch, unfortunately!). But Massad spoke the truth. And for the cultural (including academic) apparatuses of Western imperialism, this is not permissible, and for this he is penalized. Yet the ongoing struggle also demonstrates that there may be a space to decolonize the circles of academic and intellectual exchange, to finally sever the knot between imperialism and the academic apparatus, if enough of us have the integrity and perseverance shown by not many, but a few admirable academics, including Joseph Massad.

Ahmed Dardir holds a PhD in Middle Eastern Studies from Columbia University. His forthcoming book is titled Licentious Topographies: Global Counterrevolution and Bad Subjectivity in Modern Egypt. His personal blog can be found at