Response

10.29.13

No Denial From Bret Stephens Re. Yeshiva University Panel Slurs

In his response to my article about a Yeshiva University panel he participated in last week, Bret Stephens writes that I “grossly mischaracterized” his remarks. He offers two examples of my gross mischaracterization: the 2013 Israeli Nobel laureates he mentioned were awarded the prize in chemistry—and not in physics, as I wrote; and he did not say that Pakistan had produced “absolutely” nothing in its entire history. He correctly points out, using the video of the discussion (21:30), that he actually said Pakistan had produced “almost” nothing in its entire history—and not “absolutely.”

I acknowledge and apologize for my errors.

I wonder if the Pakistanis who were upset with him over my initial wording will be mollified by Mr. Stephens having used a slightly more moderate adjective in his characterization of their country. Is it better to be told you've accomplished “almost” nothing than nothing at all? They might find the remark surprising given that Pakistan has produced world renowned musicians, authors and athletes.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who died in 1997, made Qawwali, or Sufi devotional music, internationally famous with his stunning voice, which some described as the greatest ever recorded, in any genre. For a more recent example of Pakistani musicians who are attracting international attention, Mr. Stephens might be interested in Quratalain, who sings covers of traditional music with a rock 'n roll twist—like this stunning version of Aakhiyan Nu Raen Dey. Or the popular Coke Studio recording show, now in its sixth season and a huge hit in India, too, despite the official enmity between the two states.

Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist was shortlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize and adapted for a film directed by Mira Nair. His more recent How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia won critical praise around the world, with New York Times literary critic Michiko Kakutani describing Mr. Hamid as “one of his generation’s most inventive and gifted writers.” Mohammad Hanif's first novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, was long listed for the 2008 Booker. Kamila Shamsie, the Karachi born-and-raised author of five novels, was included in Granta's 2013 list of 20 best young writers. And Jamil Ahmad won rave reviews with his first novel, The Wandering Falcon, which he published at the age of 80.

Ms. Shamsie lives in London, but Mohammad Hanif, Jamil Ahmad and Mohsin Hamid live in Pakistan. As does Pakistan's most famous citizen, the great cricket player and politician Imran Khan. So it is not true, as Mr. Stephens asserts (0:22), that “Pakistan's most distinguished citizens always leave the country.”

Mr. Stephens also claims that he recounted meeting a Chinese woman who professed admiration for Jewish intelligence as an example of her philo Semitism, and not as validation of his own belief that Jews are intellectually superior. That is not really the point. In the video (1:08) he mocks her accent and says he wondered if the Chinese woman, whom he describes as an MBA candidate at Case Western, had come to hear him speak at a synagogue because she was “shopping for a Jewish husband.” Here's a thought experiment: How would he respond if a prominent African-American journalist participating in a Howard University panel employed an exaggerated Yiddish accent while telling an anecdote about an old Jewish man who professed admiration for Black athletes and jazz musicians?

At the very least, a man who is not embarrassed to say that he thought a female MBA candidate from China would be at a synagogue “shopping for a Jewish husband” betrays an attitude toward women that can politely be described as unacceptable. I like the term knuckle dragger, but I don't want to cast any undeserved slurs at Neanderthals.

Mr. Stephens, readers might recall, practically accused Chuck Hagel of anti-Semitism for using the term “Jewish lobby” instead of “Israel lobby.” And yet, a man who is fine tuned to the vaguest whiff of anti Jewish sentiment blithely slurs Pakistanis, Chinese and women. He sits by silently as Sheldon Adelson, his co-panelist, glibly suggests lobbing a nuclear bomb at an unpopulated swathe of Iranian desert, chiming in only to disparage liberals for advocating diplomatic negotiations with Iran (three-quarters of Americans “favor direct diplomatic negotiations with Iran".)

Here's the thing. It is unacceptable anywhere, but particularly at an academic institution in New York City in 2013, to throw out the kind of slurs I outlined above and in my original article. Rather than addressing my criticism, Mr. Stephens zeroes in on two small factual errors that do not affect the substance of his remarks— from which he has failed to distance himself.