Guest Author: Zihni Özdil

Being active on social media brings many benefits. For me social media has been a very useful vehicle for sharing articles, blogs, news and activities with others. Another main benefit has been exchanging thoughts, and sometimes humorous rants, with like-minded people.

It turns out there are others besides me who find academic culture to have – generally speaking – quite a narrow spectrum. Especially in the ‘humanities’ field. Academics who are willing to listen to, let alone agree on, viewpoints that take established frameworks to task seem to be scarce.

It may actually be quite universal that real critical thought on one’s own society, history or culture is filtered out somewhere along the way from kindergarten to the post-doc.

I for example remember vividly how I was punished in first grade when I explained to my classmates that Sinterklaas (Dutch Santa Claus) cannot be real since delivering packages to all children in one night is impossible. Most of them understood and agreed.

When my teacher found out I was the source of this deviant idea, she chastised me in front of the other kids. She then completed the punishment by putting an impossibly difficult puzzle in my hands and banishing me into a corner of the classroom. I learnt an important lesson that day: never question established ideas too much.

Nevertheless, an amusing discussion on twitter gave me the idea to draw up a top 10 of the most ignorant statements made by academics. These quotes are real. They have been uttered at events like faculty luncheons, private discussions and sometimes even academic seminars.

Obviously I have kept the names of the persons who said these things anonymous. After all, it does not really matter who has said what. What matters are the tragi-comic results that academic filtering can yield:

  1. Everybody is racist: I am getting tired of this racism blame-game. Everybody is racist. In Spain Gypsies are also racist towards Spaniards’ (PhD candidate)
  2. White males are the real victims: ‘White men are the most discriminated against in the world. Everyone else has affirmative action. We have nothing’ (High ranking Military Commander)
  3. Those Muslims…: On Muslim immigrants: ‘We want them to be educated, because they create problems when they don’t have an education’ (White male with an MA degree)
  4. Those Muslims… again!: ‘Anders Breivik’s act of terror was clearly inspired by Al-Qaeda’ (Associate Professor)
  5. Don’t be uppity: ‘Don’t ask difficult questions. Take your time learning, you’re from Africa’ (Professor)
  6. Heritage fundamentalism: ‘I think those people who criticize Zwarte Piet (a Dutch Blackface tradition) should just leave Holland’ (Honors student and PhD candidate)
  7. Ethnic reduction and objectivity: When I pointed out the well-documented distance between rhetoric and action in American foreign policy by citing declassified sources at George Washington University’s NSA: ‘It is understandable that people from your background are prone to conspiracy theories. But as historians we have to be objective’ (Professor)
  8. No international law: ‘I was very excited to hear the news of Bin Laden’s killing; this was Obama’s way to show his right-wing critics that he is not some weak-kneed pushover they make him out to be, but a true statesman who is perfectly capable of making tough decisions.’ (Professor of Law)
  9. That’s different!: Professor: ‘Mubarak’s regime was supported by the United States because it was secular and opposed to radical Islamic fundamentalism.’ Me: ‘Then how do you explain US support for Saudi Arabia, one of the most brutal fundamentalist regimes in the world?’ Professor: ‘That’s different! In this case, the support is needed to maintain stability.’
  10. And last but not least: That’s different!: As a student I had to read one of Holland’s most respected historians, Henk Wesseling. He wrote that Indonesia became independent in 1949 (that is when Holland recognized it). I told my Professor that Wesseling was wrong because Indonesia had declared independence on 17 August 1945. He told me that I should know better since independence is only valid when it is internationally recognized. I then asked: ‘Sir, when did the United States become independent?’. He answered: ‘1776’. I yelled: ‘Wrong! Britain recognized America’s independence in 1783.’ My Professor’s reply: ‘That’s different’.

Note: this top 10 was made with contributions by:

Sara Salem
Tamara Soukotta
Khaibar Sarghandoy
Sya Taha

Zihni Özdil is junior lecturer and PhD candidate at Erasmus University’s School of History, Culture and Communication. His PhD research centers on state-building and non-sunni Muslim religious minorities in early Republican Turkey. More specifically, he focuses on the interplay between state-led secularization and the formation of Alevi and ‘Nusayri’ identity during the ‘First Turkish Republic’ (1923-1960). He teaches courses on the history of the Middle East and North Africa.

This contribution was also published on his website.
Follow Zihni Özdil on Twitter.