Photo source, @mjb’s Flicr Photostream (Matthew Bradley)
I have a hypothesis: Newt Gingrich, a provocateur reaching for the Republican nomination for President of the United States, has stated that the “Palestinian people are an invented people” – well, Newt Gingrich, while not an invented person, is an invented Professor. Gingrich’s longtime communications aide Rick Tyler described him as “probably the smartest political strategist in the country bar none.”
That may well be true, but whether coming from loyalty or from a “conservative revenge fantasy” as described by Mr. Douthat in The New York Times, the reality is that Mr. Gingrich was a failed academic, as he was denied tenure at West Georgia College. Indeed his Ph.D. “thesis on education in the Belgian Congo is “nothing earth-shattering” and is never published,” reported by PBS.
It is curious that Mr. Gingrich often refers to himself as a “historian,” and that the news media portrays him as a “Professor” and even more curious that Republican voters seem to find such characterization to be appealing. In addition to being an astute politician, he appears to be an effective actor portraying the role of Professor. With this prologue, I would like to share this guest post written by my colleague Morad Abou-Sabe’, President, Arab American League of Voters of NJ.
It is amazing how far politicians will go to bash Arabs, Muslims and yes, Palestinians, to appease a particular segment of the society. Can it go to the extent of falsifying history and denying a whole people’s existence? Well, Mr. Gingrich, the current front-runner in the Republican Presidential campaign has stooped to that level in an interview with a Jewish Television Channel (JTC). Mr. Gingrich who was a professor of history before becoming a politician, and joined the department of history at West Georgia College in 1974, has committed the unthinkable for a historian, namely fabricating history and denying the existence of a whole people. In his JTC interview, Mr. Gingrich made the statement that the “Palestinian people are an invented people?” and were not part of the Ottoman Empire. I guess that is how far back Mr. Gingrich’s knowledge of Middle East history goes, namely less than a hundred years of history in a region whose history goes back more than seven thousand years.
People can differ in their evaluation and/or recollections of certain events throughout history; that is not unusual. But to deny the existence of a people who have existed for thousands of years, really tips the balance here.
Over ten years ago, I wrote an op-ed on the history of Palestine in the Trenton Times. At this time I’ll simply refer to Bernard Grun’s renowned historical publication titled “The Timetables of history”. In this scholarly publication, Mr. Grun records Palestine to the period between 3000 and 2500 BC, which is actually four hundred years before Prophet Abraham left the city of Ur, in Chaldea to Arabia, 2100 BC. That is how far back Palestine and, by definition, its inhabitants the Palestinian people, have been in existence. Recent historical accounts in the same timetables of historical publications, stated that in 1922, the League of Nations council approved the British Mandate over Palestine and Egypt. With Egypt’s inclusion in the same sentence in this mandate, perhaps Mr. Gingrich will next characterize the Egyptian People as an “Invented People” as well?
The irony in the statement by Mr. Gingrich is that it is so draconian that one cannot imagine anyone would be so much out of touch with reality. I do not think the Jewish community, with whom I have worked very closely on interfaith discussions and other projects, especially on Bigotry and Bias at all levels, would condone such a misstatement by Mr. Gingrich. I think the same community to which he appears to pander will see his blatant ignorance and disregard of the historical facts of a region that is so dear to their hearts outside of the US.
For a presidential candidate, it is difficult to imagine any advantage of pitting one people against another in a region of the world that has been a hot bed of troubles for over six decades. It appears that Mr. Gingrich is trying to appeal to the Jewish American community of which some voters might find such a statement appealing. It is also well known that Mr. Gingrich works on both sides of many issues, so is it not uncharacteristic of him to do that at this time?
Perhaps Mr. Gingrich is discounting the possible impact of Palestinian Americans, or for that matter Arab and Muslim American voters altogether on his candidacy. He may have forgotten his own comments in February 2001, right after the inauguration of former President G. W. Bush. At that time, I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Gingrich at the Islamic Institute of Thought, in the presence of other congressional leaders and top media figures. In that meeting, I was amazed by the complimentary comments that Mr. Gingrich said about the Muslim American community and how effective and organized the community was in the election of President Bush. Perhaps he has forgotten that that community is so much more vibrant today and more politically active now than at anytime before. The Arab and Muslim American community has become even more active, motivated not only by its recognition of the role it plays as an integral part of the American social fabric but ever more motivated by the kind of bigotry that comes out from time to time, by such uniformed and bigoted politicians.
While the Arab and Muslim American community celebrates over a century of contributions to American culture, business and the arts bringing its cumulative rich history to America, it is often discounted and discouraged by the continued ignorance of political figures such as Mr. Gingrich with irresponsible comments that, I predict will mark the beginning of his downfall in his search for the highest political office in the US that demands integrity, intelligence and empathy.