In the private conversations (read: bullying sessions) with senior and not-so-senior white academics at Leiden these enlightened papier-mâché social justice warriors can lapse into derogatory parlance suffused with brittle European triumphalism and racist diction that surpasses the right-wing tropes of today. History has shown us that being enlightened and holding profoundly racist views is quite typically the hallmark of European thinkers of yesteryear. The idea that sapient societies (read: white societies) who fostered philosophical learning were racially superior to uncouth savages beguiled by irrational mysticism and occult practices is standard leitmotif in the medieval historical writings of authors later identified as Europeans. Such contemptuous imaginations of the other on the part of “western” writers continued unabated well into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (…) Once in my presence, a learned Leiden professor described Islam as a “brutal religion”. In another incident, a highly respected white male professor asked me whether a prospective academic guest speaker from the Middle East (whom he hadn’t known or heard of) could be anti-Semitic, presumably because everyone of the 254 million residents of the Middle East must necessarily be anti-Semitic (it would be equally ridiculous and racist to assume that all Germans are somehow sympathetic to Nazism). I have also had to respond to students calling for Muslim extermination, others who describe the Middle East as a “terrorist hell hole”, and gentler types that continue to inquire about the precise verses in the Quran that “teach you how to blow yourself up”. While academics, especially instructors in Middle Eastern studies, view Middle Eastern societies with the kind of disdain and grandstanding mentalities one finds in the old pages of their Orientalist predecessors. For them the Middle East and its people have a troubled past. It is a place of roaming brown savages, predisposed towards violence, and obsessed with irrational religion. Only the white Leiden academic is capable of grasping the history, philosophy, religion, and culture of the Middle East. Muslim academics, to quote a senior Leiden professor of high repute, “are incapable of objective scholarship” (…) In regular conversations with other minorities at Leiden, be it Muslims, Jews, homosexuals, blacks, etc., an important but missed, or ignored, fact reveals itself: racism, bigotry, and intolerance is a regular and frequent feature of campus life in Leiden. I have spoken to brown professors who told me they were refused a job promotion because of their Middle Eastern heritage, I have spoken to black students who feel underrepresented (and sometimes on the receiving end of scorn when they object the ubiquitous display of the racist tradition that is zwarte piet), I have spoken to veiled Muslim students who feel marginalised and excluded by larger student collectives irked by their religiosity, and I have spoken to Jewish academics who feel unsafe on campus and afraid to address the growing waves of anti-Semitism.
In We need to talk about racism (Mare)