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In this worrying climate of censorship and attacks on academic freedom, Pluto Press stands in solidarity with our authors Mohamed Abdou and Jodi Dean, and with all those targeted for their outspoken support of the cause of Palestinian liberation.

We wish to amplify the campaigns that have already been initiated in defence of both Mohamed Abdou and Jodi Dean:

Sign the open letter in support of Mohamed Abdou.

Sign the petition to revoke Professor Jodi Dean’s suspension from teaching at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

The full text of the open letter in support of Mohamed Abdou is reproduced below, as is the Middle East Studies Association Letter to Hobart and William Smith Colleges expressing grave concern about the suspension of Professor Jodi Dean.

Mohamed Abdou is the author of Islam and Anarchism: Relationships and Resonances. Jodi Dean is the author of the introduction to the 2017 edition of The Communist Manifesto and a ‘Digital Barricades‘ series editor.

Letter of Support for Mohamed Abdou

As scholars, students, and concerned citizens, we write in support of our colleague, Arcapita Visiting Assistant Professor at Columbia University, Mohamed Abdou, who has been targeted and slandered for his pro-Palestine commitments and activism. His outspoken support for Palestinian liberation has garnered attention and attacks from right-wing outlets but more damning is Rep. Elise Stefanik’s rhetoric, who grilled Columbia University president Minouche Shafik in a House hearing about Prof. Abdou. Rep. Stefanik repeated well-documented falsehoods about the October 7th attacks, condemning Prof. Abdou for having (correctly) stated they are false. Rep. Stefanik insisted that Prof. Abdou be punished for questioning widely discredited news stories such as the story of Hamas beheading babies and misconstrued his words to claim he is antisemitic. Criticism of the Israeli government is not antisemitic. Stefanik also took Abdou’s Twitter statements out of context and presented him as a supporter of terrorism, a well-known Islamophobic dog-whistle. Stefanik pressed President Shafik until she insisted in the House hearing that Prof. Abdou would never work at Columbia again.

This case presents a litmus test for academic freedom in which a professor’s (misrepresented) political statements outside the classroom are grounds for termination. Rep. Stefanik’s insistence that Prof. Abdou, in particular, be punished for correcting propaganda is chilling and infringes on the academic freedoms that are the hallmarks of the western liberal academy. Her line of questioning also fits a pattern of representing those who advocate for Palestinian liberation as violent terrorists, which we see in statements that seek to redefine the Arabic word, intifada (which means uprising) as violence and in attempts to label the keffiyeh as a symbol of terrorism. Such acts are rooted in Orientalist ideology, which purports to have authority over what Arab culture and language mean.

Prof. Abdou’s work is based in the social justice and anti-authoritarian framework of Islam. He has explicitly criticized “neo-fundamentalist terrorists,” and groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS/Daesh for their “warped notions of the Umma” (i.e., a global community of Muslims that historically and traditionally included non-Muslims). He reminds us instead that “an abolitionist, decolonial, and socially just egalitarian Islam exists.” To brand his radical vision of inclusion and decolonialism as support for terrorism is clear racism and Islamophobia.

The targeting of Prof. Abdou is not only an attack on academic freedom and on academics’ right to their own political opinions, but also on his reputation and future job prospects. It is designed to make sure that he does not have a career in academia, and follows a well-documented pattern of exiling faculty who are critical of Israel, such as what happened with Prof. Steven Salaita in 2015. Prof. Abdou’s talks and tweets have been taken out of context by Rep. Stefanik and by far-right news sources in order to paint him as a violent supporter of terror. One of the main sites targeting Prof. Abdou, Visegrád 24, is a far-right Polish news aggregator with a documented history of spreading fake news that a study showed makes use of “‘culture war’ frames and divisive imagery.” We cannot allow the careers of academics to be decided based on attention-grading news clips and McCarthy-esque panels demanding allegiance to a demonstrably false narrative. Prof. Abdou will face a job search with false accusations tied to his name by powerful figures in the US government. He may well be blacklisted and unable to find a job or livelihood. The consequences of this McCarthy-esque attack are life altering for him and others who support liberation.

To date, at least one hundred and eight students have been arrested in a matter of days at Columbia University after protesting an on-going genocide that the US is complicit in. The use of force and carceral punishment for peacefully opposing genocide goes against students’ constitutional right to peaceful protest on campuses, and this heavy handed approach by Columbia’s administration is setting a dangerous precedent. The targeting of Prof. Abdou is part of a pattern to silence and punish all those who speak for justice and Palestinian liberation.

With urgency, we, the undersigned, stand in solidarity with Prof. Abdou who continues to have his work, name, and reputation besmirched, while his future job prospects may be in question because of malicious misrepresentations of his words by right-wing outlets and politicians alike. Abdou’s academic contributions have enriched our understanding of liberation and anti-authoritarianism, he is a beloved professor to his students, and a valuable member of the scholarly and activist communities.

Middle East Studies Association Letter regarding the suspension of Professor Jodi Dean

Dear President Gearan and colleagues:


We write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our grave concern at the decision of the administration of Hobart and William Smith Colleges (HWS) to relieve Dr. Jodi Dean, a tenured professor in the Department of Politics, of her teaching duties because of opinions she expressed in an essay on Palestine that she had posted online. Whatever one thinks of the perspectives set forth in Professor Dean’s blog post, this arbitrary action is an egregious violation of the principles of academic freedom and of the constitutionally protected right to freedom of speech.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the prestigious International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 2,800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and outside of North America.

On 9 April 2024 Professor Dean posted an essay titled “Palestine speaks for everyone” to the authors’ blog of the British publisher Verso, which has published several of her books. On 13 April 2024 HWS President Mark D. Gearan issued a statement in which he declared: “Not only am I in complete disagreement with Professor Dean, I find her comments repugnant, condemn them unequivocally, and want to make clear that these are her personal views and not those of our institution.” While affirming the “importance of free dialogue on ideas” and the colleges’ efforts “to create an environment where we can discuss hard issues upon which we may disagree,” Gearan went on to assert that “we can never and will never condone or praise violence, particularly when that violence is directed at individuals based on their religion, race, or national origin.” Alleging that “as a result of Professor Dean’s comments, there now may be students on our campus who feel threatened in or outside of the classroom,” he announced that “Professor Dean has been relieved of classroom duties” pending an investigation.

President Gearan’s statement did not explain how or why HWS students might feel threatened by Professor Dean’s blog post, nor did he suggest that her political views had in any way detrimentally affected her teaching. Your administration has also not cited the specific institutional policies permitting Professor Dean’s suspension. We note that the HWS faculty handbook incorporates language drawn from the statements of the American Association of University Professor (AAUP) regarding academic freedom. Among other things, the organization’s standards require that a faculty member may be “suspended, or assigned to other duties in lieu of suspension, only if immediate harm to the faculty member or others is threatened by continuance.” No evidence of harm, immediate or otherwise, to anyone at HWS has been adduced by your administration.

On 15 April 2024 Provost and Dean of Faculty Sarah R. Kirk sent an email to HSW faculty and students in which she stated that “Professor Dean has the right to express her views just as President Gearan has the right to find those views reprehensible and to condemn them.” However, she went on to assert that “Hobart and William Smith has the obligation under federal anti-discrimination laws, including Title VI, to investigate and take prompt action where the possibility exists that there is a hostile environment based on national origin, shared ancestry, or other protected classes that may interfere with a student’s ability to learn and enjoy the benefits of an education.” She made no claim that anyone had actually complained that Professor Dean’s blog post had caused them to feel that a hostile environment existed at HWS, nor did she explain on what basis a professor could be suspended before any investigation, conducted in accordance with established institutional procedures, had even taken place. We must therefore wonder whether your administration’s peremptory action in suspending Professor Dean was in fact not motivated by genuine fear of threat or harm to members of the HWS community, but rather by your desire to pre-empt a potentially embarrassing federal investigation of your institution and/or by untoward pressure from donors or others who wanted Professor Dean sanctioned because of her views.

The principles of academic freedom protect Professor Dean’s right to express and disseminate her views to a wider public if she so chooses without fear of sanction, as well as her right to not be subjected to arbitrary disciplinary action. We remind you of the statement on “Academic Freedom in Times of War” issued by the AAUP on 24 October 2023, which is directly relevant to your disciplinary action against Professor Dean:

It is in tumultuous times that colleges’ and universities’ stated commitments to protect academic freedom are most put to the test. As the Israel-Hamas war rages and campus protests proliferate, institutional authorities must refrain from sanctioning faculty members for expressing politically controversial views and should instead defend their right, under principles of academic freedom, to do so.

We therefore call on you to immediately rescind your decision to suspend Professor Dean and allow her to return to classroom teaching. We further call on you to refrain from adopting any policy, or taking any measure, which is likely to exert a chilling effect on the right or ability of students, faculty and staff to freely express their opinions on matters of public concern and to advocate for whatever cause they wish. Finally, we urge you to publicly and forcefully reaffirm your commitment to respecting and upholding free speech and academic freedom on your campus, and to fully protecting the safety and well-being of all members of the campus community.

We look forward to your response.

Aslı Ü. Bâli
MESA President
Professor, Yale Law School

Laurie Brand
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor Emerita, University of Southern California