NIAC Calls out Anti-Iranian Stanford Professor

Here’s something curious, via the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).

It seems Stanford professor Jeffrey Ullman harbors some antipathy toward Iranian students as evinced by his negative views of their government and its politics (specifically vis-à-vis Israel).  Doesn’t he know that Iranian students have long stood at the vanguard of the reform and Green movements — at the risk of great personal danger?

Apparently not. When an Iranian student wrote Ullman asking for some help with admissions, Ullman, according to a NIAC letter to Stanford, replied:

You need to read http://infolab.stanford.edu/~ullman/pub/formresponse.html
And even if I were in a position to help, I will not help Iranian students until Iran recognizes and respects Israel as the land of the Jewish people. I know that you may not hold the same insane position as the mullahs that run your country, but it is a matter of principle.
If Iranians want the benefits of Stanford and other institutions in the US, they have to respect the values we hold in the US, including freedom of religion and respect for human rights.
regards.
—jdu

NIAC has alleged that Ullman’s views — particularly his refusal to help Iranian students based on the political positions of their government — amount to “racial and political discrimination.”

Ullman has pushed back a little, directing viewers to his Stanford faculty page that reads, “If you are reading this page in connection with the NIAC Vendetta, you should Read This First.” Likewise with an FAQ page written by Ullman on “Answers to All Questions Iranian,” where the above disclaimer has been affixed to the top of the page.

A professor of computer science, Ullman focuses on database theory, database integration, data mining, and education using the information infrastructure. His FAQ page is littered with historical mistakes (or fibs); a recurring theme is the implication that “technologically advanced” societies are inherently superior, and therefore deserve to conquer other less-advanced societies. One example:

Question: Why did the US take land from the Native Americans?

Answer: Because that’s the way things happen and always have happened. Technologically more advanced civilizations replace less advanced civilizations.

This perspective dovetails nicely with the notion of the “Start-Up Nation,” doesn’t it?  Naturally, Ullman refers to the West Bank by the name used by Israeli settlers and other far-rightists: Judea and Samaria.

Unsurprisingly, Ullman’s FAQ page on Iran and Israel reads like a Hasbara manual, from Israel’s ‘generous offer’ of 2000 right down to Naqba denial — “The notion that Arabs were pushed out of the land of Israel is nonsense.”

“I think that Iranians, from their president on down, could use a history lesson. Here are the relevant facts,” he writes in the introduction.

But Ullman’s sloppy history is not limited to the founding of the state of Israel. He is equally ignorant about Iran. “As I understand it, Mossadegh nationalized the oil resources that had been developed by US and other Western oil companies,” writes Ullman. He could have looked at a source as un-academic as Wikipedia to find that the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company had the concession for all Iranian oil until 1953, when it was nationalized by Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. This man is a professor at an elite West Coast university and he’s reciting history based on his “understand(ing)”? Aren’t academics (good ones, at least) supposed to look things up?

Ullman also makes sweeping generalizations which can’t be backed up by reality. For example, I’m sure Ullman would consider Iran an “Islamic fundamentalist” state, yet he writes, “One of the great shames of Islamic fundamentalism is that it neglects to develop a technologically capable population.” That will come as a shock to Iranians, since, proportionally, there are more Farsi-language bloggers than any other tongue, Iranians use cellphones and Twitter, and many watch satellite TV. In fact, it was under the U.S.-supported Shah where, while “advanced technologies” were available to a tiny elite slice of the population, much of the country languished in poverty, illiteracy, and malnutrition.

I won’t waste any more time picking apart this ridiculous document; I’ll let the experts decide if Ullman’s views amount to actualized “discrimination” or simple bigotry. But, if I were an academic at prestigious Stanford, I’d be damned embarrassed that a colleague had written such drivel–and that it appeared on a Stanford URL.

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Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.

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6 Comments

  1. Ullman messed up big time, he exposed his ignorance on a mass scale. I feel a little sorry for him, he’s old and doing theoretical computer science 24-7 is not healthy so naturally ‘being politically active’ – through his little website and ‘academic position’ – is naturally something more exciting.

    If Ullman is like this, then you can get a feel for much of academia, those ‘famous academics’ whose books we buy and who we love, they maybe undercover Ullmans. That is a distressing thought, however these days very few people have well rounded knowledge, manners, ethics and ‘common sense’ all in one, even an apparently ‘high up’ academics. Our education/academic system must be quite pathetic if it allows such people to reach high positions while harboring uncritical views of the people around them, in this case Iranians, and of the modern situation.

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