US elections and the lesser evil of genocide, with Steven Salaita

“It’s beyond doubt that the world has raised its voice. The world has condemned what the Zionist entity is doing, and not a single politician in a position of authority has lifted a finger to stop it,” educator, writer and essayist Steven Salaita says.

Salaita, who now lives in Cairo, Egypt, spoke with me about moral clarity and the emboldening of political principles as Israel’s genocide of Palestinians in Gaza nears its five-month mark.

“And in fact, rather than stopping it, they have aided it and abetted it and funded it and justified it. So we have to be serious now. Where does that leave us? What options do we have?” Salaita continued.

“I don’t have the answers at the moment. A lot of answers are emerging and will continue to emerge from Gaza itself, but I do know where we cannot look anymore.”

Salaita is the author of eight books, including Uncivil Rites and Inter/Nationalism: Decolonizing Native America and Palestine.

Following multiple public controversies and a brief departure from academe, Salaita is now a professor at the Department of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Cairo.

I asked Salaita if the Arab American community remains under any illusion that the Biden administration or the Democratic Party are outlets through which they can be heard, especially with the US Presidential elections coming up in November.

While this episode was recorded on 19 February, 100,000 people in Michigan – which contains the largest Arab American community in the country – filed protest votes as “uncommitted” in the primary this past week.

Donald Trump’s victory margin in the state of Michigan in 2016 was only 11,000 votes.

“We’ve been good little citizens for decades and decades and decades, and all it has gotten us are successive administrations that are even worse on Palestine,” Salaita says.

“Democrats are overwhelmingly against this genocide and overwhelmingly in favor of a ceasefire, and that’s quite simply not matched by any of the leadership,” he adds.

“And even the leaders who claim to be anti-genocide or pro-ceasefire, they’re caping for Biden.”

Salaita spoke of his return to teaching after three public controversies involving his ousting from academic institutions.

In 2014, he was fired by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for social media comments criticizing Israel’s massacre in Gaza that year, during which Israel was killing 11 Palestinian children per day.

He sued the university for breach of contract, alleging administrators acted under pressure from pro-Israel donors, and later settled the case.

Soon after, he was targeted by a lawsuit against the American Studies Association.

His upcoming memoir, to be published this month by Fordham University Press, is titled An Honest Living: A Memoir of Peculiar Itineraries.

An Honest Living was also the title of the very first essay he published on his website in February 2019. It chronicles his becoming a school bus driver following his academic ouster.

“The Zionists are hell-bent on making sure that I never get into a classroom again. And so just as a matter of principle, I kind of wanted to,” Salaita said.

He is now a professor at the Department of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Cairo.

Watch the full interview above, or listen via Soundcloud below.

Articles we discussed

Video production by Tamara Nassar

Theme music by Sharif Zakout

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Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.