Mary Grabar

To have a professor get arrested for the crime of jaywalking—especially when the professor has to be subdued and knocked to the ground by back-up police--is about as visually dramatic as it gets at annual conferences like the American Historical Association meeting held earlier this month in Atlanta. This British historian, Dr. Felipi Fernandez-Arnesto, was, in his own words, transported on “a dirty, fetid paddy wagon hand-cuffed to another suspected felon,” and while spending eight hours in jail subjected to humiliating searches, and fed “revolting cellophane-wrapped sandwiches.” This news story was met by the to-be-expected spate of indignant letters to the editor the following day—many charging another abuse of police power. The same day the indignant letters to the editor were published the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published the police officer’s account of the story: the professor did not follow his repeated directions to use a nearby crosswalk to avoid the dangerous stretch of street between the two convention hotels. So goes the historical account—citizens quick to jump on the police before they know the whole story—and the newspaper publishing those letters but not any that followed the policeman’s revelation.

But historians are guilty of more egregious forms of jaywalking—to use the apt metaphor: distorting history, and their roles as scholars. This group of “scholars” did something decidedly unscholarly at the meeting funded by their universities: they voted in a resolution against war, specifically the Iraq war. The panels consisted of the usual panoply of multicultural, anti-West advocacy, as well. And, thus, many of these scholars share much in common with newly elected Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison who has distorted history for his own purposes.

Banking on the public’s ignorance of history and the mainstream media’s complicity, Keith Ellison had Thomas Jefferson’s Koran taken out from the Library of Congress under security, for his swearing-in ceremony. In this p.r. stunt he tried to claim Jefferson’s blessing. The mainstream media presented it as another way to upstage what they see as ignorant rubes who would be upset by a Congressman not using the traditional Bible in the swearing-in ceremony. Pulitzer-Prize winner of fragmented bromides, Leonard Pitts, claimed that Ellison’s use of this “Quran” taught us “a surprising fact: Thomas Jefferson owned a Quran.”

Mary Grabar

Mary Grabar earned her Ph.D. in English from the University of Georgia and teaches in Atlanta. She is organizing the Resistance to the Re-Education of America at Her writing can be found at