Letter to The New York Times, March 16, 1996

The New York Times
229 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036

To the Editor:

In his February 25th book review of Professor Mary Lefkowitz's death-knell to Afrocentrist scholarship, Not Out of Africa, Glen Bowersock takes pains to distinguish Martin Bernal, the author of the revisionist Black Athena, from other Afrocentrists insisting that they "are another matter". Bowersock fails to recognize that it is precisely Bernal's "formidable array of erudition", his impressive command of historical argumentation as well as his demonstrated capacity for superior scholarship that makes Bernal's decision to so blatantly distort Greek and Egyptian history in pursuit of an ulterior political agenda so much more disturbing. Bowersock does not even mention what should have been the obvious starting point of any review considering Bernal's work--that his theories and particularly his methodology, have long been discredited in higher academic circles even prior to Lefkowitz's definitive obsequy of Black Athena.

Although conceding that Bernal's "research was full of easily refuted errors", Bowersock takes the position that "Mr. Bernal's mistakes should not be taken as an excuse to ignore the larger issues he raised." Yet Bowersock himself, fixated on Bernal's central thesis of anti-black and anti-semitic historical scholarship by 19th century classicists, fails to recognize an even larger issue: that the loss of perspective engendered by this century's deconstructionist and "anti-establishment" historians has produced a culture of revisionism that has undermined the very foundation of consensus about historical truth itself. Although healthy in controlled doses as a vaccine for academic complacency and doctrinal myopia, its widespread contagion has fostered everything from Holocaust Denial to elaborate and outlandish government conspiracies, often in support of incendiary ideologies and insidious agendas. Lefkowitz voiced similar concerns in Not Out of Africa, stating that "[t]here is a current tendency, at least among academics, to regard history as a form of fiction that can and should be written differently by each nation or each ethnic group."

Yet few groups have found themselves damaged by this disturbing trend more than the Greeks, for the simple reason that they have more history to lose. As Bowersock himself recognizes, "[t]he paradoxical conclusion to be drawn from Mary Lefkowitz's polemic is that the Greek legacy remains today so rich and attractive that even the most ardent foes of European civilization want to claim it for themselves." An unlikely and motley crew of pretenders have emerged to tear at almost every fragment of the brilliantly colored, multi-faceted and, above all, cohesive fabric of four millennia of Greek history. As widespread as Afrocentrist claims may seem, there are stickier fingers to be wary of.

The Turkish Government has launched a far more calculated and sinister campaign to undermine the very integrity of American academia by spending millions to reshape Ottoman as well as Greek history beyond recognition through the outright purchase of chairs in key universities. The outrage surrounding Princeton's decision to appoint Keith Lowry an academic who had literally been on the payroll of the Turkish Government to head its newly-created Turkish studies chair has raised a furor among academic circles. Lowry was widely discredited when his correspondence to the Turkish Embassy, in which he surreptitiously advised the Turkish Government on how to effectively deny the Armenian Genocide, was mistakenly included in a mailing. Retaining public relations moguls such as Hill & Knowlton, the Turkish Government is spending millions annually to neutralize its image as an outlaw nation and a pariah of human rights violations as part of its push for EU inclusion.

The Bulgarophonic population of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) has attempted to claim far more than simply the name of the geographic region their Slavic ancestors came to inhabit a millennium after Alexander placed Macedonia on the historical map. Their schoolbooks instruct their children that Alexander the Great was not Greek but "Macedonian" such as themselves. Until but a few months ago FYROM's flag prominently displayed the Star of Vergina, the suncrest symbol of Alexander's Macedonian dynasty. Maps in FYROM show the Greek province of Macedonia to be part of a larger Macedonian geographic region which mainstream nationalists in FYROM proclaim as their own; a claim that not only turns history on its head but also raises concerns about long-term territorial designs on Greek territory.

Had this collective delusion claiming a history that was indisputably Hellenic been confined within FYROM's borders, perhaps it would have been easier to dismiss as a vestige of Tito's Cold War-era propaganda. Yet FYROM has lobbied for international recognition of what can only be characterized as a historical farce, and has been alarmingly successful at implementing it. Whereas prior to the break-up of Yugoslavia and the emergence of FYROM as a nation-state, the overwhelming consensus of academicians recognized the fact that Alexander the Great and the ancient Macedonians were a Greek peoples, FYROM's claims and the larger international community's sympathies for such a small, struggling nation at the fringe of an explosive war zone, have managed to cast a pall of doubt over this crucial part of Greek history.

An important reason why Hellenes seem so sensitive to such challenges to their history is because modern Greeks have been left with precious little of their once vast and highly accomplished cultural hegemony. Moreover, their voice in academia and the media seems to be either ignored, dismissed or minimalized, and they must often rely on initiatives by non-Greek scholars and academicians - who often do not understand Greek history from the modern Greek perspective, namely, as that of a closely integrated continuum leading up to the prken from them, but revisionists with a wide variety of agendas have tried with increasing success to deny the Greeks of what is left of their unique cultural and historical inheritance.

Very truly yours,

Phillip Spyropoulos, Esq.

Mary R. Lefkowitz
Glen Bowersock

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