Professor Richard Antoun, murdered Fri. Dec. 4, 2009: We Will Miss You, May God Bless You

UPDATED: 05 Dec. 2009 – 3:19pm, 3:26pm, 3:36pm, 3:40pm, 3:50pm, 6:37pm, 10:03pm — 06 Dec. 2009 – 3:05am, 10:21am, 11:04am — 09 Dec. 2009 – 12:20am, 12:38am


I am utterly distraught by the news that. Dr. Richard Antoun, a very dear former professor of mine in Anthropology at Binghamton University, died yesterday afternoon after having been stabbed multiple times in his office by a graduate student. I am in disbelief. Professor Antoun was a blessing to all of us who took his courses. He was exceedingly gentle, soft spoken, and took an active interest in our research. It is to him that I owe thanks for endless brilliant little tips on doing ethnographic research, down to how to ask questions, and for sharing some of his wealth of knowledge on the Middle East and Islam. It is to him that I owe thanks for his course on Reinterpreting Tradition, so memorable that since I took it back around 1996, it feels like I was just sitting in his class, remembering individual lectures, his extensive notes occupying all the boards in his seminar room next to his office.

I was still new to anthropology when I met Dr. Antoun, and his work on tradition — a focus of my work in Ruins of Absence, Presence of Caribs — was vital to me, as was his material on the “social organization of tradition” that underpinned my own concept of “reengineering indigeneity.” He was the one to introduce me to the concept of “culture brokers” and how to use it, which I did, considerably. It is now my burden to say this here, never having taken the time to express my thanks to him directly, when he was still alive.

Dr. Antoun did not just mark essays. He called me in to meet with him in his office, where he devoted considerable time going over all the fine points, pulling books from the shelves of his massive office library, and fishing for old copies of journal articles in one of his numerous filing cabinets packed with them, so as to recommend resources that always proved helpful and had an important impact on the development of my own work. He was a model scholar, whose professionalism and commitment to teaching and research are an inspiration to all of us who knew him.

I cannot imagine what about him could inspire hateful thoughts from a student, let alone murderous thoughts, so much so that his attacker came to his office with a kitchen knife, suggesting premeditation. I want to know his motivations for such excess.

Dick Antoun will be warmly and lovingly remembered by generations of students, a number of whom are also professors currently, and by his family. His pains with this rubbish world are over, he is in peace. It’s the rest of us who are left to suffer his absence.

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Richard Antoun’s memorable books include:

Understanding Fundamentalism: Christian, Islamic and Jewish Movements

Documenting Transnational Migration: Jordanian Men Working and Studying in Europe, Asia and North America

Muslim Preacher in the Modern World: A Jordanian Case Study in Comparative Perspective

Religious Resurgence: Contemporary Cases in Islam, Christianity and Judaism

Low-Key Politics: Local-Level Leadership & Change in the Middle East

See also:

Scholar helps define “fundamentalism” – Binghamton University Research News

Fatally Stabbed BU Professor Was Fulbright Scholar and Accomplished Author.” WBNG TV, Saturday, Dec. 5. 2009.

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Some local and national news about the murder of Dr. Antoun:

Vodpod videos no longer available.WENY-TV News – Local News

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Statement from Binghamton University President Lois De Fleur, Fri., Dec. 4, 2009

“This afternoon, in an act of senseless violence, the Binghamton University community lost one of its long-time faculty members. Richard Antoun, professor emeritus of anthropology, died from wounds sustained as a result of a stabbing.

Our hearts go out to the Antoun family and we will provide them with as much assistance as we can in this time of sorrow.

The suspect is in custody, and the University Police and the New York State Police continue to investigate. Science I will remain closed until noon Saturday, at which time access to the building will be allowed except in the area of the investigation.

If you are a member of the University community and are personally impacted by Professor Antoun’s death, I urge you to take advantage of the services offered through the University Counseling Center. Counselors will be on duty at the center until 8 p.m or will be available at 607-777-2772. Counselors will also be available throughout the weekend by calling 777-2393.

I commend the quick action of the University Police and Harpur’s Ferry in their response to this tragic incident, and I want to assure everyone of the continued safety of our campus.”

Broome DA’s Press Release on BU Murder

Source, Sat. Dec. 5, 2009

Early this morning the New York State University Police, at Binghamton University arrested and charged Abdulsalam S. Al-Zahrani, age 46, with the crime of Murder in the Second Degree, alleging that the defendant intentionally caused the death of Professor Emeritus Richard T. Antoun, Department of Anthropology, by stabbing him to death in Science I building of Binghamton University on the afternoon of December 4, 2009.

The defendant is a Saudi national who is a graduate student in Anthropology at Binghamton University.

The defendant and Professor Antoun knew each other through the defendant’s work in the graduate program.

The defendant was arraigned before Town Justice Joseph Meagher in the Town Court of the Town of Vestal and was remanded to the Broome County Correctional Facility without bail.

No further arrests are expected.

There is no indication of religious or ethnic motivation.

The accusatory instrument is merely an accusation. The defendant is presumed to be innocent unless and until he is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The New York State University Police at Binghamton University were assisted in this investigation by the following agencies: New York State Police, Vestal Police, Binghamton Police, Johnson City Police, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Broome County District Attorney’s Office. The investigation is ongoing. It is requested that any person who might have information related to this crime, or who has had recent contact with the suspect or the victim, please contact the New York State University Police at Binghamton University either through telephone number 777-INFO (4636) or e-mail at

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Dr. Richard Antoun being taken away on a stretcher, from the Dept. of Anthropology in the Science I building at SUNY-Binghamton

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Early reports about the murderer, Abdulsalam Al-Zahrani:

THE MURDERER: Abdulsalam Al-Zahrani, 46, graduate student.

Binghamton University killing: 46-year-old grad student charged in professor’s death.” By Debbie Swartz, Press & Sun Bulletin, Sat. Dec. 5, 2009:

Abdulsalam Al-Zahrani was charged early Saturday morning with second-degree murder in the stabbing death of BU anthropology professor emeritus Richard T. Antoun, according to police.

Antoun knew Al-Zahrani, a Saudi national, through his work in BU’s anthropology graduate program, according to a statement released Saturday by Broome County District Attorney Gerald Mollen.

“There is no indication of religious or ethnic motivation,” according to Mollen’s statement.

Mollen would not reveal a motive for the killing.

Suspect identified in fatal stabbing of Binghamton University professor.” By Doug Schneider, Ithaca Journal, Sat. Dec. 5, 2009.

3 Muslim students say they tried to avoid Al-Zahrani.” By Doug Schneider, Ithaca Journal, Sat. Dec. 5, 2009.

Al-Zahrani’s Roommates React to Stabbing.” WBNG News, Sat. Dec. 5, 2009.

Binghamton University killing: Apartment-mates say man accused of killing professor was confrontational and ‘acted like a terrorist’.” Press & Sun Bulletin, Sat. Dec. 5, 2009.

Conspiracy theories?

Email Sent By Murder Suspect Abdulsalam Al-Zahrani Binghamton NY, 10/21/2009:

Professor Richard T. Antoun was a convert to Judaism (see this section from his Preface to Understanding Fundamentalism). For his part, Abdulsalam Al-Zahrani, a Saudi national, wrote with particular venom against Israel, and Arab leaders — a fact that some sites, such as the one linked above are tying to Antoun’s conversion already as a possible motivation for the murder of Antoun, on religious or political grounds. These are emails sent by Abdulsalam Al-Zahrani to the Israeli newspaper, Maariv:

Abdulsalam Alzahrani:

I completly agree…even if these statements are made by the ugliest soul on earth, the soul of a quintessential sick animal-without-a-tail israeli orientalist…why should we be upset…we are people ruled by the most corrupted blood-sucking, sadomasachistic (sadist with us and masachist with their overseas lords), demented, ignorant and incapable gangs, deprived in body and mind, deformed in consciousness (we must erase this word from the Arabic dictionary…it is superfluous without a referent in the real world…our world)…

Abdulsalam Alzahrani:

Now I have to say something to this idiot who said the Arabs are the grossest fuilure in the history of human beings. No failure equals the Israeli…your were f… up under a tolitarian rule in europe and the rule failed and you want to replicate it!!! how stupid is this? what failure is this?

Einstein himself refused to join you doomed enterprience and Freud himself thought that you were theafts sealing even the moral innovatons of other people even the hummus you have stolen, the land, the water, resources of Palistine…you are a bunch of psychopath theaves and murdurers…everyone is against you because of your unethical immoral criminal actions…you killed children!!! what else you want to be convinced that you are shame of humanity.

For more, see this.

Muslim Student Murders Dissertation Chair.” The Jawa Report, Sat. Dec. 5, 2009:

Sudden jihad syndrome or just the crazy? I’ll remind my readers that the two are not mutually exclusive categories.

In fact, Aaron over at SOFIR has a pretty interesting typology of the “terrorist continuum” in which he posits that the more rational the terrorist the more likely they will be to need organizational help. At the other end of the spectrum are “lone wolves” who are characterized by a high degree of “internal disquiet”.

I’ve no idea if the grad student/murderer named Abdulsalam Al-Zahrani was motivated by Islamic extremism. I throw it out there because it can’t be discounted at this point….

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<p style=”text-align:center;”>Richard T. Antoun ‘53, RIP

17 thoughts on “Professor Richard Antoun, murdered Fri. Dec. 4, 2009: We Will Miss You, May God Bless You

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  2. Stacie

    That’s absolutely terrible Max.

    What really gets me is that things like this happen all the time and no one seems to care beyond a day or two … still can’t take threats seriously, put any more time or effort into recognizing what’s going on, etc. They shift back to their mindset of, “oh no, our school is perfectly safe, everyone is happy, anyone who’s still concerned is overly fearful and prone to exaggeration.” And, to add insult, they keep insisting that we pour money into combating the ‘grave threat’ of middle east terrorists.

    I mean, just do a google news search on recent stabbings, for example here, here, and here.

  3. Maximilian Forte

    Thanks Stacie.

    This story will be developed further by others, now that the suspicion of “Islamic terrorism” has quickly been introduced by a number of sites . Abdulsalam Al-Zahrani was apparently fiercely anti-Israel…and Richard Antoun, Lebanese, converted to Judaism, which I did not know.

    See my updates above…to be posted in a few moments.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      I don’t know…I find these legalisms to be very mysterious. It’s only a few days now since I learned that “legal insanity” is different from “clinical insanity” or what I now have to call it, insanity-insanity.

      New York State does have the death penalty, and I wonder how this charge may relate to that.

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  5. frenchguy

    I know words can only be a very little support in case of such a terrible loss.

    Nevertheless, I want to offer my condolences, especially as you hold Professor Antoun dear to your heart.

    I also want to know the murderer’s motivation. This is awful and stupefying.

  6. Maximilian Forte

    In a few of the news reports, and in the fourth video above, I see another former professor of mine, in fact my former supervisor for the MA and for year one of my PhD — Dr. Richard Moench. Considering that he was in his late 70s when I last saw him 12 years ago, he is looking great, younger than most 60 year olds.

    Richard Moench knew Richard Antoun for about half a century, they were close friends and colleagues. I can only imagine the mountains of memories that will now dominate his mind, the many conversations and moments they had all replayed, the disbelief that much stronger because Dick Antoun had pretty well become a fixture of his life. I always think of them as a pair, the two brilliant, almost over educated co-conspirators, neither one having enough head space to contain all their ideas and knowledge.

    I have written to Dick Moench, and I want to say here: thanks for so much, may you continue to enjoy a long and healthy life, and perhaps really consider retiring for good from that campus, perhaps leaving Binghamton altogether. For a long time now, Binghamton has been an especially bleak, depressing, and desperate place — surroundings totally in contradiction with the intellectual life of the campus. Time to move on to better places.

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  9. Sara

    Dear Max, please accept my deepest condolences. It is a horrible news. I wonder if the campus has any sort of security… How the murderer was able to enter the campus with a knife?

  10. kwame

    Peace Brother Max,

    Very sad story. Peace to the family, friends and colleagues of Professor Antoun.

    I skimmed the commentary on your posted and noticed a headline, “dissertation chair.” Was Professor Antoun supervising the assailant’s dissertation? kzs

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Now I am not sure — the university president seemed to suggest that was part of the “misinformation” published by the media. Clearly Dr. Antoun must have been advising him in some manner, but I don’t think they would have a retired professor acting as dissertation chair.

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