Middle East studies in the News
Information: The Cure For "Poison Ivy"
by Julia Kite
I'm not entirely sure what to believe.
On one hand I have the fiery front-page article in the Daily News accusing my school of becoming a "Poison Ivy" where Jewish students like me are targets for anti-Semitism in the classroom. Then I see the usual slogans of free speech and academic freedom reminding me that, no matter how asinine, all opinions must be respected. What prevents me from making a clear statement on where I stand in the case of Zionism versus the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures is the fact that I—and thousands of my peers—have not even had the opportunity to view the film that sparked this controversy.
I stood in line in Lerner a couple of weeks ago, silently praising Hillel's e-mails for informing me of The David Project's screening of Columbia Unbecoming in Roone Arledge Cinema. Furthermore, I was pleased to see so many other undergraduates lining up alongside me, an indication that students with no connection whatsoever to Israel or the professors accused of anti-Semitism were eager to get the facts for themselves. With about a dozen people ahead of me, the cinema reached full capacity. I expected that within a few days, I too would know the ins-and-outs of MEALAC-Gate. I was wrong.
At such an important time for students to know every fact about events surrounding us on campus so that we can make informed decisions, all but a few hundred have been left in total darkness. Relying on hearsay and the editorials of a city newspaper not exactly renowned for high standards of journalism only perpetuates the misunderstandings which apparently started the entire controversy.
Columbia has plenty to lose by not doing everything in its power to inform students of what's happening. It's registration season, and while Spectator recently reported that Columbia Unbecoming did not change the number of students signing up for classes in MEALAC, let's not heave a sigh of relief yet. MEALAC may become a freak show among Columbia departments, with students attending classes simply to push the buttons of notorious professors. That's not the purpose of higher education, but it could easily happen if uncertainty continues to surround this issue. High-school seniors are in the midst of applying to college; what does the uproar over The David Project communicate to them about the environment on campus? And what does this lack of definitive information tell us as Columbia undergraduates? Does the administration really care about how we perceive the situation? Clearly not enough to give us the chance to make informed decisions. I have read Professor Joseph Massad's lengthy statement on his Web site, so at least I know one side of the story, but don't students deserve easy access to the other?
And it's not only the lack of screenings that bothers me. I, for one, would like to read a definitive statement issued by President Lee Bollinger. While he may be a champion of free speech, the argument that everyone has the right to express his or her opinion cannot become an excuse to delay confronting this issue. To me, Bollinger's silence indicates that even he does not know what to say in this matter other than the typical litany of assurances that Columbia is dedicated to diversity of opinion and high academic standards.
Therefore, as a Jew but not an Israeli, as a bleeding-heart liberal opposed to any form of ethnic discrimination, I am left at a loss. I will make it no secret that I am led to believe the accusations made by students in the film contain ample truth—after all, their credibility is on the line, and they have plenty to lose by lying. I have watched and read about both suicide bombings by Palestinians and brutality by Israeli troops, and I can easily agree with a statement that both sides have been at fault in the seemingly never-ending conflict. Similarly, when it comes to The David Project versus Professors Massad and George Saliba, I am sure that both sides have the goal of spreading the truth about their respective views. But this is not a time for mere opinion. What Columbia students need now more than ever is not political editorials; it's evidence and first-hand experience.
I agree with the Daily News that tensions are high at Columbia right now. But those tensions would certainly be alleviated by giving we students the chance to do what brought us here in the first place: learn.
Julia Kite is a Columbia College sophomore.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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