Middle East studies in the News
Ethnic cleansing of universities is the new mantra in America
by Youssef M. Ibrahim
American neo-conservatives and followers of President George W. Bush pride themselves on taking no prisoners in their ideological quests. Now they seem to have set their sights on a new target: the stifling of academic freedom in the United States.
One of the most prominent American intellectual institutions in the world, Columbia University, New York, is now under such an assault.
The most hunted species on that campus consists of professors of Arab and Iranian origin, or anyone who dares to open a debate on Middle East policies that do not conform with the Bush neo-conservatives' thinking.
Since anyone can remember, Columbia University has been the headquarters of intellectual freedom and excellence.
But that venerable institution now finds itself in the middle of a major investigation a witch-hunt really to examine complaints by delusional Jewish students, professors and administrators zealots, who are claiming they are being "intimidated" by the professors of Middle Eastern origin.
The fact is the professors are themselves a tiny, hounded minority.
The charges are manifestly fanciful. Dan Miron, a pro-Israel professor, told The New York Times in an article on January 18 that for five years "dozens of Jewish students" have told him of "rude" and "snotty" treatment by colleagues and professors of Arab and Iranian origin.
"These students didn't look like disturbed people who would invent these things," Miron told the newspaper. Rude and snotty? Dear, oh dear!
Being a graduate of Columbia myself, I can assure Miron that, as an Arab-American, I found myself from day one the target of serious intimidation by legions of Jewish professors, students and administrators at the university.
I simply assumed this to be a part of academic and intellectual sparring, indeed freedom.
Now the game is more sinister as the objective is not only to fire those professors or stifle them, but to prevent the hiring of any non-conformists and spread that campaign across academia in America. We can call it "the silencing of the mind".
What are the allegations against the three professors being hunted?
According to The New York Times, one involves a sidewalk encounter between Lindsay Shrier, who has since graduated, and her professor, George Saliba, an American of Palestinian origin, during which she says he told her that because she had green eyes she was not a Semite and could not claim ancestral ties to Israel. Saliba denies the charge.
The second transpired at a small lecture off campus in which Tomy Schoenfeld, a student who had served in the Israeli Army, said that when he tried to question Professor Joseph Massad, a Jordanian-born Palestinian, Massad first asked him, "How many Palestinians have you killed?"
Massad told The New York Times: "It is inconceivable that I would ever respond to a member of the audience in the manner and context that [the student] describes." (Out of curiosity, I wish to know what would be Schoenfeld's answer as well as his views on dual loyalties).
The third centres on Professor Hamid Dabashi, an American-Iranian academic who is accused of cancelling a class to answer his "moral duty" to attend a Palestinian rally but who seems targeted chiefly for his "published" political viewpoints, according to The New York Times story by reporter N.R. Kleinfield.
Kleinfield reports that an assistant professor in the medical school sent an e-mail message to Massad, saying: "Go back to Arab land where Jew hating is condoned. Get the hell out of America. You are a disgrace and a pathetic typical Arab liar." What about Arab hating?
Hate-mongering is unacceptable no matter who is doing it, so it is particularly obscene for Columbia to condone it among its professors.
Columbia University which should have fired that professor as per its own rules of ethics did absolutely nothing.
Indeed, Massad, said he, like the other two, has been swamped with hate mail, insulted as a "camel jockey" and "Islamic Fascist". He said students who are not registered in his course show up to attend his lectures in order to heckle him.
The truth is that Massad is being targeted for other reasons. Jewish students have taken to refer to his courses as "Israel-Is-Racist". Well it so happens that Israel is indeed a racist state.
Half the world believes that because of Israel defining itself as "an exclusively Jewish State" where everyone who is not a Jew is a second class citizen. At least this should be debated freely on campus.
"To me, these are dark ages," Dabashi said. "This is not the United States I moved into in 1976. I don't recognise it. I'm in a sort of moral shock," he told The New York Times.
This is the new age of neo-conservatives obliterating not only all views contrary to their policies, but purging all intellectuals who hold different views.
The vile campaign is having some of its intended effects. Massad is already losing his academic purpose.
He has chosen not to teach his most controversial course, "Palestinian and Israeli Politics and Societies", in the coming semester because of the emotional toll and because he worries it might jeopardise his tenure.
The winners may be zealots, but the American intellect pays the price of censorship.
"I've been teaching for 33 years and I've always thought we all knew what appropriate faculty deportment was," said Andrew J. Nathan, a political science professor who thinks the students' charges are dubious.
"Now it is not clear to everyone that the classroom is where the faculty is in full control. I teach a course called Introduction to Human Rights. We had a whole week on the torture memos of the Bush administration.
"Now I'm starting to wonder whether there's somebody in my class of 143 students who might grieve against me … that I indoctrinated them, that they went through emotional suffering by hearing about these things."
Youssef M. Ibrahim, a former Middle East correspondent for the New York Times and Energy Editor of the Wall Street Journal, is Managing Director of the Dubai-based Strategic Energy Investment Group. He can be contacted at email@example.comNote: 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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