Middle East studies in the News
MEALAC Dialogue Lost in Political Storm
by Ethan Pack
As usual, every day this week has seen at least one MEALAC-related piece on the Opinion Page. As usual, I wonder if anybody realizes the pervasive irony abounding in this ridiculous debate.
Having lived in Israel for all of last year and visited for extended periods prior, I came to Columbia with a curious mind for how well the academic discourse would parallel the actual debate I had experienced firsthand among Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, and the outside world.
What I found, unfortunately, is that the insularity of theacademic bubble has taken the vibrancy out of both sides of the MEALAC debate, replacing it with polemics. From both sides, dozens of editorials have poured in week after week. Most state the party line or, even worse, make the pretension that they will be objective, and then reveal the subjective assumption that the side with which the writer sympathizes is misunderstood, if not reviled, by the majority of the Columbia community. As such, with each side feeling the weight of some nebulous majority bearing against them, the editorials, statements, protests, etc., by those involved become more vociferous and less helpful to any sense of dialogue or University community.
There is now no room for any student to call foul on faculty without the professors and those of like-minded persuasions shifting the argument, until misconduct blurs away into oppositional politics. These conflicts turn universities against themselves, permitting offensive behavior from behind the safety of opposing camps, in both directions.
After all, in the months since our ivory towers' intellectual conflict exploded, the real Israeli-Palestinian conflict has come its closest to resolution since the start of the intifada. Here, professors bicker, divide students, and take up out-of-classroom causes for their own celebrity indulgence. In the Mideast, authoritarian Arafat has been peacefully and democratically replaced by moderate Abu Mazen; bulldozing Sharon has offered territorial withdrawal and bilateral negotiation, polls have shown earth-shattering shifts toward a pragmatic willingness for both publics to compromise, for Israel to withdraw from the territories, and for Palestinians to accept a two-state solution; even some Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades leaders have expressed openness to a permanent cease-fire, while Egypt has warmed the whole region with talk of a final peace.
Thus, to me, it is against progress for the Columbia community to continue to divide itself along this fault line. Suspected inappropriate behavior should have never been defined in terms of a political conflict. If faculty have been out of line, surely the solution is a matter of reforming conduct and behavior, not politics. Issues of academic freedom and tribal cheerleading could not be less related. What a shame it would be then if the University continues to engage in barbs and diatribes instead of dialogue, while actual, lifelong enemies such as Sharon and Abu Mazen sit at the table of negotiation.
If certain faculty members and their blindly loyal camps of students have a polemical publicity fetish, Columbia's unity should not be sacrificed on the altar of their unwillingness to move beyond the past pains. Those who insist on holding onto, and perpetuating, old hurts, fears, and rivalries on both sides will never inherit the blessed reputation of leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Anwar Sadat, but rather the shame embodied by their selfish assassins.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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