Middle East studies in the News
Letters to the Editor
New York Sun
The Climate at Columbia
Re: " 'Balance' and Khalidi," Editorial, February 25, 2005. Doesn't freedom of speech and academic freedom fall under the same general category as freedom of the press? Isn't America where one can disagree with what one says while ardently defending their right to say it?
Shouldn't The New York Sun be defending Rashid Khalidi's right to speak his mind in an academic setting, even though it disagrees strongly with what he says? Shame on Columbia University. Maybe they should secede from the Ivy League and join whatever league Oral Roberts University and Bob Jones University belong to.
'Balance and Khalidi'
In a February 25, 2005, lead editorial, " 'Balance' and Khalidi," The New York Sun quotes me in the Forward on the controversy concerning the city's Department of Education hiring and firing Rashid Khalidi - chairman of Columbia University's Middle East studies department - to lecture to our public school teachers on the Middle East.
Like a number of his colleagues in that department, Mr. Khalidi, in his writings, has been much more an anti-Israel propagandist than a scholar. The Sun mockingly cites my suggestion that instead of firing Mr. Khalidi, Chancellor Joel Klein " 'should have brought in a team teacher for the course so that it wouldn't have been a one-sided indoctrination.' ... Maybe the First Amendment requires a teacher trainer who says the Earth is flat and another who says it's round," The Sun concludes.
Consider, however, how instructive it would be for the city's teachers - and the rest of us - if Alan Dershowitz were to have been a team teacher with any of Columbia's biased and bullying Middle East studies professors who permit no dissent in their classrooms. (Mr. Khalidi has not been accused of that in his classes.) If such a team teaching class were also simultaneously televised, I expect The Sun - which has led all the dailies in covering the courageous Jewish students' exposure of that Columbia department - would have covered that team-teaching story.
I am very grateful to The New York Sun for publicizing disclosures of anti-Semitism in the classroom at Columbia University, where I was a Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures, or MELC, graduate student 25 years ago.
I was then an exemplary "A" student with a bright future, Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude at the University of Pennsylvania. My concentration was Islamic religious documents, Arabic and Islamic philosophy. I also did research in comparative Judaic text work. My background is a very strong academic one in Hebrew and Judaic studies. My father, a prominent rabbi, was formerly head of United Synagogue of America.
At the time I attended Columbia, the Shah of Iran was being overthrown. There was great discontent in the student population especially in the dorm in which I was living, International House. Although it was Rockefeller Foundation-run, International House was then a hotbed of Palestinian (PLO) activism, and full of Muslim students. Living there and attending Columbia's MELC department, I thought I was losing my mind. I have never encountered so much anti-Semitism. And, I kept a low profile.
Nevertheless, I was kicked out of Arabic class by a Druze teaching assistant, allegedly for a little giggle with a classmate - this was graduate school, mind you. The hostile atmosphere in the department, and of one professor in particular, was such that I decided not to continue further for my Ph.D.
What a shame. Perhaps my friends and I could have helped prevent September 11 with our valuable background and insight.
This was a school that put Palestinian ideals on a pedestal - yes, even then International House invited Edward Said and his very good friend, the MIT linguist Noam Chomsky, for a lovely chat about the evils of Zionism. Need I mention how well attended that session was?
In any case, my friends and I, who loved Middle Eastern studies, left the field. We saw colleagues of ours destroyed by MELC and other university departments. Is it any wonder why there are so few Arabic experts who are loyal Americans? We should have been nurtured and cultivated rather than pushed out. Most of us are now highly accomplished in other fields - because we were forced to make career changes.
I'd like to add that there was one professor who saved me from a particularly nasty extremist instructor. He is Peter Awn, a Maronite Jesuit priest. Because of his fair and objective approach and intercession, I was able to leave Columbia with a master's degree.
I regret that 25 years ago, when militant Islamists were beginning at the university, there was no David Project and no New York Sun to report it. MELC had the potential to be an objective Middle Eastern department, since it was not oil-funded. That's why I chose to attend Columbia. I am very sorry I didn't stay at my undergraduate school, the University of Pennsylvania. That is a great school where all were made to feel comfortable and the faculty was nurturing.
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