Middle East studies in the News
Jihad at Manchester Community College
by Lee Kaplan
Earlier this year, Michael Abdelmessih was hired by Manchester Community College (MCC) in Connecticut to teach a noncredit course titled "Understanding Militant Islamic Fundamentalism." As of last Friday, however, Abdelmessih, a Coptic Christian who holds an MS degree in Political Science from Southern Connecticut State University, is out of a job, replaced by a Muslim professor.
That MCC moved so quickly to replace Abdelmessih reveals the disturbing effectiveness that apologists for radical Islam are having in stifling opposing viewpoints on college campuses across the United States. Six students originally signed up to take the course. Two of them were Muslim women serving on MCC's faculty. In an interview with Frontpagemag, Abdelmessih identified one of the women as Fatma Antar and the other as Dianne Hussein.
Fatma Antar, a lecturer in economics, is hardly a disinterested voice on the MCC faculty. An activist for Palestinian causes, Antar, like Abdelmessih, is an Egyptian by birth. Her husband, Ali Antar, is an imam at a Bristol, Connecticut, mosque as well as a physics professor at Central Connecticut State University. There he serves as the coordinator of the campus Middle East Studies program. According to Jerry Gordon, a pro-Israel activist with several Connecticut Jewish organizations, the Antars were involved in 2002 in a dispute with the local Jewish community.
What precipitated the feud was the Antars' insistence on using anti-Israeli literature as part of a 2002 seminar called the Teachers' Institute on Middle Eastern Studies. The seminar, funded by the U.S. Department of Education and the Connecticut Humanities Council, was intended to teach Connecticut public school teachers about the history, culture, and religions of the Middle East. Jewish groups charged that the accounts of the Middle East provided by Antar singled out Israel for opprobrium while maintaining a comparative silence on the faults of other Middle Eastern countries. (Incidentally, Ali Antar is not the only Central Connecticut State faculty member to hold stridently anti-Israel views: Norman Mezvinsky, a CCSU professor who works under Antar, is a Noam Chomsky acolyte who in the past has told his students, falsely, that Judaism does not recognize the killing of non-Jews as murder.)
It's no wonder, then, that Antar would oppose Abdelmessih's MCC course on militant Islamic fundamentalism: Abdelmessih believes in Israel's right to exist as a Jewish nation and feels it and the United States are under attack by Muslim fundamentalists. The way he tells it, he was the victim of intimidation and strong-arm tactics by both Antar and Hussein over the title and subject matter of his course.
"Two months ago both faculty members asked Anne Bonney, the director of non-credit courses at MCC, to change the title of the course," Abdelmessih told Frontpagemag. "Bonney explained the situation to me, and we agreed to make some changes in the proposal. Instead of just being a course in understanding Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, it was to deal with Christian and Jewish fundamentalism also. This was due to the personal involvement and exchanges with Anne Bonney and the two Muslim faculty members. I have the original proposal with the changes made by Anne Bonney as my evidence."
Abdelmessih says that by the time he began teaching the course on April 9, 2005, the problems had already began. "My academic supervisor contacted me the week before I started the course and told me she will send police for protection," said Abdelmessih. The room assignment was also changed and he was instructed on how to call the police. "This was if I had any problems from the Muslim community or from both Muslim faculty members," he said.
The class began with a few brief discussions about fundamentalism in general, according to Abdelmessih: "I gave the students at the first class meeting a summary of some books: Exporting the American Gospel, Jewish Fundamentalism, History of Islam, Battle for God, as well as some websites on the history of Islam, Judaism and Christianity and some articles from the Internet on psychological fundamentalism, as well as others."
"When I started talking about jihad, I was constantly interrupted because these two faculty members, Fatma and Dianne, claimed that jihad doesn't mean attacking non-Muslims, but means 'protecting Islam' Then, in the middle of the class, in Arabic no less, I received threats from Fatma…and she made it clear that she would 'contact the Egyptian government.' She said, 'believe me, you will not continue this course.'"
And she did not stop there. Abdelmessih says Fatma also threatened his family in Egypt, where Copts are brutally persecuted. He says that Anne Bonney, in turn, told him she feared for his and his family's safety so much that she decided to station campus police at the classroom door to admit only enrolled students. "I asked Fatma in class if she intended to do the course work and homework in the class I had prepared before criticizing the course. She replied, 'No, I'm only here to watch you, '" Abdelmessih said.
"A week later, after the MCC class was over, I went on a trip to Washington, D.C. and while eating dinner was called by Anne Bonney of Manchester Community College," he continued. "I was told I no longer will teach the course because of 'a few grammatical errors in the notes' (Abdelmessih was born overseas) I handed out to students."
Abdelmessih says his academic supervisor told him he would be paid for the course in full per his contract (at taxpayer expense) but not be allowed to teach it. In his place, Manchester Community College was having a Muslim faculty member teach the course. That professor, Colleen M. Keyes, from another community college, is a Muslim convert.
"We all know why I was replaced," said Abdelmessih. "To present a sanitized view of Islamic fundamentalism to MCC students and to prevent any negative academic discussion about terrorism. Aside from violating tenets of freedom of speech, this is a gross violation of academic freedom. I would have taught different points of view in my course and now it will be a cheering section for Islam."
Manchester's administration and Anne Bonney were unavailable for comment.
In her recent book, Eurabia, author Bat Ye'or discusses the concept of dhimmitude, or the status of non-Muslim minorities under Muslim rule. The situations she describes are eerily similar to Abdelmessih's plight. Indeed, the website www.dhimmitude.org explains dhimmitude as the Islamic system of governing populations conquered by jihad wars, encompassing all of the demographic, ethnic, and religious aspects of the political system and describes the legal and social conditions of Jews and Christians subjected to Islamic rule. The word dhimmitude comes from dhimmi, an Arabic word meaning "protected." Dhimmi was the name applied by the Arab-Muslim conquerors to indigenous non-Muslim populations who surrendered by a treaty (dhimma) to Muslim domination. Being a Coptic Christian from Egypt, Abdelmessih understands the term well.
Michael Meunier, president of the Washington, D.C-based U.S. Coptic Association—and who knows Abdelmessih—vowed Abdelmessih "will not walk out of [MCC] without exposing the enormous power Muslim activists are having on the academic freedom we have in the U.S." Meunier's office is working on the case and he hopes that it can have a coordinated response.
The threats, intimidation and ultimate removal of Abdelmessih's course, only to replace it with a Muslim professor as the instructor, shows that practices common in the Middle East are now making their way onto American college campuses. Abdelmessih is also supposed to teach Arabic this summer at Manchester Community College. At this point, however, he doesn't know if he will still have a job with the school, where dhimmitude has apparently become law.
Lee Kaplan is a contributing editor to Frontpagemag.com.
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