Hardball Interview with Snehal Shingavi
by Snehal Shingavi
Welcome back to HARDBALL. This half hour, why are the Democrats and the New York Times pushing a missing persons case in Florida?
But first the HARDBALL DEBATE tonight. Should American universities take sides and play politics in the Middle East conflict? This fall the University of California, Berkeley is offering a course called "The Politics and Poetry of Palestinian Resistance." Here's part of the course description from Berkeley's Web site. "The brutal Israeli military occupation of Palestine, an occupation that has been ongoing since 1948, has systematically displaced, killed and maimed millions of Palestinian people. And yet, from under the brutal weight of the occupation, Palestinians have produced their own culture and poetry of resistance. This class will examine the history of the Palestinian resistance and the way that it is narrated by Palestinians in order to produce an understanding of the Intifada had to develop a coherent political analysis of the situation. This class takes as its starting point the right of Palestinians to fight for their own self-determination. Conservative thinkers are encouraged to seek other sections."
Snehal Shingavi is the instructor of the course at Berkeley. Professor, how to you defend a course that advises people with different political views from the ones you take, or offer in the course, to go to somewhere else to learn their American education?
Mr. SNEHAL SHINGAVI (Instructor, UC Berkeley): That's not exactly what the course description does, Chris.
MATTHEWS: What is it--what does it mean to say that 'conservative thinkers are encoura ged to seek other sections.'
Mr. SHINGAVI: It means that the course takes as its starting point the idea that...
MATTHEWS: No it doesn't. It tells you not to go to the course if you don't have that point of view.
Mr. SHINGAVI: Do you actually want me to answer this question, Chris? Or do you want me to...
MATTHEWS: Yes, I want you to answer the question. That's what I've been trying to get you to do. Let's go.
Mr. SHINGAVI: OK. The course takes as its starting point that there are debates within Palestinian resistance about how poetry should be imagined and politics should be conceived. If you take as a beginning proposition that Palestinians have the right to fight for their self-determination, you can actually debate the merits of those positions. You can't do so otherwise. That's...
MATTHEWS: Well, how can you have a debate--how can you have a debate...
Mr. SHINGAVI: How can you have an intellectual inquiry...
MATTHEW S: How can you have a debate if you have like a voir dire system like a jury selection where you make sure you only have students who take one point of view? You don't only...
Mr. SHINGAVI: Well, it's interesting that you should use voir dire because...
MATTHEWS: Because I've never seen a course--have you ever seen a course description...
Mr. SHINGAVI: ...in the American system...
MATTHEWS: Have you ever seen a course description tell certain students not to apply for the course? I've never seen that before.
Mr. SHINGAVI: Well, that's really interesting. It's a common practice, a course throughout American universities is that instructors select the kind of students that they want to be in their courses.
MATTHEWS: And they tell which students they don't want.
Mr. SHINGAVI: And these courses are often in high demand.
MATTHEWS: And they tell which students they don't want.
Mr. SHINGAVI: Yeah. Well, may be perhaps y ou should come and see what it's like in a public university when 500 students apply for a class that can only fit 30. Some people are accepted and some are rejected.
MATTHEWS: No I--on the basis of political.
Mr. SHINGAVI: I'm just making clear the standard by which...
MATTHEWS: It's a public university, but you're accepting students on the basis of their political point of view and rejecting others.
Mr. SHINGAVI: No, what I am doing is--what I am doing is limiting the thematics of the course to specific--specific perspectives on Palestine that--the way that the course is designed and--you should look at the course description. It's canonical poetry for Palestine.
MATTHEWS: I just read it.
Mr. SHINGAVI: Mamud Darwish, Kasaan Kanafani, Suyer Hamad. These are like amazing poets.
MATTHEWS: I read through all the courses. I read through all the courses. I went through all your curriculum your outside reading.
Mr. SHINGAVI: Well, then you...
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this.
Mr. SHINGAVI: Sure, look have you read any of these poets, Chris?
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you one question because there's a powerful statement here.
Mr. SHINGAVI: Because you've probably never read any of these poets.
MATTHEWS: Let me just ask you the question. There's a powerful statement here. You refer to the occupation going back to 1948.
Mr. SHINGAVI: It does go to 1948.
MATTHEWS: What do you mean by the occupation went on in 1948?
Mr. SHINGAVI: I mean in 1948 the Israeli--Israeli forces seized more land than was partitioned to them in 1947. The occupation starts in 1948.
MATTHEWS: And that means that the--what--what--what would be the proper--the proper boundaries of Israel as you see it in your course?
Mr. SHINGAVI: Well, see. That's the--that's the problem, right? My course is being targeted for this kind of scrutiny because it takes as it's propositi on Palestinians should have the right to self-governance. It's not being critiqued for anything else other than the fact that it is pro-Palestinian. I myself, personally believe that there should be one Democratic state called Israel in Hebrew and Palestinian--Palestine in Arabic, that all people would have the right to vote and participate in as opposed to the state that it is now.
MATTHEWS: Well, why would that be considere--Well why would you--why would you describe that as not a conservative point of view. I--I take that view. I'm for both states to exist.
Mr. SHINGAVI: I don't think so, Chris. I just heard what you were saying to Daniel Pipes and some of the other folks that were on earlier.
MATTHEWS: What did I just say?
Mr. SHINGAVI: I don't think that you have the position that Palestinians have the right to live free of the occupation, have the right...
MATTHEWS: You are so--sir, you are so ignorant to what we do on this show. I have b een fighting that cause for months now.
Mr. SHINGAVI: Oh really?
MATTHEWS: And anyone who watches the show under...
Mr. SHINGAVI: Well, then you should have no problem.
MATTHEWS: Well, you can giggle all you want.
Mr. SHINGAVI: Then you should have no problem.
MATTHEWS: Do you giggle when you stand in front of a classroom?
Mr. SHINGAVI: Then you should have no problem.
MATTHEWS: Is that how you educate people, by giggling?
Mr. SHINGAVI: Chris, then you should have no problem defending the right of instructors to teach what the Palestinians are actually saying...
MATTHEWS: This seems like a childish thing to do. Why don't you just have a different course that says 'liberal thinkers can't take this course.' Although maybe that might be a label that you don't like.
Mr. SHINGAVI: I don't understand what you're asking me. I'm--what I'm doing is framing the course in the way that narrows the thematics t o certain specific questions. I would like there to be a debate about which kinds of poetry, which traditions of poetry....
MATTHEWS: OK, in other words, the conclusions have to be accepted before the student enrolls?
Mr. SHINGAVI: I--I didn't hear your question because you won't let me finish.
MATTHEWS: The conclusions of your course have to be accepted by the students before their allowed to enroll.
Mr. SHINGAVI: Nobody--I have no control over who gets to enroll in my class. That's why the course description is there. So that people know up front what to expect when they enroll in the class.
MATTHEWS: OK. I just hope that...
Mr. SHINGAVI: People can enroll in the class if they want to.
MATTHEWS: I--I just hope that the conservative voters of California who are watching right now and have to pay for your salary aren't offended by the fact you've discouraged them from taking your course even though the course--the course is paid for by their taxes.
Mr. SHINGAVI: All kinds--all kinds of courses are taught.
Mr. SHINGAVI: In the post-9/11 world this is what we can expect.
MATTHEWS: All right. Thank you. We've got to get back...
Mr. SHINGAVI: A crackdown on academic freedoms and the right of instructors to teach what they want.
MATTHEWS: Please come back. We'll talk about the bigger picture if you want to come back.
Mr. SHINGAVI: No, this is what...
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Professor Snehal Shingavi. We've got to go on.
David Horowitz is with the Center for the Study of Popular Culture. He's the author of the book "Uncivil Wars" and Sarah Eltantawi is with the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Both of you get two minutes here. First you--first you, David.
Mr. DAVID HOROWITZ (Center For the Study of Popular Culture): Well, this is a combination of academic fraud. This is described as an English course. It's obviously n ot about English. It's about support for terrorism. And it's also an example of the corruption, the political corruption, of the university.
MATTHEWS: Well, actually the word "terrorism" doesn't show up in the course description.
Mr. HOROWITZ: Well, look you can see by the way the--by the course description, he's supporting the Palestinians as a--as a righteous cause when they are murderers and they, you know, are trying to destroy the state of Israel which is obviously not going to be. But this guy is not even qualified for that. So somebody should sue him for fraud and I think it's also unconstitutional for a state-financed university to have a political course like this that excludes people on the basis of their ideas.
MATTHEWS: And you would be equally opposed to a course that read something like why the Jews in Israel are wrong or the Arabs are right or either way.
Mr. HOROWITZ: Absolutely. Absolutely. The--this kind of indoctrination unfortunatel y does take place regularly on campuses across the country. The university has been politicized. There--there would--there are virtually no conservatives on the faculties at these universities. You wouldn't want to get into that guys course because you know you get an "F" if you didn't think that the...
MATTHEWS: I would love to see you sitting in the back row, David. That would be quite and experience.
Mr. HOROWITZ: Yeah, that would be fun.
MATTHEWS: Let's go to Sarah Eltantawi. Sarah, what do you make of this course? Do--Do you defend this kind of course that says conservative thinkers are encouraged to seek other courses?
Ms. SARAH ELTANTAWI (Muslim Public Affairs Council): Well, I defend the course, of course, because you know, it's funny. this is based on a Wall Street Journal article today by Roger Kimball and his basis for making this--this basically, critique of any discussion of Palestinian resistance is some sort of academic notion of objecti vity and how it's--how, you know, the institutions need to stay objective. Well, the notion of objectivity is in and of itself a politicized notion that--that can be exploited by people like your guests for their own political agenda. You know, anyone who has been in the academy since the civil rights movement knows that the notion of objectivity in and of itself is very problematic and you can't just bandy it around for your own political reasons. So basically what this is is it's a hit on any class that wants to take as a point of reference Palestinian resistance as a legitimate course of study. There's nothing wrong with this class, it studies Palestinian poets that have been recognized for decades in American universities that--that speak about resistance in the Israeli occupation. And that's what the academy is for.
MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you that word. That word "occupation". When I see the words, 'occupation since 1948,' what jumps at me, although the professor quali fied it, is the people who subscribe to this course, who enroll in it, believe that Israel shouldn't exist. Because if you say the occupation goes all the way back to '48, that's the beginning of Israel. You're talking about the Israelis shouldn't be there.
Ms. ELTANTAWI: Chris, this is an English class. I'm actually...
MATTHEWS: How do you interpret that?
Ms. ELTANTAWI: I'm, you know, I'm a graduate of the English department at UC Berkeley and I can tell you what this class would probably--what concepts it would probably handle. He's probably, and I'm not sure, but probably trying precisely to avoid overt political discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What he wants to talk about is the nuances of the Palestinian resistance.
MATTHEWS: OK. The problem with that, Sarah, is the course description begins...
Ms. ELTANTAWI: That's what it is. This isn't--this is a university.
MATTHEWS: But the course description begins, 'the bruta l Israeli military occupation of Palestine.'
Mr. HOROWITZ: What's the nuance?
MATTHEWS: Where is he avoiding the politics?
Ms. ELTANTAWI: Look, look.
Mr. HOROWITZ: This is a--this is a supporter of--look.
Ms. ELTANTAWI: We--it's a brutal military occupation.
Mr. HOROWITZ: What should be--what should be discussed in the course...
Ms. ELTANTAWI: Look, this is the same thing.
Mr. HOROWITZ: ..is whether this resistance is a Nazi resistance.
Ms. ELTANTAWI: Can--can I? I'm not finished. Hold on. This is the same thing.
Mr. HOROWITZ: These people...
Ms. ELTANTAWI: This is the same thing that opponents of segrega--that pro-segregationists said in the American South in the '60s. 'We don't need ethnic studies. We don't need African-American studies. This is politics in a university. Well, I have news for you. Politics is part of the world and students go to the university to study the major issues going on this world and the Palestinian movement is up and coming, it's going to be studied in universities and these conservatives can cry about it as much as they want, but it's legitimate and it will be studied because this is what academy is for...
MATTHEWS: OK, let me go.. All right. Let's go back. Last word. David, your last word?
Mr. HOROWITZ: OK, this is not study. This is not academic. First of all, I said--as I said, it's fraud because it's in an English department that this person is not--what are his qualifications to teach this.
Ms. ELTANTAWI: You don't understand what goes on in the English department.
Mr. HOROWITZ: Look, you know these people...
Ms. ELTANTAWI: It's written in English. That's what you do.
Mr. HOROWITZ: These people have absolutely no respect. You have no respect for...
Ms. ELTANTAWI: You have no idea what happens in the academy.
Mr. HOROWITZ: No...
MATTHEWS: OK. You know what I think? I thin k when you have a course that's offered at a public university...
Mr. HOROWITZ: I mean this woman is an apologist for...
MATTHEWS: ...it should not discourage people of different views from taking the course...
Ms. ELTANTAWI: It's free speech, Chris.
MATTHEWS: ...because that's the opposite of debate. Pardon me?
Ms. ELTANTAWI: It's free speech.
Mr. HOROWITZ: This is an apologist for terrorism.
MATTHEWS: What are you--I don't--I'm sorry.
Mr. HOROWITZ: This course is a course indoctrinating students.
Ms. ELTANTAWI: Apologist for terrorists.
MATTHEWS: Sarah, can you--I...
Mr. HOROWITZ: In support for terrorists and...
Ms. ELTANTAWI: What a precedent.
MATTHEWS: David, please. You made your point. Please.
Sarah, you wanted to respond to something I said.
Mr. HOROWITZ: Thank you. Go ahead.
MATTHEWS: Go ahead.
Ms. ELTANTAWI: Well, I mean, this is exactly wh at we're trying to fight against. 'Apologist for terrorists.' These people are terrified that the Palestinians would ever be viewed with any kind of nuance, that you'd ever understand the complexities of the Palestinian situation.
Mr. HOROWITZ: Stop blowing up children and you might be treated with nuance.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you. Thank you.
Ms. ELTANTAWI: He wants to scream and yell about how all of them are terrorists.
MATTHEWS: You know I remember the free speech movement from the very finest and...
Ms. ELTANTAWI: You know, that's what--that's what this is about.
MATTHEWS: ...free speech doesn't mean shutting down the other side, and this show doesn't do that. Thank you very much, Sarah.
Mr. HOROWITZ: These are totalitarians, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Sarah Eltantawi and of course my friend David Horowitz who's enjoying the hell out of this. His book is called "Uncivil Wars." Up next, why the Democrats and The New York Times u se the case of a missing five-year-old to embarrass Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Could it be because he's the president's brother? Terry Jeffrey and Katrina vanden Heuvel are going to be here with the POLITICAL BUZZ. You're watching HARDBALL.
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