Middle East studies in the News
Between the Narrow Points
by Ariel Beery
As the people of Baghdad dance in the streets, as the women of Iraq look forward to a future when they will not be raped for the disloyalty of their husbands or fathers to the Ba'athist regime, and as Iraqis taste the sweetness of freedom for the first time in half a century, one is reminded of the quintessential liberation story that will be recounted by a large part of this campus on Wednesday night: the tale of Passover and the liberation of a people from oppression under the Pharaoh of Egypt.
In this light, it is quite fitting that the liberation of Iraq is occurring at this time of year. In the Jewish tradition, as in many traditions of the East, time is not linear but circular. Events are not only points on the march through time but spokes on the wheel of history, repeated once every cycle. In this view, history really does repeat itself; the past is the prologue.
We should learn from the story of Passover and the exodus from tyranny. Just as the people of Israel spent 40 years on their way to the Promised Land, the road to a democratic Iraq will be long, and it will take some time in the wilderness. As Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi activist who has labored long and hard for the liberation of his people, recently wrote in The New Republic, "The transition to something better in Iraq--democracy--is about politics only in a secondary sense. It is primarily about recapturing that lost spirit of Iraq, that elusive idea which the Ba'ath labored so hard to extinguish."
Great thinkers, however, delve deeper into the symbolism of the story of Passover. They point out that the Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzraim, is a derivative of tzar, or narrow, and that the story of Passover is not only a historical tale of liberation but also a story of metaphysical liberation from the psychological slavery of narrow-mindedness.
We here at Columbia are witnessing an unveiling of our own narrow-mindedness, brought to the open by the proud and outspoken Assistant Professor Nicholas De Genova, who called for "a million Mogadishus" at the March 26 "teach-in." It should now be clear that Columbia has a problem: decades of feeding and nurturing a post-colonialist school of thought--midwifed by University Professor Edward Said and his book Orientalism, the publication of which will be commemorated on campus this Passover eve. The main goal of the post-colonialist school is to oppose what its members call imperialism, but which is usually equated with United States policy.
One should not heed the words of Professor Eric Foner; the remarks made by De Genova were not "idiotic," at least not if one thinks along the lines of post-colonialist theology. To label them stupid or idiotic is to isolate De Genova--but he is only one of many who hold similar, if less extremist, views at this University. We cannot hide it any longer.
We cannot hide that Professor Ira Katznelson preached that the American government is carrying out a "new form of colonialism," or that Said blames the war on the "Perles and Wolfowitzes of this country."
Another target of the post-colonialist school is Israel. We cannot hide that this January's Palestinian film festival was organized in part by the University's Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC), while it was left to students alone to initiate and find outside funding for an Israeli film festival. Or that Assistant Professor Joseph Massad mentions six times in his latest Al-Ahram article that Israel is a "racist state," just to drive the point home about how he feels, while he laments that Columbia does not have an Arab Studies Center--MEALAC not being enough. Or that professors from MEALAC and the Department of Anthropology continue to line up behind the claim that Zionism is racism and the comparison of Israel to Apartheid South Africa, while little to no criticism is devoted to the terrors executed against the peoples of the Middle East and Africa by their own leaders. It seems that some of our faculty always have a bone to pick with the democracies of the world and yet are rarely brave enough to challenge the truly brutal dictatorships.
With many of our faculty in the social sciences sharing the same ideological line, we cannot hide that the University has become a stage for political punditry of the narrowest kind. Our educations are bound in intellectual Egypt, enslaved by the post-colonialist slant that has permeated our social sciences, while our institution is trapped by its old-fashioned bylaws into protecting the employment of those who espouse hateful and violent rhetoric, such as De Genova and Tom Paulin. I, for one, yearn to be free. The secretive Druze tradition that developed in the mountains of Lebanon teaches that all prophets--or leaders--come in pairs, a gate and a key. Like Moses and Aaron, the prophets work together to bring truth to the world, to make it a better place. Will President Bollinger and future Provost Alan Brinkley be our gate and our key to a new and better University? Only time will tell. Let's just hope that our time in the wilderness will be short and that next year we will enjoy a rebuilt Columbia.
Ariel Beery is a first-year in the School of General StudiesNote: 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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