Middle East studies in the News
Columnist's Criticism of MEALAC Is Inappropriate
To the Editor:
Ariel Beery's article, "Imperialism Instead," makes a number of weak and inappropriate accusations against one of the strongest Middle Eastern studies departments in the nation, if not the world (Dec. 4, 2003). His article also reflects his own ignorance in his cursory understanding and discussion of the "mutation of radical Islam that fuels the murderous fire burning across the globe."
To begin with, he correctly states that "MEALAC should not be focusing solely on Middle East politics." Mr. Berry, however, seems to be ignorant of the fact that they do not focus solely on the region's politics. In the past year, they have hosted numerous cultural events, ranging from Iranian animation, to Palestinian films, to, most recently, Hebrew Literature.
Oddly, Mr. Beery remembers the Palestinian film festival, though only in a single, political context: "anti-American and anti- Israel." What is anti-American or anti-Israel about a festival recognizing and appreciating Palestinian filmmakers and their work? While some films might have a political slant, that should not classify the event as one "focused solely on Middle East politics." Moreover, today, Dec. 4, MEALAC is responsible for co-sponsoring an event in honor of Dan Miron's contribution to Hebrew Literature. Is this a political event, Mr. Beery? One with an anti-Israel agenda?
As far as questioning the MEALAC department's authority in hosting tomorrow's imperialism conference, Mr. Beery seems unwilling to acknowledge the vicious effects which both American and European colonialism and imperialism have had on the Middle East, thereby necessitating a critical contextualization of Middle Eastern politics and culture.
I agree with Mr. Beery's point regarding the despicable current perception of Islam vís-a-vís the rest of the world: "the radical faction of Islam is quickly becoming the defining culture of the Middle East." I would then argue the opposite point from Mr. Beery, having considered this unfortunate reality: Radical Islamicists and fundamentalist American zealots are part and parcel of the same, destructive phenomenon--condoning misplaced violence, aggression, finger-pointing, and murder.
Addressing U.S. imperialism does not preclude, but rather promotes and engenders dialogue on the current state of affairs in the Middle East. Such a dialectic addresses oligarchs and terrorists, as well as the imaginative visionaries who must combat both foreign and domestic colonialism. What Mr. Beery fails to understand, unfortunately, is that the true patriots and honest academics are those who are the first ones to stand up and critically dissent at the aforementioned injustices. While he might not find this to his pleasing, Mr. Beery is certainly not qualified to say what a department "should" and should not do, particularly so far as the quality and relevance of events.
I also seriously question Mr. Beery's understanding of "radical Islam." To address something like "radical Islam" as a "murderous fire burning across the globe" assumes that such a broad, massive phenomenon even exists. There are radicals, whose single goal is to cause harm to Americans and their interests--no one denies this. I simply propose the following: The existence of this exceedingly small group of people who represent a mono-focal, areligious Islam, is a recent phenomenon in response to significantly larger, older, more destructive ones: imperialism and colonialism. Perhaps the former, and not the latter, really "fuels the murderous fire burning across the globe." A discussion of U.S. imperialism is not only the best, but also the only context in which to address "radical Islam."
Seth Rosenbaum, CC '04
Dec. 4, 2003
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