Tag Archives: Middle East

A Bastion of American Values in the Arab Middle East

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As the Arab Spring uprisings transform the history and face of the Arab world, the American University of Beirut, the oldest and most prestigious private university in the Arab Middle East, is preparing to launch the most ambitious fund-raising campaign in its 145-year history.

The campaign will seek to raise more than $400 million dollars in five years – an unprecedented sum for AUB that is almost equal to its $480 million endowment. This is far beyond the reach of most other Arab higher educational institutions. At least $300 million of the money will be allocated to renovating and expanding AUB’s hospital, one of the Arab Middle East’s premier medical centers.

The fund-raising drive is being launched amid the sea-change in the Arab Middle East — a period of intense passion and hope, strife and political alarm unseen in the region since the Arab nationalist upheavals and military coups of the 1950’s.

The Wolfensohn Controversy

The campaign also comes on the heels of a bruising political battle within the university over the trustees’ decision to award an honorary degree to James D. Wolfensohn, an Australian-born American financier, former World Bank president, and former special Middle East envoy. In June, Wolfensohn declined the honor to defuse a growing controversy over his nomination. Weeks earlier, 95 members of AUB’s faculty and hundreds of students and alumni had signed a petition challenging the granting of the doctorate to him given the “policies” of the World Bank, his “pro-Zionist” positions, and alleged disregard for Palestinians.

The university’s president, Peter F. Dorman, said the petition’s allegations were not only factually inaccurate, but “insulting” to a man who has worked tirelessly for peace between Arabs and Jews, particularly on behalf of the Palestinians.

“AUB is not well served by petitions that are deliberately slanted to serve narrow interests regardless of facts,” Dorman wrote in an open letter to the AUB “community” after Wolfensohn declined the honorary doctorate and the invitation to deliver AUB’s commencement address on its magnificent campus overlooking the Mediterranean in Beirut. “Such campaigns are fundamentally dishonest and diverge from our university’s commitment to the pursuit of knowledge as grounded in intellectual integrity,” Dorman declared.

The petition was particularly embarrassing, as Wolfensohn serves on the school’s international advisory council, a group of 29 prominent scholars, intellectuals, former government officials and financiers who informally advise AUB and its board of trustees on financial and political issues.

Mr. Dorman, AUB’s fifteenth president, an Egyptologist and the great great grandson of the university’s founder, said in an interview that the university had been seeking to honor Wolfensohn for several years and that he deeply regretted his advisers’ decision not to attend the commencement or receive the honorary degree last June. The university would continue trying to honor Wolfensohn “consistent with its own rules and procedures,” Dorman added.  He said he was gratified that Wolfensohn, who declined to be interviewed for this story, had remained on the advisory council. He also insisted that the controversy would neither delay nor harm the upcoming fund-raising effort.

Seeking More American Students

The petition drive, however, is but one of several challenges confronting AUB. The university, which is ranked among the 300 top universities in the world and is widely seen as a purveyor of American values, academic standards and intellectual autonomy, is having difficulty attracting American and other foreign students given the region’s political turmoil. It now also confronts growing competition from other American colleges and universities that are seeking a foothold in Arab Middle East, particularly a presence in the oil-rich Persian Gulf. New York University, for one, has opened a campus in Abu Dhabi; Harvard’s John F. Kennedy’s School of Government, now offering classes in Dubai; Georgetown University’s school of foreign service has opened in Qatar.

Given the profound political upheavals that have gripped Lebanon for so long and now other states in the region, however, AUB’s endurance, its continuing academic excellence, and its relative independence are a small miracle.

“Despite everything,” said Shafeeq Ghabra, an American-educated Kuwaiti who teaches political science at the University of Kuwait and a prominent educational scholar, “the culture of AUB is one of freedom. That makes the university “precious and rare in the Arab world,” he says, even in the Gulf, where several American universities have opened programs, or branches and/or campuses. “AUB has a long history of turning out some of the Arabs’ most independent thinkers.”

Founded in 1866 as the Syrian Protestant College by Daniel Bliss, an American missionary who wanted to build a “center of knowledge” in the Arab Middle East, AUB has been America’s most visible and influential educational and cultural outpost in the Arab world for over a century. Since its opening, it has awarded more than 82,000 degrees and diplomas. Its 55,000 alumni in more than 100 countries include at least 3 Arab presidents, 10 prime ministers, dozens of ambassadors and diplomats, and some of the Arab world’s most prominent intellectuals.

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A private, non-sectarian college in a country of feuding and often warring religious and ethnic sects, AUB introduced American-style education to the Arab Middle East: small classes, high-faculty to student ratios (one professor for every 12 students) and modern teaching methods that emphasize independent thought and individual autonomy. The college that began with 16 undergraduates now has an enrollment of 7,828 students from 67 countries – most of them Lebanese, half of whom are women.

Without doubt, its nadir was Lebanon’s devastating civil war of 1975 to 1991. In 1982, its then president David Dodge, an American, was kidnapped and held in Iran for more than a year before being released. Two years later, its widely respected American president, Malcolm Kerr, was assassinated in his office by two unknown gunmen. A score of AUB faculty, staff and students were also killed, including two former deans, Ray Goshn and Robert Najemy. Another 30 faculty and administrators were kidnapped during the war, some of whose exact fates still remain unknown. A dean of agriculture was abducted in 1985 and not released until November, 1991. Virtually of all AUB’s American staff and students went home, as did other foreigners. AUB’s president and senior administration had to run the university out of its modest offices in mid-town Manhattan. Board meetings were sometimes held in Cyprus.

Given the 15-year war and now the region’s ongoing political upheavals, fewer and fewer AUB students or faculty are American, one of the trends that president Dorman is seeking to reverse. While between 50 and 60 percent of the student body was Lebanese in the 1960’s and ’70’s, roughly 75 percent of today’s students come from Lebanon. Less than 12 percent are American, and they are mostly of Lebanese heritage. “We treasure our legacy students,” said Dorman, “but we would also love to bring back the diversity. We want a few more of those blond, blue-eyed kids back.”

If low tuition for quality education is a draw, AUB has an edge. Undergraduate tuition in 2010 ranged from $12,342 to $14,730, depending on a student’s year and major. During the past five years, AUB has doubled its financial aid awards. More than 80 percent of financial aid applicants received financial assistance last year.

Tuition Is Up, But Still Reasonable

But financial pressures affecting all universities have now forced AUB to raise tuition. Members of this year’s entering class are paying an average tuition of some $18,500 a year, a substantial increase over last academic year’s rates, “but still a relatively terrific deal,” Mr. Dorman says.

The university, which accepts about 55 percent of its applicants, is also seeking to offer shorter-term study programs for students who may hesitate to commit to a full four-year bachelor’s degree program in a region whose political trajectory is so uncertain. Mr. Dorman is exploring “study abroad” programs for a semester, or a summer, to attract such a clientele.

The U.S. State Department has complicated the university’s recruitment challenge. While the U.S. no long effectively bans Americans from traveling to or studying in Beirut, as Washington advised during Lebanon’s bloody civil war, its strongly worded travel advisory warns American citizens that traveling to, or living in Lebanon poses obvious risks. After U.S. special forces killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last February, the department issued an even tougher advisory for Lebanon and most other Arab countries. While AUB hoped that the advisory would gradually be softened, AUB’s senior administrators were dismayed when the department warned Americans in October “to avoid all travel to Lebanon due to current safety and security concerns.”

The advisory also warns Americans that several “extremist groups like Hezbollah,” which Washington has designated as a terrorist group, continue operating in Lebanon, and that American citizens “have been the target of numerous terrorist attacks.”

William Hoffman, who has headed AUB’s Washington office for the past 30 years, complained that the advisory clearly “scares parents if not more adventurous students away.” The advisory also “discourages American universities and colleges from entering into formal exchange programs with us,” he said.

Paradoxically, he added, AUB was now among the safest American educational outposts in the Middle East. The university had actually picked up a few of the American and foreign students who were studying at its “sister” institution in Egypt, the American University of Cairo, which was forced to evacuate some 350 exchange students when the Arab Spring protests erupted last winter. Some students who wanted to remain and witness this historic moment in Arab history came to AUB, Hoffman said. AUB has not sent students home since the outbreak of the Arab Spring, he added, as Lebanon has remained largely peaceful. AUB’s last evacuation of students occurred in 2006 during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. AUB and AUC are separate, unaffiliated institutions, despite their common emphasis on American-style higher education and similar names.

Although AUB remains a quintessentially American institution that operates under a charter from New York State’s Department of Education and is fully accredited by American educational boards, it is vitally important to Lebanon. In addition to having produced many of Lebanon’s and the region’s most eminent leaders and dissenters, AUB is the country’s largest private employer – and second only to the government in terms of overall employment.  “It is a unique institution in the Middle East,” says Makram Rabah, a Lebanese “AUBite” who now lives in Washington, and the author of “A Campus at War: Student Politics at the American University of Beirut, 1967-1975.”

“It’s a pluralistic institution with high academic standards that has one campus where all of the region’s different sects, religions, and nationalities intermingle and debate.” Calling it a “hybrid” — an “American institution with Arab values,” a “small island of academic freedom and excellence in a troubled sea,” Rabah says that Lebanon would be “immeasurably poorer without it.”

American University of Beirut students.jpgAUB’s medical center is Lebanon’s crown jewel, attracting patients from throughout the region. Because it is also a major source of revenue for the university, the medical center is also the centerpiece of the upcoming fund-raising campaign. At least $300 million of the $400 million AUB will seek to raise is to be allocated to the medical center to renovate and expand its 420-bed teaching hospital, labs and classrooms to maintain its preeminence in the region. Throughout the bloody civil war, the hospital remained open to all, a haven of sorts that helped shield the university from the worst of the bloody war’s most egregious excesses.

Dorman anticipates that most donors will be wealthy Arab donors, some of whom were treated, or had relatives who were treated at AUB’s hospital. But individual philanthropy remains yet another challenge. “Arabs are very generous, as generous as Americans,” he said. “But they have a different concept of philanthropy.” In Arab society, gifts are made “based on those who are closest to you – family, tribe, community and sect. There is little tradition of giving to private, non-profit institutions that enhance society in general.”

Moreover, the Lebanese government does not offer automatic deductions or other tax breaks or incentives. For many years, in fact, Lebanon taxed large gifts.

A Drive to Attract More Faculty

American-style fund-raising campaigns are relatively new to the region. AUB’s first large campaign, launched under its former president, John Waterbury, a scholar from Princeton, after the country’s devastating civil war in 2003, raised $170 million in five years — $30 million above its targeted $140 million, a million for each of what was then AUB’s years of existence. Since then, Dorman said, AUB has raised between $20-$30 million, “not much,” he concedes, by American standards.

American government contributions to AUB have also steadily declined as a percentage of overall operating costs, administrators say. Whereas the U.S. Agency for International Development once provided $8.7 million in grants and contracts back in 1975 – over 40 percent of AUB’s operating budget, excluding the medical center, in 1975 – it has given an average of $6.9 million a year for the last five fiscal years, Hoffman says.

Dorman is also pushing hard to recruit top-tier faculty and administrators from the United States. Towards this end, he is exploring reinstating tenure for faculty at a time when American universities are abandoning that system. “Creating a permanent community of scholars and guarantees of their ability to do independent research would help us a lot,” Dorman said, noting that he gave up a tenured post at the University of Chicago, where he chaired the university’s department of Near Eastern languages and civilizations, to accept the president’s post at AUB. The university suspended tenure in 1984 when the civil war made it impossible to guarantee independent academic reviews of faculty members.

Another obstacle is the university’s struggle to remain aloof from the internal Lebanese ethnic, religious, and sectarian struggles and the growing influence of Hezbollah. Some scholars and analysts said that the petition campaign against Wolfensohn last June was actively promoted by Hezbollah, the “Party of God,” a powerful political player in Lebanon well represented in the Lebanese parliament and Cabinet. To be sure, al-Akhbar, a daily Arabic-language newspaper, and other media outlets sympathetic to the militant Islamists actively supported the anti-Wolfensohn campaign. But so did former Prime Minister Salim Hoss and other Lebanese political luminaries. Because Israel is such an emotional, “hot-button” issue – Lebanon and Israel are still technically at war and AUB students, faculty and administrators are forbidden from traveling to Israel or participating in international forums with Israeli citizens – Wolfensohn’s connections and ties there were bound to be controversial.

Sources close to AUB’s administration said that while Dorman considered side-stepping the Wolfensohn controversy by honoring him at a special ceremony in New York, the school’s rules and traditions require that recipients of honorary degrees collect their degree on campus, as were this year’s other honorees – composer Marcel Khalife, journalist Anthony Shadid, science historian Owen Gingerich, cancer researcher Mostafa El-Sayed, and Mary Robinson, the former Irish president who was also UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. In her commencement remarks, Ms. Robinson chided AUB by expressing regret that her “friend, Jim Wolfensohn” was “not here to share his thoughts.”

The rest of the commencement ceremonies were unremarkable, according to several who attended the gathering. But Dorman knows that the challenge posed by the anti-Wolfensohn protestors will remain dicey, as faculty members opposed to various university stances and practices are likely to have been emboldened by Wolfensohn’s withdrawal.

Three Strong Views of the Kushner Affair

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) displayed a fascinating range of opinion over the recent City University of New York decision to award Tony Kushner an honorary degree. First the Board of the group issued a statement deploring the award as “politicization of the university.” This drew a vehement letter denouncing the SPME statement for its “ignorance, dogmatism and bogus authority.” That letter, by Robert Skloot, Professor Emeritus of Theatre and Jewish Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in turn drew a long and unusually provocative essay, framed as a letter, from Ernest Sternberg, a professor at the State University of New York, Buffalo. In all, a package worth reading.

Sound and Fury—The Bayoumi Uproar

bayoumi.bmpHow Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America—the controversial book assigned for freshman reading at Brooklyn College—is, in my opinion, an important but seriously flawed work, and one that should be read, but not as a sole required text for incoming English students.
In the book Brooklyn College English professor Moustafa Bayoumi decries what he sees as the pervasive bigotry that Muslim youth have faced since 9/11. After citing past groups that have been singled out for discrimination, including Japanese Americans during World War II, in an interview Professor Bayoumi concluded, “You would have thought that this would never happen again.” A number of New York City newspapers condemned its selection as the required reading for all Brooklyn College freshmen. By contrast, the New York Times claimed that the condemnations were fomented primarily by outsiders and allowed Professor Bayoumi to respond to his critics. In this essay, I will discuss: the inappropriateness of its selection, the inaccuracy of many of Professor Bayoumi’s generalizations, and the motivation for the position taken by the New York Times. An accurate assessment will find that Muslim Americans have been treated remarkably well by the American public and that Muslim Americans have a very positive view of their personal situation and experiences, undermining the victimization narrative that Professor Bayoumi promotes.

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Anti-Apartheid Week – 1

How About A Real Campaign Against Abuses?
IAW_2010poster_Toronto.jpgEvery year at about this time, radical Islamic students—aided by radical anti-Israel professors—hold an event they call “Israel Apartheid Week.” During this week, they try to persuade students on campuses around the world to demonize Israel as an apartheid regime. Most students seem to ignore the rantings of these extremists, but some naive students seem to take them seriously. Some pro-Israel and Jewish students claim that they are intimidated when they try to respond to these untruths. As one who strongly opposes any censorship, my solution is to fight bad speech with good speech, lies with truth and educational malpractice with real education.
Accordingly, I support a “Middle East Apartheid Education Week” to be held at universities throughout the world. It would be based on the universally accepted human rights principle of “the worst first.” In other words, the worst forms of apartheid being practiced by Middle East nations and entities would be studied and exposed first. Then the apartheid practices of other countries would be studied in order of their seriousness and impact on vulnerable minorities.
Under this principle, the first country studied would be Saudi Arabia. That tyrannical kingdom practices gender apartheid to an extreme, relegating women to an extremely low status. Indeed, a prominent Saudi Imam recently issued a fatwa declaring that anyone who advocates women working alongside men or otherwise compromises with absolute gender apartheid is subject to execution. The Saudis also practice apartheid based on sexual orientation, executing and imprisoning gay and lesbian Saudis. Finally, Saudi Arabia openly practices religious apartheid. It has special roads for “Muslims only.” It discriminates against Christians, refusing them the right to practice their religion openly. And needless to say, it doesn’t allow Jews the right to live in Saudi Arabia, to own property or even (with limited exceptions) to enter the country. Now that’s apartheid with a vengeance.

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How Is Yiddish Doing?

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On 2 December 2009 the curtain of Harvard’s famed Agassiz Theater rose on a production of Avrom Goldfaden’s Shulamis, one of the most famous plays in the Yiddish repertoire. An operetta set in the Land of Israel in late biblical times, it was last performed in Warsaw in 1939, and forcibly shut down by the German invasion of September 1. To stage the current production its co-directors, Debra Caplan, a Harvard graduate student of Yiddish and Cecilia Raker, an undergraduate concentrator in drama, assembled a cast willing to learn their parts in a language most of them had never heard. The directors kept all the musical numbers in the original Yiddish and used a new English translation for the dialogue, adding dancers to the production to compensate for the verbal delights an English audience would miss.
Of the dozen plays I had studied with these students in a course on Yiddish drama, Shulamis was by no means the most obviously appealing to contemporary taste. Its theme is trustworthiness: a young man Absolom neglects the vow of marriage he made to the rustic Shulamis, who endures bitter years of waiting until he repents the alliance he made instead and returns to her. Beneath the intricacies of the love story throbs the Jewish national motif of keeping faith with covenant. What most intrigued the student-directors was the moral and psychological fallout of such faithfulness: How do we account for the suffering of the woman Absolom marries, and for the death of their two infant children in apparent retribution for his sin? When Absolom leaves his wife and fulfils his promise, can an audience forgive him as fully as Shulamis does, and is the reconciliation at the final curtain really meant to erase the effects of those intervening years? The excitement generated by such questions among cast, musicians, technical crew, and among scholars and graduate students invited to participate in an intercollegiate symposium on the play seemed to bear out the website’s claim for “a resurgence of interest in Yiddish among young people.”
Much of that interest is currently stimulated by institutions of higher learning, like Columbia, NYU, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Stanford, Emory, Brandeis, and universities of Indiana, Michigan, Albany, and Texas, all of which offer programs in Yiddish. Harvard’s current cohort of eight PhD candidates in Yiddish is its largest and liveliest since the inception of the program in 1993. Yet the field of Yiddish is hardly stable. The University of Maryland has just announced that it may drop its Yiddish position as a cost-saving device, sacrificing an apparently marginal subject—one unlikely to figure prominently in the college ratings of US News and World Report. The news from Baltimore generated anxiety in what had until recently been the expanding sphere of Yiddish studies. Comings and goings of faculty sometimes determine the status of the language, since many university positions in Jewish Studies are open ended, and shift their priorities according to the specialty of the person hired.

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Massad Got Tenure (Don’t Tell Anyone)

Fourteen Columbia professors are protesting the university’s apparent decision to award tenure to Joseph A. Massad, a controversial anti-Israel professor of Arab studies.
The professors are from the schools of law, business and public health. They expressed their concern in a five-page letter to the incoming Provost, Claude M. Steele. The letter asserts that the university’s decision to guarantee Massad a life-time teaching post “appears to have violated” Columbia’s own rules, thus raising profound questions about the university’s academic integrity. The university’s administration, weirdly, still refuses to confirm or deny that Massad won tenure, but yesterday the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures department let the cat out of the bag—it announced a beginning-of-term party next week congratulating Massad on gaining tenure.
This week Provost Steele belatedly issued a polite, noncommittal response. In a four-paragraph “Dear Colleagues” letter to the fourteen professors, Steele, a former Stanford psychologist, says he would “welcome” a meeting to discuss their concerns. After he learns more about Columbia’s tenure process, Steele writes, he may “want to make some changes in our procedures.” But nowhere does he state that Massad has, in fact, been awarded tenure. Nor does he acknowledge that the professors raise deeply troubling concerns, that if true, go to the heart of what many regard as the core of a university’s integrity.

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Erasing Israel At York University

Those who suspect that “Middle Eastern studies” is actually a code word for anti-Israel advocacy have some new evidence to support their position: an entire academic conference scheduled for this week at York University in Toronto that appears to be entirely devoted to the idea of erasing the state of Israel from the map. The conference, scheduled to run from June 22 through June 24, is titled “Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Prospects for Peace.”
Yet the overwhelming majority of the 44 speakers scheduled to read papers, many of whom are not professional scholars (and of those who are, many are not experts in the Middle East but rather in law, film, medicine, and other fields) have only one “model of statehood” in mind for the lands between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean: a single, putatively secular political entity that would encompass all of Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights and in which Jews would be vastly outnumbered by Muslim Arabs and the Jewish identity of the land in which they live would be annihilated. The conference is jointly sponsored by York, Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, and a Canadian government entity, the Social Sciences and Humanities Council, which helped fund the conference with a grant of nearly $20,000.
To get an idea of the one-sided ideological thrust of the conference, you need only click to its website, which prominently features two maps, on neither of which the state of Israel (or any other political entity west of the Jordan) is demarcated or otherwise identified. One of the maps features a zipper, presumably a symbol of a successful effort to stitch up the boundaries of the various contested lands, but it functions visually in a different way: to portray Israel as visually swallowed up.

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Moderating The AAUP And MLA?

At its annual meeting, the American Association of University Professors declined to vote to criticize Israel, yet voted to condemn Iran. In December, the MLA rejected a statement defending critics of Israel and replaced it with a much-milder statement defending contentious Middle East research. They also resisted condemning Ward Churchill’s firing, and instead only objected to the manner in which his investigation was carried out. What’s next? An admission that David Horowitz might occasionally have a point?

No, something more nuanced seems underway, at least in the AAUP—a prudential retrenchment away from outre pronouncements to focus on more practical, yet still contentious, and undoubtedly political work.

The AAUP vote on Iran condemned the government’s policy of denying higher education to those of the Baha’i faith. A resolution condemning Israeli policies that have prevented students in Gaza from leaving to attend to their studies was returned to the AAUP committee for review. Critics questioned why Israel was being targeted when countless states have similar restrictions on travel and education in place.

The AAUP also voted to oppose loyalty oaths and state proposals that equated intelligent design with traditional science—understandable in each case. Another vote opposed state efforts to permit the extension of concealed carry permits to university campuses.

Now, on balance this all does seem consciously more moderate than we’ve come to expect, but when the AAUP begins to congratulate itself for its foreign policy heterodoxy it’s difficult not to grow suspicious. Inside Higher Ed reported “When the AAUP ventured into foreign policy, its votes could prove surprising for association critic David Horowitz, as Cary Nelson, the AAUP president noted.” The Iran vote, centered on Baha’i students, isn’t especially surprising, nor, in fact, is their delayed action on the Israel question. After all, in 2005, the AAUP condemned the British Association of University Teachers’ academic boycott of Israel. Yet it seems undeniable that there’s a new awareness within the organization, and others, of the harm that nakedly political declarations can provide.

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Spreading Islam In The Academy

Prince Al Waleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia, the world’s 19th richest man with a net worth of $21 billion, recently gave a 16 million British pound donation to the University of Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh to launch two research centers for Islamic studies. The signing ceremony was attended by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and the chancellor of both universities.

The universities rank among the foremost institutions offering research on Islamic and Middle Eastern studies in the world.

Two years ago Prince Al Waleed donated $40 million to America’s Georgetown and Harvard Universities for the expansion of their Islamic studies programs. In each instance Al Waleed has indicated that the centers are designed for constructive and critical awareness of the role Islam plays across the globe. As he noted: “It is paramount for both Islam and the West to reach mutual ground for pro-active dialogue, respect, acceptance and tolerance.”

Presumably deeper understanding will emerge from these programs with their emphasis on “mutual understanding and cross cultural dialogue between Islam and the West.”

But here is the rub. In all of these programs critical awareness is a one way street. The West is supposed to understand Islam, but what remains unsaid is that Islam is not obliged to understand the West. “Mutual understanding” is a high-sounding phrase that is exercised only in the breach. If tolerance is mutual as the Saudi benefactor contends, then he should put money into Muslim universities in the Middle East for an appreciation of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
It is already clear that British universities tolerate and promote Islamic studies. But where is there evidence of the reverse? Without reciprocity this emphasis on cross cultural dialogue is a sham. Western students are supposed to understand and appreciate Islamic traditions, while the Judeo-Christian tradition is trashed as polytheistic or misguided or worse. In fact, tolerance and Islam are largely incompatible.

It therefore seems most likely that Prince Al Waleed is donating his money to proselytize, to encourage students to gravitate to his faith. While the study of Islam is and can certainly be a serious source of scholarship, one wonders whether that will be the case in these two recent instances or whether the British universities are merely the equivalents of Middle East Studies programs compromised by Saudi money and influence.

It is also worth asking once Prince Al Waleed has left his footprint on the major British and American universities, whether he will turn to the less well known institutions that he can buy off for a mere pittance. He has already left his mark at Griffith College in Australia.
Money talks to academics in a most alluring way and Saudis have the money. The extent to which Middle East Studies programs have been compromised across the United States has prompted Bernard Lewis, the doyen of Islamic studies, and Fouad Ajami to launch their own Middle East Studies Association.

The Saudi plan to use universities as a launching pad to promote religious fervor is transparent. Obviously many scholars simply want to engage in and encourage Islamic scholarship, but that isn’t the motive of all scholars nor is it always the motive of Saudi benefactors.

NYU’s Middle East Problem

This past winter, Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich, a men’s doubles team who captured the 2008 Australian Open championship, announced plans to enter the ATP tournament in Dubai. Normally, tennis players’ schedules aren’t big news. But Ram and Erlich are citizens of Israel, and the government of the United Arab Emirates prohibits holders of Israeli passports from entering the country. (Indeed, a UAE visa page can’t even bring itself to concede that the country’s name is legitimate: “Nationals of ‘Israel’ may not enter the UAE.”) At the last minute, despite ATP rules that should have guaranteed both their entrance into the tournament and their safety while in Dubai, the duo withdrew – acting under pressure, it was widely believed, from the ATP tour and the UAE government.
Given the contemporary academy’s professed celebration of “tolerance” and “diversity,” at first blush it might seem inconceivable that a major research university would establish a co-equal branch of its institution in a country that discriminates on the basis of national identity. Yet NYU is planning to do just that. A university press release described “NYU Abu Dhabi,” which will open in 2010, as “a major step in the evolution of NYU as a ‘global network university.”

The university, which the Abu Dhabi government will fund, “will be a residential research university built with academic quality and practices consistent with the prevailing standards at NYU’s Washington Square campus, including adherence to its standards of academic freedom. The development of all the programs at the Abu Dhabi campus will be overseen by the New York-based faculty and senior administrators.” And graduates will receive the same NYU degrees given to students who attend the university in Manhattan.

NYU Abu Dhabi is the handiwork of NYU president James Sexton, who sees the new university as a step ahead in globalization. It’s also a step ahead for NYU’s finances. The Abu Dhabi government has already given a $50 million “down payment” for the institution, with promises of more money to come – including assistance for NYU’s endowment, which lags well behind that of Harvard, Yale, or Princeton.

In an interview with New York, Sexton came across as at best a naif and at worst an academic version of George W. Bush peering into Vladimir Putin’s soul. The NYU president recalled an instant “electric” connection in which “the crown prince told me that he felt it in my handshake, in my eyes, in my aura at that first meeting… I knew right then and there that we had found our partner.”

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Columbia’s Mistake of the Week

Columbia University enhanced its Israel-hating reputation by naming John Coatsworth as the new dean of its School of International and Public Affairs. The university has so many full-time detractors of Israel on its payroll that one would think an opportunity to name at least a moderate to the deanship would be overwhelming.

Coatsworth signed a petition in 2002 calling on Harvard and MIT to divest from Israel and from American companies selling arms to Israel. Columbia’s disappointing president, Lee Bollinger, called the divestment movement “grotesque,” but apparently he does not regard it as grotesque enough to appoint a better dean than Coatsworth. It was Coatsworth who played the major role in inviting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia, a move that Bollinger supported and then finessed by delivering a coarse attack on the Iranian before he had a chance to speak. This allowed Bollinger to place himself where he very much likes to be – on both sides of a controversial issue. Coatsworth, on the other hand, bulls straight ahead whenever he can. Defending the invitation to Ahmadinejad, he foolishly went on television to announce that he would have invited Hitler to speak at Columbia too.

Like most America-hating Americans, Coatsworth has been a strong fan of Fidel Castro, insisting that Cuba has been a mostly benign nation under his leadership, although it “prosecutes and harasses some dissenters.” That would include journalists, librarians and more than 100,000 others. Columbia gets worse and worse under its weak president.

Bernard Lewis on the Crisis in Middle Eastern Studies

“…Middle Eastern studies programs have been distorted by “a degree of thought control and limitations of freedom of expression without parallel in the Western world since the 18th century, and in some areas longer than that… It seems to me it’s a very dangerous situation, because it makes any kind of scholarly discussion of Islam, to say the least, dangerous. Islam and Islamic values now have a level of immunity from comment and criticism in the Western world that Christianity has lost and Judaism has never had.”

– Bernard Lewis, professor emeritus of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University, delivering the keynote address at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa. As reported in Congressional Quarterly, April 27, 2008.

No To Israel Bashing

Here is one response from Hawaii on the l8-day Israel-bashing conference sponsored by the University of Hawaii at Manoa:

“I just found out that an anti-Israel activist spoke at my daughter’s school. She is in the fifth grade at Kamehameha a private school for those with some Hawaiian blood or ancestry. Her mom (my wife) is 1/4 Hawaiian and a graduate of the school. We are Catholic and the issue was raised after Good Friday masses. The speaker told the children that Israel has treated the Palestinians badly and by donating money to help our religious missionaries in the holy land we are contributing to poor treatment of Palestinians. This person instructed the 5th graders to watch ‘Occupation 101’ and google ‘Intifada Palestine.’

The teacher of the class prides himself on having the students learn both sides of an issue, so I asked my daughter, where was the opposite side in this case? She said the class was supposed to ask the speaker tough questions, but the pro-Israel side was never expressed. I can see it is going to be an uphill battle educating my kids in Hawaii. After reading your blog on the 18-day anti-Israel conference at the University of Hawaii, I know they will not receive a quality education there.”
– Eric Taramasco

American Campuses In The Mid-East: Not For Everyone.

U.S. universities pride themselves on their tolerance – religious, ethnic, gender-based, sexual orientation-based, whatever. But when it comes to lucrative consulting fees for partnering with universities in Mideastern countries where none of the above categories of toleration seems to exist, the campus open-mindedness apparently evaporates, and a strange variety of mulitculturalism takes over. Case in point: the California Polytechnic Institute, a highly regarded state-funded university in San Luis Obpispo, Calif., that prides itself on its 21-year-old Women’s Engineering Program, designed to encourage female students to enter an overwhelmingly male-dominated field.
All well and good – except that Cal Poly is in the process of negotiating a $6 million consulting deal in which its faculty would develop an engineering program at Jubail University in Saudi Arabia. Since the Saudi government forbids co-education, the program would be male-only, at least at the beginning. Later maybe, women might also be able to study engineering at Jubail, but only if the campus hires an all-female faculty to teach them, for Saudi law also prohibits academic instruction of students by members of the opposite sex. Jubail currently enrolls women students, but in separate classes taught by female professors.

This sort of compromise, in which colleges seem willing to abandon vaunted principles of equality in exchange for lucrative partnerships with Mideast institutions, is surprisingly common on U.S campuses. The University of California at Berkeley, for example, is currently in confidential negotiations with another Saudi university, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (known by the acronym Kaust), in which UC-Berkeley professors would collaborate on research projects and help King Abdullah hire faculty for its mechanical engineering program. Stanford University and the University of Texas at Austin are in the process of negotiating similar arrangements with Kaust to consult in engineering departments – deals that total a reported $25 million for each. Kaust also has partnerships with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and an array of foreign universities. Although the yet-to-open Kaust, set up with a $10 billion endowment and aiming to turn itself into a world-class research facility, has said that it will not be subject to the usual Saudi sex restrictions, it remains unclear whether and how women will participate. Even more ominously, the New York Times has reported that no Israelis would be allowed to join the Kaust faculty – a prohibition that probably applies to Jubail as well.

Continue reading American Campuses In The Mid-East: Not For Everyone.

Ahmadine-jaded

You can read a passel of editorials on Ahmadinejad above, and if you’re enterprising, you can easily find another, oh, thirty of so op-eds on the topic of his appearance. None of these, except for one, address any substantive findings from Ahmadinejad’s speech, because there weren’t any.

That one exception, The Columbia Spectator now urges that “students, professors and administrators must think critically about what we have learned from him – particularly his provocative thoughts on the plight of the Palestinians, Iran’s nuclear program, and how Western imperialism has helped shape the Middle East.” Provocative thoughts? Is there a single person who wasn’t aware of his precise views on these topics?

Bollinger’s bromides against Ahmadinejad made clear that there was no real exchange or debate, or honesty expected, from the start, and that was exactly the case. Did we learn anything from him that we didn’t know already – aside from the fact that Iran doesn’t have homosexuals like this country? Bollinger’s new rhetoric of boundless free speech clouded another important scale; that of academic worth. Columbia provided a spectacle to the public, and a jolt to op-ed pages, but it’s still not clear what academic benefit it provided its students.

Coatsworth: Would Invite Hitler, Divest From Israel

You might have seen John Coatsworth, the acting dean of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs posing questions to Ahmadinejad today. It was Coatsworth who declared that he would invite Hitler to speak at Columbia.

He was also a signatory to a “Joint Harvard-MIT Petition for Divestment from Israel” when he was a professor at Harvard. See his name here. That petition begins: “We, the undersigned are appalled by the human rights abuses against Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli government, the continual military occupation and colonization of Palestinian territory by Israeli armed forces and settlers, and the forcible eviction from and demolition of Palestinian homes, towns and cities.”

Apparently, it is fine to host dictators but not to invest in democracies.

Bollinger Introduces Ahmadinjad

The New York Times City Room is blogging on Ahmadinejad’s Columbia speech. Read this passage from President Bollinger and see if it makes any sense:

“To those who believe that this event should never have happened, that it is inappropriate for the university to conduct such an event, I want to say that I understand your perspective and respect it as resaonable.” He said, “It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment.” He added, “This is the right thing to do and indeed, it is required by the existing norms of free speech, of Columbia University” and of academic institutions.

He added that he regretted if people were hurt by the speech, and he called the “intellectual and emotional courage” to “confront the mind of evil.”

“We cannot make war or peace, we can only make minds,” he said.

Huh?

Was Bollinger calling Ahmadinejad the mind of evil?

I don’t think Bollinger will clarify.

New Orientalism?

Why is the jailing of Haleh Esfandiari to be regretted? Well… because it will encourage Orientalists, of course.

Look to a novel account in this week’s Chronicle, where Fatameh Keshvarz registers her distaste for Azar Nafisi, Khaled Hosseini, and Asne Seierstad. Their fault? Well, failing to depict the “complexities” of life in the worse-governed portions of the modern Middle East. This troika simply plays to Western Orientalism (and Imperialism), Keshvarz asserts, by failing to depict Tehran, Kabul, and the like in suitably complex terms, or to provide sufficient attention to local culture. Nafisi, for one, is assailed for oversimplification (her 18 years at the University of Tehran are evidently insufficient experience for Keshvarz) while a number of bright lights in the Iranian cultural scene are highlighted as offering a better composite picture.

She highlights Shahrnush Parsipur,

a powerful postrevolutionary author of many successful novels, including The Dog and the Long Winter (1976) and Tuba and the Meaning of the Night (1989). Parsipur is also the author of Women Without Men: A Novella. I purchased the latter two novels in Iran last summer, although they are supposedly “banned.” In Women Without Men, she gives us Zarrinkolah, the charming prostitute. Shortly after the onset of the revolution, Parsipur’s women are out to “see the world,” and no one is going to stop them. When Zarrinkolah, a “little woman of 26 with a heart open like the sea,” decides to leave the brothel, she needs no one’s permission, no blessing from a holy man. She is her own source of holiness, the ray of light that brightens the brothel’s miserable life. A holy prostitute in postrevolutionary Iran has to be a miracle, you say. But that is exactly the point. Postrevolutionary Iran has towering women writers who make miracles possible.

Well, that’s great. So what’s become of her? “Parsipur has since left for exile in the United States.” Keshvarz’s principal example of overlooked Iranian female expression is… in exile? Keshvarz can buy Parsipur’s novels in Iran, but Parsipur can’t live there? Is that the societal complexity that the “New Orientalists” are missing?

Once again, Orientalist theory displays an exquisite sensitivity to any and all depictions of the Middle East, yet posits a monolithic West (which seems to consist, in their minds, of Dick Cheney, Fouad Ajami, and Bernard Lewis). Spirited criticism of problems in the Middle East, from any quarter, is always met by enfevered shushing – don’t encourage the neo-cons! Orientalism is a theory absurd enough when guiding readings of historical expression – it’s positively malignant when labeling frank criticism some sort of Imperialist collaborationist sentiment. When the Esfandiari jailing is occasion first for worries about Western Imperialism and only second about the Iranian political climate, it’s clear something’s gone wrong.