As I noted previously, controversy has greeted Brooklyn College’s mandating that all freshmen and transfer students read one and only one book, Moustafa Bayoumi’s How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America. The book opens with vignettes of young Arab-Americans, whose details are impossible to independently verify and thus rely on Bayoumi’s credibility. The book’s final chapter, which returns to the world of verifiable data, reveals an author far more comfortable in dealing with politically correct myths than reality. Some examples:
Bayoumi: “In the hostilities they [young Arab-Americans] encounter is the lingering possibility of outright violence.”
All Americans face the possibility, lingering or not, of outright violence, and it’s true that minorities of all types face an increased possibility of bias-related crimes. But for some perspective, consider the FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics for 2007, the year before Bayoumi’s book was published and six years after 9/11, which Bayoumi believes unleashed an anti-Arab fury in the United States. In 2007, there were 142 anti-Islamic hate crimes, of which 33 were violent. By contrast, there were 1127 anti-Jewish hate crimes (of which 58 were violent); and 1512 anti-gay hate crimes, of which 690 were violent (including 5 murders). Bayoumi doesn’t mention these statistics, since, obviously, they contradict his thesis of a society that particularly targets Muslims.
Bayoumi: The pre-2001 history of Arabs in America features “substantial government surveillance and repression, a history that is generally little known outside of the Arab-American community.”
In the 2000 election, a plurality of Arab-Americans voted for George W. Bush; in the 1990s, more Arab-Americans registered Republican than Democratic. Those are hardly the political preferences of an ethic group alienated by a pervasive sense of victimization flowing from past treatment by the government.
Bayoumi: Between 1987 and 2001, government approach toward “Arab Americans” were “more often [emphasis added] used to limit the speech of Arab Americans in order to cement U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Bayoumi presents no evidence to corroborate this extraordinary statement, most particularly the emphasized item. Moreover, if Bayoumi’s claim made any sense, wouldn’t the U.S. approach toward the “speech of Arab Americans” have fluctuated widely as U.S. policy toward Israel varied from the cold relationships between Bush I and Shamir or Clinton and Netanyahu to the very close ties between Clinton and Rabin after Oslo? And yet, in Bayoumi’s presentation, the victimization meme remained constant throughout this period.
Bayoumi: “At least five major Muslim charities in the United States have been shut down by the government, even though the authorities have never shown any significant [emphasis added] evidence of terror financing by any United States-based charity, according to the nonpartisan OMB watch.”
Bayoumi doesn’t define what he means by “significant” evidence of terror financing; presumably, even he is conceding that some level of terror financing occurred by the charities in question. He doesn’t mention how many Islamist terror organizations (most notably Hamas and Hezbollah) have deliberately blurred the line between their “charitable” and terrorist activities. And while some might call OMB Watch “nonpartisan,” a fairer description would be aggressively left-leaning. (Its current homepage contains items urging readers to “Tell the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set strong public health and environmental standards for coal ash!”; ridiculing the “cacophony of conservative voices began complaining about a hazy cloud of uncertainty looming on the economic horizon”; and accusing Deficit Commission chair Alan Simpson of “ignoble sensibilities and misguided priorities.”)
Bayoumi: In a 2006 ruling, District Court judge John Gleeson stated “that the U.S. government has the right to detain immigrants on the basis of their race, religion, or national orientation and that it can legally imprison immigrants indefinitely as long as their eventual removal from the country is ‘reasonably foreseeable’.”
Although Bayoumi doesn’t identify the case, he presumably refers to Turkmen v. Ashcroft. His unusual description of the case omits a few relevant facts, chiefly: (a) the case wasn’t a criminal case filed by the government against Muslims—it was a civil case filed by seven Muslims against the government, and therefore had very different burdens of proof and effects on long-term policy; and (b) Judge Gleeson allowed the civil lawsuit to go ahead on other grounds, producing a settlement in which five of the seven plaintiffs received $1.26 million (hardly an outcome a reasonable reader would ever have guessed from Bayoumi’s description of Gleeson’s action).
Bayoumi: “For several long decades . . . the United States has followed a course that supported one dictatorial regime after another” in the Middle East, “at the expense of the aspirations of the vast majority of people who live in the region.”
How this statement reconciles with past U.S. support for Israel and Turkey, the region’s only two stable democracies (if, in the latter case, an imperfect one), Bayoumi doesn’t say. Since 1953, every other government in the region has been a dictatorial regime; the United States has supported some, and opposed others. Does Bayoumi believe the United States should have actively intervened to topple these regimes; and if so, how would such a policy avoid his complaint that the United States has acted as an imperialist in the Middle East? The United States did participate in the overthrow of one quasi-democratic government (Iran in 1953), an episode that virtually all observers, in and out of government, consider one of the gravest mistakes in postwar U.S. foreign policy.
Regarding U.S. involvement in the affairs of the Middle East, “the core issue remains the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination.”
For an anti-Israel extremist like Bayoumi, such a statement comes as little surprise. For those in the reality-based community, the issue obviously competes in significance with oil, Iran, the security of the Gulf States, and, of course, Islamist terrorism.
Was Brooklyn’s English Department aware of these problems when it chose this, of all, books as mandatory reading? And if so, why did the department not select additional readings that reflected differing points of view?