Friday, April 15, 2005
MEALAC, Meet the Students
[Or Let's Have a 'Nuanced,' Dialog Unhindered by 'Emotionality']
By Jai Kasturi and Abby Deift
April 15, 2005
MEALACers ought to be very interested in reestablishing such a conciliatory, open, and dialogic environment with their students and colleagues, rather than hunkering down in a defensiveness that will only create further misunderstandings between the department and students.
Admittedly, it is a difficult time to be an educator at Columbia.
How can we tell the difference between probing questions from students who are merely trying to put recent history into perspective, and a conniving partisan hack sent to spy on us by some external lobby?
[The student writers through their use of "we" are confusing themselves with educators,which is part of the problem.]
It’s a daunting challenge indeed.
[This is not much of a challenge really; most of the time when one gives presentations about Palestine-Israel, Zionists in the crowd are easy to discern].
How do we teach controversial issues in the most constructive way possible, avoiding polarizations that inhibit dialogue?
[Well, for the meantime, anyway, although your tone is rather school marmish, you are not the one dealing with this problem although your annoying use of "we" implies that you are. What Zionists find controversial is the very mention of "equality" between Arabs and Jews in Israel and Palestine; what's controversial to some is the issue of Edward Said's identity; what's controversial to some is whether to use "youth" or "child" when reporting an Israeli murder; the issues of "equality" and "apartheid" are not controversial however unless the perpetrator of inequality and apartheid is Israel.]
These are valid questions—but they need to be asked, and asked freely and often, in order to be answered.
[And in how many departments other than MEALAC are you proposing that they be asked?].
MEALAC has not yet displayed such a constructive response. The “my department—right or wrong” crowd, both in the department and on campus, has focused thus far on two somewhat defensive responses to the crisis.
[I love the way that the "Israel-Right-Or-Wrong Crowd," using the guise of let's-have-a-nuanced-discussion, takes a term that fits them and attributes it to the opposition]
Obsessed as it is with the external groups, MEALAC does not seem to be a department prone to introspection right now.
[So, although our language is couched in conciliation, our message is that there is no organized campaign to smear and defame; the professors are "obsessed," to the point that they are overlooking the "genuine" concerns from those colleagues and students, not part of the "imagined" conspiracy, but nevertheless with reservations about the way that they conduct business in their classrooms]
But at some point (it probably has already passed) the “giant conspiracy” theory will begin to stretch past credibility.
[A "giant conspiracy?" The Jerusalem Post, The New York Times, The New York Post, the New York Daily News, The Village Voice, the Israeli government, not to mention the well funded Horowitz and Pipes outfits. Read Paul de Rooij in counterpunch about the well-funded and organized campaign that went on to defame Professor Massad before you dismiss this. Read Paul Findley if you think that this is a new phenomenon when it comes to intimidating academics.].
We know that scholarship in MEALAC has never been this shallow.
[Could this possibly be an error in editing? But, professors, please don't take offense or entertain a thought of "defending" yourselves for this unsubstantiated and quite libelous accusation; what happened to the 'language of nuance'? ]
So we’re bewildered as to why the “MEALAC do-or-die” crowd has been unable to do better than mere defensiveness.
Such a limited response has only helped fuel a highly charged and unnecessarily polarizing campus climate surrounding these valid questions.
[Who instigated this debacle? Blaming the victims, yet again for the veritable "cycle" of polarization].
An extremely powerful example of how student groups are partnering with each other is an innovative program called Project Tolerance. The Project is sponsored by a coexistence group called Towards Reconciliation and has been initiated by LionPac and Turath (Arab students’ organization)
[Is this akin to the never-ending peace process? Sort of like Columbia's own Oslo?] .
At the moment, MEALAC has a real opportunity to take charge of this crisis by inviting an open discussion of these central issues. The only way to begin to address these issues is to get to know the real and sheer diversity—intellectual and experiential—that everyone knows exists in the student body
[In other words, don't pass up this opportunity for peace like you Arabs always do].