As'ad AbuKahlil—a political science professor at California State University, Stanislaus—spoke last month at a day-long "teach-in" at the University of California, Berkeley titled, "Building Solidarity with the Arab Spring." It consisted of a number of "workshop sessions" at the Valley Life Sciences Building, followed by a "plenary session" at the Multicultural Center, and was co-sponsored by the Arab Resource Organizing Committee, the Berkeley Muslim Students Association PAC, the International Socialist Organization, and the Syrian American Council.
AbuKhalil's workshop on "The U.S. and the Arab Uprising" was held in a tiny, hot, windowless room filled with students wearing hijabs and keffiyehs. Immediately visible to all who entered was a sign leaning against the black board that set the anti-American atmosphere:
Victory to the Arab Revolutions!
U.S. Out of the Middle East!
AbuKhalil, author of the "Angry Arab" blog, was introduced as "the most influential Arab blogger in English and Arabic." Wasting no time living up to his self-caricature, he presented the demise of Israel as his life's work, referred repeatedly to the "usurping Zionist entity," and characterized the U.S. as the source of all that ails the Arab world. For instance:
Obama and Hillary always pat themselves on the back and say they are on the side of the Arab people. . . . They are on the side of counter-revolution. . . . There is a tyrannical order in the Arab world . . . in place since 1979 . . . the year Egypt was forced by the United States to sign a peace treaty with Israel. A dictator Anwar Sadat was conveniently armed, an unrepentant anti-Semite and Nazi.
He did not explain the origin of these descriptions of Sadat, but no one questioned him or objected.
AbuKhalil was exultant over the latest bombing of the gas pipeline from Egypt to Israel, a signal to him that the U.S. is no longer "all-powerful":
The United States wants to take our agency from us, they want to convince us, as Israel has tried to do all these decades, that we are incapable of changing the situation, the enemy is too strong . . . invincible.
Displaying a lust for violence, AbuKhalil boasted:
I am in favor of chaos because I'm really enjoying what's happening in Egypt, especially what's happening against Israel [the attack on the Israeli embassy]. I've played these scenes on YouTube more times than I've played songs.
The audience laughed in agreement as he spoke.
AbuKhalil made his hatred of Israel clear in his description of hearing Israeli soldiers screaming—so he claimed—as they retreated from Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon in 2006. "It shows you if Arabs are allowed freedom to fight Israel, this is the kind of Palestine you will see," he bragged.
More shocking was his blithe dismissal of Hamas's constant barrage of rockets into southern Israel, which he called, "those firecrackers from Hamas [fired] at a town in occupied Palestine." He then belittled the suffering the bombardment has caused:
You will notice there were like ten injured and sometimes they had shocks . . . they actually list the injured; they [listed] those whose feelings were hurt; those who were startled. This war crimes thing is for victimhood reputation.
Again, the audience laughed heartily.
Later, a member of the audience challenged him by asking about the recently released International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) report showing that Iran's nuclear program has military dimensions. AbuKhalil dodged the question by raising Israel's alleged nuclear program and what he called the "racist content of the notion that nuclear weapons are dangerous in the hands of Muslims, but safe in the hands of Christians and Jews." He apparently has no worries about the Iranian regime's threat to wipe Israel off the map, its constant threat to its neighbors, or the apocalyptic nature of the mullah's theology; only Israel can threaten peace in the region.
During the plenary session that followed, AbuKhalil said he was angered that the work of the Canadian-Muslim feminist and author Irshad Manji, and "other Islam-haters" has been translated into Arabic. Yet he describes himself as "secular" and a "feminist"—under the right circumstances, one supposes, meaning that Western liberal concepts don't apply to those who criticize Islam.
He also condemned the translation into Arabic of a tract on non-violence aimed at the Arab uprisings. "Very boring," he declared:
The United States wanted the revolution to be non-violent. They started the myth in the New York Times. It's not. It's a violent struggle by Arabs. And please, I am not making an apology. It's justifiable. They want to bring down these regimes in any way possible.
Whether glorifying violence, exalting in the death and misery of Israelis, or blaming the U.S. for the ills of the Arab world, AbuKhalil lived up to his moniker as an "angry Arab." Presumably, he brings the same radicalism to the classroom, which is a frightening prospect for his students. When anger replaces reason, there's little hope for an education, no matter how many "teach-ins" universities offer.
Please email your concerns and comments to California State University, Stanislaus, Political Science and Public Administration (LRiddell@csustan.edu).
Berkeley resident Rima Greene co-wrote this article with Cinnamon Stillwell, the West Coast Representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. Stillwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.