PROFESSOR Joan Scott of the Institute for Advanced Study, and chair of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), was the keynote speaker at a Sept. 18 lecture and panel discussion on "Academic Freedom and Middle East Studies" sponsored by the Princeton Middle East Society. The AAUP has found that anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment on campus has become acceptable, she reported, attributing this to elements of the USA PATRIOT Act and a compliant press. Among the many victims of this attitude she cited were Tariq Ramadan, the renowned Islamic scholar who was unable to teach at the University of Notre Dame after the U.S. revoked his visa, and Sami Al-Arian, the tenured professor who was suspended by the University of South Florida because the threats that were made on his life were deemed unsettling to campus life.
Of the incidents the AAUP has tracked since 9/11, Scott said, all but one have been instigated by the pro-Israel bloc. Off-campus lobbying groups, such as Daniel Pipes' Campus Watch and David Horowitz's Students for Academic Freedom, have promoted an atmosphere of fear that leads to self-policing by professors and administrators. She described their efforts to bring the judiciary and legislature to bear on hiring, grading, and class content as "affirmative action for the conservative agenda." There have been some examples of brave university administrators, Scott acknowledged, but more of capitulation to outside pressure and interference.
Panelist and professor Mark Mazower arrived at Columbia from England in the fall of 2004, just as the David Project, a Boston-based pro-Israel organization, was arranging private showings of "Columbia Unbecoming." The film targets three Arab professors at Columbia, accusing them of intimidating and harassing their Jewish students. Mazower was appointed to the Ad Hoc Grievance Committee to investigate those charges. He said he found the originating events of less concern than the broader issues of academic freedom. The former were propelled into the public arena by outside groups bringing Washington lobbying tactics into academe via sympathetic students. He was surprised, Mazower said, to find some students performing a monitoring role in the classroom, and cited the New York Times headline, "Committee finds no anti-Semitism at Columbia," as evidence of the conflation of anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel—something that is "a huge cultural fact in the U.S." and "raises serious questions about the attitudes of American Jews."
Professor George Saliba was one of the accused Columbia professors. Some students came to his classes with video cameras, he said, and he now worries about every word that might be taken out of context. Describing The David Project's mission as political rather than academic—to improve Israel's image on campus—he said it has succeeded in casting a shadow on the future of Middle East studies. From now on, Saliba charged, any administration will be cautious about hiring Arabs or offering courses on Israel/Palestine and will accept the taboos of society so as not to jeopardize funding.
Professor Zachary Lockman was the academic adviser to Mohamed Yusri, a Ph.D. candidate at New York University who was charged with material aid to terrorists and conspiracy to deceive the U.S. government. Lockman testified at Yusri's trial, but his former student was convicted and is now awaiting sentencing of up to 20 years. Lockman had suggested Yusri's dissertation topic: a political biography of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, who was sentenced to life in 1995 for an alleged plot to bomb the Lincoln Tunnel. Yusri, who supported his graduate studies and family as an Arabic translator, had access to Abdel Rahman as the translator for the sheikh's lawyer, Lynn Stewart, who also was convicted. Yusri, a 49-year-old secular Egyptian married to an evangelical Christian, was accused of being an "acolyte of the sheikh." The prosecution cited as evidence a book in Yusri's possession on political Islam (published by the University of California Press) and materials for his dissertation, thus criminalizing his work as a translator and researcher. Lockman described Yusri's conviction as a gross miscarriage of justice.
Professor Miriam Lowi of The College of New Jersey discussed Zionism, anti-Semitism and the state of Israel. The diaspora is essential to Israel, she said, with the defining elements securing the bond between the two being the Holocaust and the 1967 war. The victim status of the former, Lowi maintained, has led to Israel being in a state of permanent defense, in danger of extermination even if it is the aggressor. When Lowi visits Israel and is asked why she does not make aliyeh (move to Israel), she replies, "Life is good in the U.S." The response, she said, is generally, "That's what they said in the 1930s"—thus making anti-Semitism a powerful ally of Zionists. Lowi concluded by stating that diaspora Jews should have the right to be indifferent toward Israel.