I believe that it was the diversity of opinion on our campus that taught me to refine and challenge my opinions. I thank Columbia for having offered me the chance to encounter and wrestle with different ideas.
Right now, I am disgusted with the Columbia community. I am not disgusted because of threats to academic freedom, or because students may feel harassed. What disgusts me is the silence of this community in response to a statement about Israelis made by MEALAC professor Hamid Dabashi in an article in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram. The statement reads: "Half a century of systematic maiming and murdering of another people has left its deep marks on the faces of these people, the way they talk, the way they walk, the way they handle objects, the way they greet each other, the way they look at the world. There is an endemic prevarication to this machinery, a vulgarity of character that is bone-deep and structural to the skeletal vertebrae of its culture."
One of the things I learned from studying in the presence of so many post-colonial theorists and anthropologists is the danger inherent in labeling a nationality or any group of people. Edward Said's Orientalism exposed the West's tendency to think of people of the Orient as "the Other," as something that is beneath the culture of the West. Said showed that this tendency was not only academically sloppy, it was morally intolerant. Professor Dabashi seems not to have learned this lesson. Challenge Israel's policies—fine. Call Israel a racist state—sure, that's your opinion. But how dare you label all people of the Israeli nation, including my friends and family, as possessing a "vulgarity of character?" Professor Dabashi, while your freedom to teach your political viewpoint must be protected, your bigoted statement should mark you as a racist.
But, my fellow Columbians, I am not writing only to express my dismay with Professor Dabashi. I am writing because I am disheartened by the response of our community. On our campus, students are so in love with their professors and the intellectualism they exude that they choose not to see when those professors do or say something that is blatantly wrong. The plain truth is that if a professor had made the same comments about blacks, Muslims, or Chinese, he would have been rightfully attacked by a plethora of students denouncing his racist and colonial attitude. The lack of response from current students, especially those who are closely associated with Professor Dabashi and the MEALAC department, is a shame and will stain the University in my mind for years to come.