Sponsored by several groups (the Radius of Arab American Writers, the National Union of Writers, NY, and Alwan for the Arts), the April 14, 2005 event featured tributes to Baraka. Its proceeds will go to support a conference of Arab American writers at Hunter College.
Baraka, born LeRoi Jones, is known for his writings on jazz, but more for his Marxism and anti-Semitism. As the poet laureate of New Jersey Baraka created a firestorm with his poem "Somebody Blew Up America," a diatribe accusing Israelis of having been warned of the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. When Baraka rebuffed calls for his resignation, New Jersey lawmakers responded by abolishing the position of poet laureate.
Baraka's anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism reach far back into the 1960s, as does his violent animosity to whites, American society, and the West as a whole.
Why did the Columbia Middle East Institute lend its support to such an individual? And why did it send out the invitation (via e-mail) on the very day of the event? Coming hard on the heels of the recent controversy over harassment and intimidation of Jewish students, the Middle East Institute might have seen fit to consider more closely who it was promoting.
Helping honor Baraka again calls into question the judgment of Rashid Khalidi, the institute's director, who himself has a long, well-documented record of hostility toward Israel. These attitudes contributed to the recent decision by the New York City Board of Education to remove him from a teacher training program.
This latest development confirms the depth of the problems in Middle East studies at Columbia University (on which see Campus Watch's extensive collection of research and news item at http://www.campus-watch.org/survey.php/id/16). It also reconfirms why stakeholders in the university need carefully to scrutinize it carefully.
Campus Watch, founded in 2002 by the Middle East Forum, is designed to critique Middle East Studies at North American colleges and universities with an eye toward improving them. For more information on Campus Watch, please visit www.CampusWatch.org.