Higher Education and Middle Eastern Studies Following September 11, 2001

Article excerpt

For the Record

Four Presidents Speak Out for Academic Freedom

The challenges to academic freedom that came with the heightened concern for national security after last year's terrorist assaults have become more intense in recent months, with the further worsening of the IsraeliPalestinian conflict and the looming war with Iraq. In addition to actions against individual professors (the Al-Arian case at the University of South Florida has particularly concerned us), a major focus of the challenges has been on Middle Eastern studies, with persons and groups demanding the canceling or restructuring of academic activities expected to bring forth a viewpoint different from their own. An example of these threats to academic freedom is the Campus Watch program sponsored by Daniel Pipes's Middle East Forum, which monitors and circulates information on prominent Middle East scholars whose criticisms of Israeli policy it deems detrimental to American interests. (For more information, see "Watching Campus Watch" on page 15.)

In contrast to its challengers, academic freedom has had its champions in these troubled times. Notable among them are four college or university presidents who eloquently and successfully defended academic free

dom when it was under threat this summer at their respective institutions. President Richard C. Atkinson of the University of California supported the offering of a writing course on Palestine to be taught by a graduate student instructor in the English department at UC's Berkeley campus. President Richard L. Judd of Central Connecticut State University insisted on the legitimacy of a summer program on the Middle East arranged by the faculty for secondary school teachers in the area. President Richard F. Celeste of Colorado College refused to cancel a keynote address by Palestine's Hanan Ashrawi at a symposium titled "September 11: One Year Later. " President Molly Corbett Broad of the University of North Carolina resisted calls to cancel the assignment of a book on the Koran as advance reading for incoming freshmen at Chapel Hill. Their words follow.

President Atkinson

English R1A is a regularly offered course at UC Berkeley designed to provide undergraduates with enhanced skills in reading and writing. Approximately sixty sections of the course are offered, each of them designed and taught by a graduate student instructor. Students have the option of choosing from any one of these section offerings. There is an upper limit of seventeen students per section to ensure maximum attention for each of the students, and "The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance" section is fully enrolled for the fall 2002 semester.

The current description of the section, which is posted on the Web site of the UC Berkeley English Department, reads as follows:

This is a course on Palestinian resistance poetry. It takes as its point of departure the Palestinian literature that has developed since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, which has displaced, maimed, and killed many Palestinian people. The Israeli military occupation of historic Palestine has caused unspeakable suffering. Since the occupation, Palestinians have been fighting for their right to exist. And yet, from under the weight of this occupation, Palestinians have produced their own culture and poetry of resistance. This class will examine the history of the Palestinian resistance and the way that it is narrated by Palestinians. The instructor takes as his starting point the right of Palestinians to fight for their own self-determination. Discussions about the literature will focus on several intersecting themes: how are Palestinian artists able to imagine art under the occupation; what consequences does resistance have on the character of the art that is produced (i.e., why are there so few Palestinian epics and plays and comedies); can one represent the Israeli occupation in art; what is the difference between political art and propaganda and how do the debates about those terms inflect the production of literature; how do poems represent the desire to escape and the longing for home simultaneously (alternatively, how do poems represent the nation without a state); what consequence do political debates have on formal innovations and their reproduction; and what are the obligations of artists in representing the occupation. …