Blog Archive

Blog Archive – September, 2007

Presidents today fall far short of our expectations…this includes university presidents

September 30, 2007

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Presidents today are falling far short of our expectations…this includes university presidents. Many of you must be aware how the president of Columbia University in NY, one of our nation's most prestigious and wel endowed universities, behaved with his opening remarks to the Iranian president. If you missed the spectacle, you can witness it on Youtube.

I wonder if Bollinger realized how much he sounded like a puppet parroting a slogans forced on him by his political 'owners'.

For over 15 minutes, in an introduction to the demure, still silent guest, Columbia's president, prefaced by remarks on the merits of free speech in America, launched into a tirade of unparalleled rudeness and foul taste. It is hard to believe this happened in the USA, let alone at a center of higher learning. We condemn white extremists for talk like this. Yet, Bollinger's remarks were actually applauded by some in the audience.

There is general agreement, that in response to the odious remarks by the Columbia chief, the Iranian head of state handled the situation with grace and intelligence. He may even have gained support from within Iran, from Iran's  university faculty as well as the general public, and from people arorund the world who are already familiar with America's excesses in nationalism and displays of self righteousness.  

What adds to my surprise about this regretable display by the Columbia U. president is the American response. Forget about the mainstream media here, for we well know about their loyalties and their agendas. What shocks one is the complete silence and therefore endorsement of Bollinger's behavior by our American academic community.

Richard Bullet, a senior professor and director of the ME Institute at Columbia has first of all chosen to remain silent. A resignation in protest would be in order, I think. Or he could appear in a public protest. At least he and supporters might publish a letter threatening the president with a boycott.

Alas, we hear not a word, neither from Bullet, nor from the coterie of Arab American faculty who are Columbia's prized in-house Arab World experts. For years now, one by one, those men have been subjected to threats, attacks; now with this crisis, they seem to be duly cowed. They had been fighting for years to hold on to their shaky seats. Perhaps, having succeeded to fight off the campaign to oust them, how could they again jeopardize that hard won security?

OK; let's say I understand why Columbia's faculty are in too tenuous a position. To openly object, they risk their jobs. But what about professors of our other universities?

Our universities, whether private, state, city, or otherwise, claim to be islands of progress, imbued with superior morality, enjoying limitless free speech. Have you heard a word from heads of universities, faculty, and students associations about Bollinger's behavior? Are there any campus actions underway anywhere in the country in defense of traditional university ethical and ideological standards?

If so, let me know, for I have missed them.

In the 70s, I was a research associate at that same department, the School of International Affairs at Columbia, where Bollinger made his remarks. I saw then how that institute is linked to the US State Department Not only ideologically by its choice of staff and teaching matter, but in terms of its faculty, it works within government policy. I tolerated that at the time. I also accepted as a fact of Columbia University life, the overwhelming Zionist influence in faculty appointments, on-campus programs, public lecture series, and recruitment of students.

But this recent display crosses a boundary. Given that a program was planned and a dignitary was invited, why and how the odious tirade by Bollinger was permissible, I cannot comprehend.

Fortunately, I chose not to work in an American university. Being an independent scholar is difficult on many fronts. One works with neither medical insurance nor a pension. Yet, today I feel proud that I can speak freely about this disgusting event and I feel I am beyond the intimidation threats that a university career imposes on its members. I am fortunately not beholden to people like Bollinger and his gang.

With the publication of my new book, I had recently been considering a speaking engagement at Columbia. Now I voluntarily abjure that idea. Who will join me?

[ Presidents today fall far short of our expectations…this includes university presidents ]

A little school that wanted to be an academy, and couldn't

September 02, 2007

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

In mythical stories, likable, humble little creatures have big dreams. Through diligence and kindness, they win friends and respect. They face obstacles with determination; drawing on common sense and the support of friends, they successfully pass through trials, emerging, in the end, as heroes. They achieve great things despite their modest goals.

This is not to be the history of a new school for Arabic language and heritage planned for an immigrant neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York.

The school had not even opened its doors to students when it found itself besieged by hostile neighbors. The attacks were initiated by a Zionist assault in the NY media. The national spotlight followed the Zionists and picked up the story. The school's position was weakened still more. The Arab American principal resigned; the school's board of advisors went into hiding. Parents of would-be students questioned whether their children should attend the school. And to ensure total disarray and controversy, a Jewish woman was named by the NYC board of education as the new principal.

The school in question is called the Khalil Gibran International Academy. Such a lofty title may have helped its planners win generous funding from a branch of the reputable Gates Foundation. But it did nothing to garner the support of city officials.

Here we are, at the beginning of the school year, 2007, with a grand name, ample funding, but no real school. Without having initiated even a single class for neighborhood kids, the place seems doomed.

Why? And what should be done?

It seems that the school, however honorable its source of funding, and however qualified its appointed director, lacked a community base. Its board, rather than composed of Arab cultural and language authorities, was an 'interfaith' collection of local notables: three rabies, three Christian ministers and three Muslim imams, plus one or two other 'advisors'. What such a collection of characters has to do with a secular school focusing on language and heritage, escapes me. One would have expected a largely Arab board of cultural experts and educators. Moreover, their silence of that board, after the resignation of its principal, is more than odd. It's suspect. Were these 8 men and 2 women chosen to please the government and neutralize and community position? Their silence after their principal's resignation was even more deafening when her replacement was announced. Was it this board that sanctioned the city's appointment of a Jewish woman as the new school director

The particular incident that put the focus on the school's principal and drew the wrath of the Zionist press is irrelevant.

Americans of Arab heritage today, as in the past, should be accustomed to public criticism from that quarter; indeed we must be prepared for it. Debbie AlMontassar, the erstwhile Khalil Gibran principal is not the first community leader to be set in the cross hairs of the vicious Zionist press and longtime campaigners like Emerson. At the national level and locally, our Muslim and Arab leaders have found themselves under assault for all kinds of fabricated associations. Newly appointed members of human rights boards have been forced to resign; professors who dare to include books giving he other side of Palestinian history have been threatened and dismissed Heads of Muslim charities have been driven out. Attorneys have been silenced. Teachers have been removed. Writers have been slandered. Advisors on school curricula have been discarded. The major assault is against Arab experts--all Americans. But the campaign also extends to non-Muslims who dare speak out in favor of Arab and Muslim rights.

Given the potential of the designated school, even though others exist on a more limited basis, the director and her community should have expected some problems from the vigorous, ever creative Zionist lobby. Clearly the principal, despite her experience, was not sufficiently toughened and prepared for an assault. Moreover, there needed to be strong community (I mean Arab American) support. And a seasoned community-based board who knew the history of our struggle needed to be in place. This local base was surely more critical than Gates Foundation funding or the haughty title of "international academy' title.

After a hundred and fifty years' experience in this country, the Arab people are still not ready for leadership. Not only has the scandal damaged a local community and downed a young leader; it has dishonored the name of our foremost Arab American thinker and writer

[ A little school that wanted to be an academy, and couldn't ]


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