Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A campaign of intimidation ...

The Seattle PI published an opinion piece by Professor of English and Comparative Literature at UCLA Saree Makdisi. It is a breathlessly shrill screed, in which he complains about loss of academic freedom and other freedoms due to the onerous power of the Jewish Lobby. It is an astonishing piece of writing, since it appears to want to garble the principles, which the good prof purports to uphold.

Let’s take two principles, with an example for each.

The first principle discussed is academic freedom and its twin brother, freedom of speech:

Prof. Makdisi quotes Martin Kramer:

"Academic colleagues, get used to it… you are being watched. Those obscure articles in campus newspapers are now available on the Internet, and they will be harvested. Your syllabi, which you've also posted, will be scrutinized. Your Web sites will be visited late at night."

Prof. Makdisi, who probably publishes in academic newspapers and who posts his syllabi on the Internet, takes issue with this “warning”. Kramer tells him that his articles will be read, and the material he will teach to his students will be looked at, and the prof. finds these promises scary! It’s an encroachment upon his academic and other, freedoms!

How so? Does he not publish in order to be read? Does he not post his teaching material to inform students, colleagues and any Internet surfers of his academic intentions? Isn’t speech primarily meant for communication, where one orates and the other listens and responds, agrees, disagrees, criticizes, challenges, etc ? Where is the encroachment? Where is the danger? If I put up a good case, supported by facts, good arguments, appropriate context, and some suspension of blinding anger, why should I be afraid that other academics, writers, students, and general readers would read and scrutinize my writings?

The second: Attention to Truth in teaching and reporting

“So although Michael Oren, an officer in the Israeli army, was recently allowed to lecture the council about U.S. policy in the Middle East, two distinguished American academics were denied the same privilege.”

This statement leaves the reader with the impression that Michael Oren gets to speak to American students as an officer in the Israeli army, while the “two distinguished American academics” are denied access to university audiences.

Never mind that Mearsheimer and Walt have been feted and showcased on every major media outlet, including the late night talk shows, and got to address audiences far greater in numbers by orders of size than the audience Dr. Oren was given.

Never mind that.

Let’s look at the omission in this statement, which discards the main reason why Michael Oren was deemed appropriate to address a campus audience. Not because of his service in the Israeli army, as Prof. Makdisi would have us believe.

Who is Michael Oren?

"Born in New Jersey, U.S., Michael Oren received B.A. (1977) and M.I.A. (School of International Affairs, 1978) at Columbia University and M.A. and Ph.D. (History of the Middle East) at Princeton University. He has been a visiting professor at Harvard University and Yale University."

Michael B. Oren (born in 1955) is an American-Israeli scholar, historian, and author best known for his best-selling and highly acclaimed books on Middle Eastern history. Born an American citizen, he has published books, articles and essays on the subject of Middle Eastern history, and is the author of the best-selling Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, which was listed as a New York Times bestseller and won the National Jewish Book Award and the Los Angeles Times History Book of the Year Award. He is a Senior Fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and a contributing editor to the The New Republic and the Shalem Center's quarterly journal, Azure. He currently lives in Jerusalem.

All quotes from Wikipaedia, available on the internet. In other words, widely available to all Internet perusers, including Prof. Makdisi.

Looks like Prof. Makdisi omitted to tell his Seattleite readers that Michael Oren is no less a distinguished and fully-credentialled scholar than the Messrs Mearsheimer and Walt. And if I may venture a personal opinion, a much more reliable researcher and thinker than either of the two, or even prof. Makdisi himself, to judge from this article.

BTW, judging by Oren's age (52 years old), it's been probably 15 years at least since he saw active service, as a Miluimnik, an IDF reservist who would be called up in cases of military emergencies, such as war. This, again, does not cast Maktidi's charcterization of him as an "IDF officer" in the best of lights. Looks like misrepresentation, to me.

These are just two examples from an article which is replete with similar examples of disregard to sustainable reasonable argument and factual veracity. I find it depressing, coming from a teacher of students in an academic institution.

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