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Thursday, October 14. 2010
Fact and Fiction at Brooklyn College
Brooklyn College English professor Moustafa Bayoumi’s books continue to be at the center of whether fact or fiction will prevail at Brooklyn College. This might even be viewed as indicative of the wider struggle within US academia over the influence of the Left and many of its adherents’ support of Islamist views.
Last month, as an alumnus, I posted my disinheriting the college in protest against one of Prof. Bayoumi’s books being the required sole Common Reading for incoming students. Unexpectedly, this touched a wider nerve which led to all three major NYC newspapers and many prominent blogs (here and here are follow-ups) reporting on the issue and one of the major newspapers blasting the college’s selection in an editorial.
The two books are Prof. Bayoumi’s required reading for entering students, the sole one, that Arab-Americans are excessively the brunt of discrimination, and his current book attacking the Israeli actions regarding the Mavi Marmara blockade-running attempt to deliver supplies to Gaza.
We have one of the college’s most Distinguished professors, Broeklundian Professor Robert Cherry of the Economics department, self-professed man of the Left, expert in discrimination against minorities in labor markets, revealing the false statistics at the core of Prof. Bayoumi’s continual arguments that Arab-Americans are disproportionately discriminated against.
We have the administration of the college continuing to act without transparency as to how Prof. Bayoumi’s book came to be selected for all incoming students to read, in the absence of other books or views, and failing to publicly address how that process may be improved in the future. Perhaps, Prof. Cherry’s talk next Tuesday at the college’s Hillel, of which I have the draft text (below the fold), will spur more procedural openness and caution against ideological recklessness.
Meanwhile, we have the Managing Editor of the campus newspaper, who in 2005 blessed (“Amen”) 9/11 Trutherism, writing a paean to Prof. Bayoumi’s collection of essays criticizing what the book titles the Israel “attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla” ship Mavi Marmara. Perhaps, students or faculty at the college may be spurred to pay attention to the news coverage, including from sources usually critical of Israel, to the contrary.
Both perhaps are to be hoped for, but not to be counted upon unless there is more pressure from within the campus and its alumni.
Prof. Robert Cherry starts off by criticizing the inappropriateness of selecting Prof. Bayoumi’s book How Does It Feel To Be A Problem? Being Young and Arab in America as required reading in English. Cherry points out that much of the criticism is due to the politicized Preface and Afterword critical of US foreign policy and what Bayoumi sees as pervasive discrimination and official hectoring against Arab-Americans. Cherry says the book also poorly serves a main educational purpose, “the books politics may undercut their [English instructors] ability to focus on the primary role of freshman English: to strengthen writing skills.”
In the bulk of Prof. Cherry’s critique he exposes the false statistics of suffering by Arab-Americans that Prof. Bayoumi presents.
For example, Prof. Cherry cites a 2007 survey by the Pew Research Center of over 55,000 to obtain a national sample of 1,050 Muslims living in the US, overwhelmingly – even moreso among the young – expressing satisfaction with their treatment and opportunities. “Could you imagine, 75 percent of male homosexuals, Latino immigrants, or black Americans stating that they never experienced discrimination?”
Prof. Cherry then turns to the major media, with focus on the New York Times, “symbiotic relationship” with Muslim organizations – like CAIR -- pushing a victimology narrative, from suspect sources and repeating dubious assertions.
Prof. Cherry concludes of Prof. Bayoumi’s book:
As a last aside, Prof. Cherry turns to Prof. Bayoumi’s “animus toward Israel,” an unfounded assertion that US government harassed Muslim Americans, in Prof. Bayoumi’s words, “to limit the speech of Arab Americans in order to cement US policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Cherry continues, “This animus is full-blown in Professor Bayoumi’s just released book on the Gaza Flotilla…”
(Again, the full text of Prof. Cherry’s draft is below the fold.)
I’ll turn to Prof. Bayoumi’s Mavi Marmara book in a moment. First, let’s briefly turn to the Brooklyn College defense of choosing Prof. Bayoumi’s book as the sole one for incoming students to read.
The Brooklyn College president and its undergraduate dean, who along with a few professors in the English department selected the book, have defended their choice as OK and routine. (Their comments are in my earlier posts.) A few English professors do not have the education and qualifications to adequately review the book’s assertions. There are surely many books that are exemplars of writing style and many that better provide a civilizational foundation as a Common Reading. The college administration has failed to even reveal the nontransparent process by which the book was chosen. Only by making the process fully transparent and peer reviewed by the entire faculty could such a travesty, again perhaps, be avoided in the future. College faculty, students and alumni should press for such a reform.
The Managing Editor of the college newspaper, Excelsior, is Zoe Zenowich. From a loving online tribute to her deceased father, a writer from a Polish Catholic immigrant family, following her parents’ divorce Zoe and her mother moved to Iceland. While a student there, at her blog Zoe in 2005 posted, with her blessing “Amen”, a 9/11 Truther’s assertion:
Whether Zoe still holds to 9/11 Trutherism, she does hold to defending Islamist attacks upon Israel. In the October 4th edition of the Excelsior, she reviews Prof. Bayoumi’s edited collection from some passengers and from critics of Israel Midnight On The Mavi Marmara. Here’s the link to her review. Without any context or reflection on other clear evidence, she praises and repeats every assertion in the book from Mavi Marmara supporters.
Zoe Zenowich might have included in her review, for example, the contrary videos and photos and other evidence carried around the world, or the book written by a passenger, one of Turkey’s leading journalists.
As Prof. Bayoumi says of his book:
Haymarket and OR books are self-professed “progressive” publishers who with Bayoumi rushed out a grossly one-sided propaganda book.
Whether Ms. Zenowich somehow qualified for New York residency, and how she was selected as one of the very few to receive a scholarship is unknown without access to her records. What is known is that another professor on the college’s English faculty, Eric Alterman, who is heavily critical of Israel, has featured writing by Zoe Zenowich at his blog in the leftist The Nation.
The pattern at Brooklyn College of either support of the pro-Palestinian and Islamist narrative, or the ignoring of how this seeps into and even dominates the campus’ distributed discourse, is indicative of the influence of other campuses Left-Islamist alliance of convenience against the US and Israel.
The American Muslim Experience
In How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America, Brooklyn College English professor,
For the past six years,
“Bayoumi chose the profiles to support his argument that social attitudes have combined with the effects of
“Had he chosen to tell stories of seven other Arab-Americans, people who immigrated from, say, Lebanon or Syria and followed well-trodden paths to success, he could have just as easily titled his book, ‘How Does it Feel to Live in the Land of Opportunity?’
What this editorial ignores is the inherent problem faced by instructors in freshman English: Virtually all of the most interesting readings that could be selected invariably have some political context. For example, Angela’s Ashes has stinging criticism of the Catholic Church; Toni Morrison’s Sula, gives a particular account of the horrors of slavery. While these books present personal accounts, how does an English instructor trained in literary criticism handle the generalizations that are implicit in these works?
In most cases, the problems faced by freshman English instructors are submerged because the readings are situated in an historical past, are assigned in a decentralized manner – by individual instructors – and the generalized implications are implicit. By contrast, Professor Bayoumi’s work is contemporary, chosen in a centralized way, and its political generalizations are explicit. While those on the Right have condemned its selection, the same response would have come from the Left if Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book, Infidel, had been chosen. This personal memoir takes a Somali-born Muslim woman through her life in Africa, her escape from an arranged marriage to Holland, her assessment of the Dutch society’s response to its growing Muslim immigrant population, and her eventually emigration to the United States when faced with death threats for her criticisms of Muslim treatment of women.
I believe that it would be inappropriate for the English Department to have chosen either book because of their contemporary implications when the political generalizations made are so explicit. It puts undo pressure on instructors who may feel ill equipped to discuss the highly-charged, explicit politics found in each book. Just as important, the book’s politics may undercut their ability to focus on the primary role of freshman English: to strengthen writing skills.
Accuracy of the Political Generalizations
Professor Bayoumi should be commended for making real through the seven stories he tells the hardships the Muslim American community endured in the immediate aftermath of 9/11: unjustifiable arrests, deportation, and violence. These are stories that had to be told and he does so in a way that provides an understanding as to why the protection of civil liberties is an ongoing struggle in the
Professor Bayoumi’s seven interviews highlight the civil rights abuses ordinary Muslim Americans experienced in the aftermath of 9/11. Unfortunately, the larger context in which he situates these interviews is less defendable and detracts from the stories he tells. In particular, he inflates the intensity of these abuses beyond the immediate aftermath of 9/11, makes problematic analogies to other examples of civil rights abuses, and wrongly suggests that ongoing anti-Muslim attitudes and actions have significantly impaired the life chances and outlook of young Muslim Americans.
In his preface, Professor Bayoumi presents statistics on anti-Muslim hate crimes. He states,
“Biased crimes against Arabs, Muslims, and those assumed to be Arab or Muslim spiked 1,700 percent in the first six months after September 11 and have never since returned to their pre-2001 levels.”
These figures reflect FBI hate crime statistics comparing 2000 to 2001. On the same page of the reference Professor Bayoumi cites, the actual numbers are listed and some comparisons to the hate crimes experienced by other groups are presented. This seventeen-fold increase is striking, particularly since it overwhelmingly reflected hate crimes during the last fifteen weeks of 2001, not the six months that Professor Bayoumi incorrectly states. This percentage increase, however, was due to the very small number of anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2000 (and previous years.) As a result, even with this unprecedented percentage increase, the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2001, was one-half the number of anti-Jewish hate crimes, about one-quarter the anti-male homosexual hate crimes, and one-sixth the anti-black hate crimes (table 1). If we focus only on the much more serious biased assaults, 2001 anti-Muslim incidents when calculated on a per capita basis may be higher than some of the other groups (table 2).
Nor was the modest violence against Muslim Americans – 85 biased assaults reported in 2001 – treated with indifference by the majority of local police nationally. The Human Rights Watch publication Professor Bayoumi cites, surveyed the police response after 9/11. In its summary, it reported,
“Our research demonstrates that action in advance of potential outbreaks of hate crimes can help mitigate the harm to individuals and property from backlash crimes. The success in combating backlash violence in
This suggests that if Professor Bayoumi had conducted representative interviews in
It was by the federal government that Muslim Americans were singled out through unwarranted arrests and deportations. Besides the damages this did to the families directly and indirectly affected, it set a dangerous precedent that today has adversely affected many Latino immigrants. But Professor Bayoumi, in my opinion, weakens his case by comparing these actions to the 1919 Palmer raids. He stated,
“Special Registration initiated deportation proceedings for almost 14,000 people, many times more than the 556 foreign nationals deported between 1918 and 1921, during the Palmer Raids that followed several bombings in the country, including one on the house of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer.” 
Note that Professor Bayoumi compares the actual number of deportations during the Palmer raids to “deportation” proceedings after 9/11– really the number of people asked to appear at the national registry office, most of whom were asked to clarify registration irregularities. Most troubling, he strongly suggests that these registries and so-called deportation proceedings impacted on Muslim Americans. While he mentions that the registry was for only “men from twenty-four Muslim-majority countries,” he neglects to be more specific. As the publication Bayoumi cites clearly indicates, the national registry “is for temporary foreign visitors (non-immigrant aliens) arriving from certain countries ... [and does] NOT include
Just as troubling, Professor Bayoumi does not report anti-Muslim hate crime statistics after 2001. The data show they fell precipitously. The total number of anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2002 was 170, less than one-third the 2001 figure; and it remained at that level or lower for almost all subsequent years. After a particular gruesome anti-Muslim crime in the Sacramento (CA) area in 2010,
Those 105 anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2008 included intimidation and vandalism (defacing property), as well as more serious crimes, such
While Professor Bayoumi is certainly correct when he stated that anti-Muslim hate crimes “never returned to their 2001 levels” (as Doyle does), this distorts the real dynamics that occurred in the ensuing years. Table 3 calculates the per capita incident of hate crimes and bi
The small number of anti-Muslim hate crimes could reflect an unwillingness of Muslim Americans to report biased crimes to government officials. For example, there is no question that many Hispanics are fearful that reporting crimes would lead to deportations. By contrast, there are relatively few undocumented Muslim Americans and indeed, two-thirds are
Probably most disheartening has been Professor Bayoumi’s suggestion that American Muslim youth have been psychologically scarred and lost their faith in the American system. In 2007, the
While they certainly believe that their lives had become more difficult since 9/11, “nearly eight-in ten say they are either very happy or pretty happy with their lives.” Most striking, in contrast to the image Bayoumi projects, younger Muslims are the happiest. Specifically “Just one-in-ten Muslims younger than 30 say they are not too happy with their lives, while 89 percent are either very happy or pretty happy.” In addition, 71 percent of all Muslims interviewed and 76 percent of those 18 to 29 years old “agreed that most people who want to get ahead in the
Could you imagine, 75 percent of male homosexuals, Latino immigrants, or black Americans stating that they never experienced discrimination? Can you imagine 76 percent from these groups believing that their hard work will be sufficient for them to get ahead? Thus, whatever their legitimate grievances, the evidence suggests that in many ways Muslim Americans have much more positive experiences and are much more hopeful than many other groups that experience biased crimes and discriminatory behavior.
For a variety of reasons, a distorted view of anti-Muslim attitudes and behavior has also been reflected in the media. In a 2008 issue of U.S. News and World Report, reporter Susan Headden stated,
“The scapegoating of
Indeed, just as the book selection controversy unfolded, the New York Times not only provided Professor Bayoumi a forum but published a front-pages article documenting the malaise in the Muslim American community as a result of the persistence of anti-Muslim attitudes and behavior. Laurie Goodstein reported,
“For nine years after the attacks of Sept. 11, many American Muslims made concerted efforts to build relationships with non-Muslims, to make it clear they abhor terrorism, to educate people about Islam and to participate in interfaith service projects. They took satisfaction in the observations by many scholars that Muslims in
On what basis does this reporter make such sweeping generalizations about the attitudes and behavior of Muslim Americans since 9/11? She knows because she has spoken with Muslim organizational leaders, including Ibrahim Hooper, the ubiquitous
As it happens, the 2007 Pew survey asked this question: “Did groups of Arabs carry out the 9/11 attacks?” It surveyed two groups of Muslim Americans: the 47 percent who considered themselves Muslim first and the 28 percent who considered themselves Americans first. (The fa
Posted by Bruce Kesler in Hot News & Misc. Short Subjects, Our Essays at 16:46 | Comment (1) | Trackbacks (0)
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Unexpectedly, this touched a wider nerve which led to all three major NYC newspapers and many prominent blogs (here and here are follow-ups) reporting on the issue and one of the major newspapers blasting the college’s selection in an editorial.
Bruce, why is it so unexpected that your action triggered this response? I believe that many (including perhaps Prof. Cherry) were just waiting for someone to raise a protest over the assignment of Prof. Bayoumi’s books as required reading for all freshmen. Most people don't want to be "the first" to promote what may be an extremely controversial stand...
Tracked: Oct 15, 06:27
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Tracked: Oct 15, 06:28
Brooklyn College President Karen Gould today announced the re-hire of Kristofer Petersen. His appointment to teach a graduate course on the Politics of the Middle East had been rescinded last week, after a furor over his avid pro-Gaza writings, activ
Tracked: Feb 01, 01:02
Tracked: Feb 01, 12:28
The following post has just gone up at New Criterion's blog, Arma Virumque, one of the most prestigious in the blogosphere. The editor, Roger Kimball, also runs Encounter Books, one of the best sources for serious considerations of issues. I am most
Tracked: Feb 25, 12:27
Tracked: Feb 25, 21:31
Minding The Campus blog, from the Manhattan Institute, is one of the preeminent venues for discussing issues in higher education. Today, my third annual shock at what is presented as required reading for incoming students at my alma mater and at many othe
Tracked: Jun 05, 12:19
Tracked: Jun 06, 06:52