At long last, my article about the Middle East Studies program debuts. It is on page four of the newest issue of The Claremont Independent. I want to personally thank everyone that offered their thoughts and their time to get it to this quality. A thousand thank yous.
Please let me know what you think in the comment section.
Head of Middle East Studies Supports Terrorist Group
Gann Equates Frangieh Signing Pro-Hezbollah Letter to Miller’s Court Testimony
Charles Johnson CMC ’11
Claremont McKenna’s Middle East Studies department graduated its first major this December and its Arabic Department is planning its summer long immersion program in Arabic language and culture. Yet the extremist views of Bassam Frangieh, its director, and President Gann’s moral equivocation about those views raise serious concerns about the fledgling program’s focus and fairness as it plans its expansion.
While teaching at Yale during the 2006 war in Lebanon, CMC Professor of Arabic Bassam Frangieh signed a virulently anti-Israeli, pro-Hezbollah letter which condemns Israel as a “Zionist state” “motivated by historical ambitions vis-à-vis Lebanese territory and waters and by a racist supremacist ideology that denigrates the indigenous population [of Lebanon], their culture, and their very existence.” The letter calls upon Lebanon to adopt Hezbollah — which it terms the “Lebanese Resistance” — as its legitimate army. Its signatories pledge “conscious support” for that resistance, and deny that Israeli retaliation was due to the “heroic operation carried out by HizbAllah.” That “heroic operation” is the thousands of rockets fired on Israeli population centers beginning on July 12, 2006 and the simultaneous kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers near the border. All told, forty-four Israeli civilians were killed by an estimated 4000-rocket barrage, with some 1400 wounded. According to the letter, these actions by Hezbollah were “to safeguard the dignity of the Lebanese and Arab people.” The letter encourages signatories “not to be swayed by the (il)logic that accused HizbAllah of having destroyed the economy,” and to “hold Israel fully responsible for its age-old policy of destruction and war crimes. The principle of the Lebanese Resistance [HizbAllah] is to be a detterent[sic] force against Israel's ability to pursue that policy with impunity.”
These statements aren’t mere endorsements of a political organization, even a radical one. America classifies all of Hezbollah as one of the world’s leading Muslim terrorist groups. The Lebanon-based terror organization has been linked to at least 659 killings between 1982-1985, including an April 1983 attack on the U.S. embassy that killed over sixty people; a 1992 attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires and a 1994 bombing of a Jewish Argentinean culture centre; and a January 15, 2008 assault on a U.S. Embassy vehicle in Beirut, to name just a few. Federal authorities believe that Hezbollah is stepping up U.S. operations and its deputy-secretary general promises rearmament, boasting that it has more rockets now than ever before.
In addition to supporting Hezbollah, the letter demands discrimination against Israelis and Israeli academics:
[We the undersigned call upon] Free-thinking intellectuals the world over, and advocates of justice and peace, to publicize the history of Israeli aggression and to pressure the American and European governments to halt their military and material maintenance of the Zionist killing machine. Similarly, we call upon our peers in the world to announce a boycott of Israeli products, and of Israeli academic and scientific institutions that do not condemn the Israeli aggression against Lebanon [Emphasis mine].
As if to remove any doubt, the letter clarifies that this boycott extends even beyond Israelis themselves, but to “pro-Israeli companies, whatever their nationality.” How can our Middle East Studies department hope to encourage thoughtful and cordial scholarship when the head of the department endorses such views?
At risk is cordiality of CMC professors, some of whom are graduates or assistant professors from Israeli institutions — and the spirit of respectful scholarship to which the College aspires. But our administration seems entirely untroubled. Sources close to President Gann reveal that she has been engaging in a bit of moral equivocation over the question of Frangieh’s support of Hezbollah. At a meeting in February, Gann claimed that she strongly supports academic freedom — and that “while she had received strong letters from alumni concerned with Claremont professor Ken Miller’s testimony on behalf of Proposition 8’s defense team, she defends his right to academic freedom — just as she does Frangieh’s,” says one source. Gann declined my request for a statement or to speak with the Claremont Independent, but Dean Hess released a statement, deeming Frangieh’s support for Hezbollah “an appropriate exercise of his rights to free speech and academic freedom,” although Hess made clear that Frangieh was speaking on “his own behalf.” Hess continued: “Although CMC does not support or take a position on individual statements generally, we do strongly support the rights of our faculty and students with respect to the appropriate exercise of their rights to free speech and academic freedom.”
Left unsaid is what an “inappropriate” exercise of academic freedom is. Surely “conscious support” for a terrorist organization and its “heroic operations” would rise to that level? Does President Gann really equate the federal testimony of one professor on technical issues having to do with ballot initiatives and minority representation with another professor's support for Hezbollah terrorists? The issue here is not about the right to be pro-Palestine or pro-Israel — that is a right we wholeheartedly support. Indeed, even though it raises questions about political balance, Professor Frangieh ought to be free to condemn the Israeli government’s foreign policy or human rights record. But what CMC’s administration fails to understand is that endorsing a known terrorist organization and characterizing its actions as “heroic” is entirely different. Would they consider it acceptable for a professor to declare support for the Ku Klux Klan or al-Qaeda? Of course not. Then why is the College blinding itself to the crimes of Hezbollah?
Indeed, Professor Miller’s expert testimony in court was very far removed from his classroom teaching. He has been scrupulous to encourage all perspectives in his classes. By contrast, it seems that the views of Professor Frangieh suggested by his signing of the letter are also borne out on campus, as he has invited a bevy of speakers to campus hostile to Israel, America or both. Frangieh is undoubtedly a popular professor of Arabic, but his politics — and their occasional influence on class discussion — have some students troubled, they tell the CI, although none were willing to speak on the record for fear of retribution.
This past year, Frangieh invited the ambassadors of Bahrain and Syria to campus. Both countries refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist. That may soon change with Bahrain, but Syria still funds attacks on Israeli civilians throughout the region — something the Syrian ambassador, Imad Moustapha, outright denied during his visit. Frangieh instructed his students to warmly greet the Syrian ambassador with singing from the Koran. Imagine the outcry from pro-Palestine students were they instructed to greet an Israeli official with paeans from the Torah. Students of Professor Frangieh say that he did nothing to try to balance the perspectives of the Syrian ambassador, who seems to have run roughshod over the truth in his lecture. Jesse Blumenthal CMC ’11 called him to task when he claimed that Israel’s bombing of a plutonium-enrichment plant in Syria was an American invention. Blumenthal whipped out his smartphone and pulled up an article from The Times of London showing that it was, in fact, a plutonium-enrichment plant. At that point, the Syrian ambassador claimed he didn’t want to get into “petty” back-and-forth.
Along with the Muslim Students Association, Frangieh (although he himself is not a Muslim) also invited Imam Zaid Shakir, who in a very incendiary speech blamed the massacre at Ft. Hood on a genocidal America’s problems with guns, not on the stated jihadi motives of the perpetrator, Major Nidal Hasan. Yet another major guest was PLO member Sari Nusseinbeh, who during the first intifada helped terrorists avoid arrest and secure funding.
Well-placed sources say that the Board of Trustees hopes to create a new generation of Claremont-educated foreign officers with Middle East expertise. But even that is questionable: the Middle East Studies major does not allow Hebrew or Persian/Farsi to be the language of instruction — making it rather Arab-centric. Hebrew is currently taught by a CGU graduate student, and Persian/Farsi has been offered by the Zoroastrian Council at CGU.
To date, no speaker brought by the Middle East Studies Department or by Frangieh has espoused a favorable view of Israel — raising legitimate questions over whether the department is presenting students with a fair range of viewpoints or has become biased and radicalized. The timing could not be more pressing. At the time this article goes to print, Professor Frangieh is searching for a tenure-track assistant professor in time for the summer school. Administrators would do well to do background checks on all prospective professors.
Through his silence, Professor Frangieh, who ignored repeated requests for comment, forces us to question what he hopes to build with the Middle East Studies department. Frangieh was quoted in an article related to the controversy over the airport detention of his student Nick George POM ’10 that people, “study Arabic not to work for terrorist organizations,” but to “build bridges with people, to understand their culture, to understand their language, in order to have a more harmonious world.” If that’s the case, the CI is troubled by Frangieh’s repeated refusals to meet with us or even return our emails. We would all be well served if Professor Frangieh would openly address the implications of the letter he signed, or to publicly retract the statements implied by his signature and issue an apology. The CI believes in academic freedom, but it also believes in academic responsibility. Asking Frangieh for a comment hardly seems unreasonable.
And the administration must explain itself in equating Professor Miller’s testimony on gay marriage with Professor Frangieh’s endorsement of Hezbollah. The letter’s proposed boycott of Israeli academic institutions affronts and threatens the very principle of academic freedom that President Gann and Dean Hess profess to champion. Were an Israeli academic or student to suggest a boycott of Arab or Muslim products or universities, would President Gann really be so silent? In the Fall 2010 issue of CMC Magazine, Claremont McKenna celebrated its global ties — ties Gann renewed on a recent two-week junket to the Middle East last month where she met with foreign royalty and diplomats. As President Gann and Professor Frangieh hope to build an Arabic study abroad program in the Middle East by 2011, it’s worth asking just what effect Frangieh’s views will have on the program’s balance. President Gann must be unequivocally clear that we accept Israel and Israelis as part of our global community, and that endorsement of terrorists has no place here or in Claremont’s Middle East program abroad.
In 2006, the Claremont Independent called for and supported the Arabic language program, but it now looks as if Claremont is becoming yet another haven for anti-American, anti-Israeli radicalism. This is disappointing, as the College is excited about the new Arabic studies department, according to sources on the Board of Trustees, who hope that Claremont can create a new class of foreign officers. If we are to reclaim that promise, Professor Frangieh and President Gann must do the courageous thing: either openly justify their positions or back down from them. As always, the Claremont Independent will gladly publish responses. Let us, to paraphrase Professor Frangieh, build a bridge to a more harmonious campus.
To read the full text of the letter signed by Professor Frangieh, visit: http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=601. Charles Johnson is editor emeritus of the Claremont Independent. He writes at Biggovernment.com and Claremontconservative.com.