Increased pressure from alumni, parents, students, faculty, and the general public, has finally forced Dean of Faculty Gregory D. Hess to issue a statement to the faculty on Bassam Frangieh’s support of terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah. (Frangieh, as I have detailed in full here, is the-Hezbollah-and-Hamas-supporting Middle East Studies director at Claremont McKenna College, one of America’s best liberal arts colleges.)
The College has met with Professor Frangieh and reviewed the allegations raised in the articles. The College’s review found that Professor’s Frangieh’s political expressions fall within the framework of the appropriate exercise of his First Amendment rights. Similarly, Professor Frangieh’s academic scholarship, which focuses on Arabic language, literature, and culture, falls within the appropriate exercise of his academic freedom. Although the College recognizes that individuals may disagree with some of Professor Frangieh’s viewpoints, or may find them controversial, the College does not agree with the student’s opinion that Professor Frangieh supports terrorism. In addition, Professor Frangieh has specifically and emphatically denied that he supports terrorism, or any acts of terrorism by any organization. [Emphasis added]The fact that Frangieh supports Hamas and Hezbollah groups has been well-documented – and unrefuted. All I did was have professionally translated from Arabic the statements that Frangieh signed and made.
Is using a man’s own statements that he has made in favor of terrorist groups, one of which he views with “great pleasure,” my “opinion,” too? It would, rather, seem to be his opinion. So why won’t he stick up for it?
Next, Hess writes that Frangieh has “emphatically denied that he supports terrorism.” If Frangieh has actually done such a thing, that’s great news, but prior to Hess’s letter there was no indication that this was the case. And that letter that Dean Hess has sent out was written directly to his “colleagues,” only.
Unfortunately and contrary to what Dean Hess claims, it is not at all clear that Frangieh views have changed unless one does not view Hezbollah – or Hamas – as terrorist organizations. Indeed, the 2006 petition (written in English) Frangieh signed in favor of Hezbollah recognizes Hezbollah, not the Lebanese army, as the legitimate army of Lebanon. If Hezbollah is then legitimate, it follows that it is not a terrorist organization, but, as the petition suggests “the national resistance.” The flyer from the petition states flatly: “We are all Hizbullah…Boycott Israel.” Let’s never forget that Hezbollah killed 241 American servicemen.
In other words, Frangieh has not condemned Hezbollah. Nor has he condemned Hamas. And if he actually is against these groups, why has he written in favor of the kind of violence that these groups use – martyrdom or suicide bombing – as necessary before “radical change” comes to the Middle East?
He writes in his own words:
Even if the best one hundred Arab poets loaded themselves with dynamite and exploded in the streets of Arab capitals, it would not be enough. For real change to come about, thousands of people will have to die; thousands must martyr themselves. It appears that only massive revolution will succeed in overturning the corrupt regimes of the Arab world. Only then can significant and radical change take place.Just what kind of “regimes” does Frangieh want to “radically change”? Presumably Iraq, the invasion of which he opposed in still another petition. (English version here)
But Frangieh is presumably very interested in the sort of “change” Iraq goes through. In 2007, for instance, Frangieh signed a petition (English version here) that characterized then Senator Biden’s plan to partition Iraq as a “Zionist plot” led by “Crusaders” and their “Zionist masters”. Given that that is the same sort of language used by neo-Nazi groups and the writers of the Conspiracy of the Elders of Zion, one can’t help but ask if Frangieh really does believe that there really is a worldwide Zionist conspiracy and that that conspiracy with “Crusaders” has affected American foreign policy.
If he does believe this, how can he possibly teach future diplomats about the Middle East fairly?
In the statement to the faculty, Dean Hess responded to my questioning that the college had probably not properly vetted Bassam Frangieh.
I came to this position because I found all these documented views by simply googling Frangieh’s name in Google and Google Arabic. It took all of ten seconds to find all the petitions and statements (though much longer to find translators to translate them). If I could find these statements so readily, why couldn’t the search committee?
Hess insists, though, that during that “comprehensive and deliberate national search, which included a thorough review of Professor Frangieh’s academic credentials and background,” the process was very thorough.
As part of this process, the College obtained numerous reference letters from scholars and administrators at a number of prestigious institutions, including Yale University. Those references include letters from scholars and administrators who praised Professor Frangieh’s academic balance and perspective on Middle East issues, and his ability and desire to work effectively with students from a range of religious and political backgrounds. [Emphasis added]If those letters came from Yale University, as Hess writes, who wrote them and what did they say?
Noah Pollak of Commentary has detailed the one-sided views of Yale’s Council on Middle East Studies (CMES) of which Frangieh was a part. As Frangieh seems to share some of these views, it isn’t at all surprising then that they would be inclined to endorse him. After all, Yale professor, Marwan Khawaja – a likely candidate for a letter of recommendation – signed the pro-Hezbollah, pro-boycott petition, too.
Dean Hess ends the letter supporting academic freedom, writing to his colleagues:
As an institution of higher education, Claremont McKenna College is committed to upholding the academic freedom and free speech rights of all members of our community. These freedoms are essential to the search for truth and the advancement of knowledge, which is the central aim of any institution of higher learning, and are of particular importance when dealing with controversial or unpopular matters. It is our hope and expectation that members of the CMC community and the public at large can discuss and debate controversial topics such as those related to the Middle East within the context of respectful debate and civil discourse. [Emphasis added]Few would disagree with Dean Hess’s professed support of academic freedom, though that support, is often very imperfectly applied at the Claremont Colleges as FIRE’s low free speech ratings often make clear.
But one must wonder: What are the limits to academic freedom? Do anti-Semitic views get the same protection as anti-Zionist ones? What is the difference from his views and statements and those of neo-Nazis? No student would be allowed to read in English the statements that he has signed in Arabic without it being a “bias-related incident” or “hate speech.” Is there a double standard for hate here said on campus and written in Arabic? The Claremont Colleges’ hate speech rules presume that hate speech is not the “civil discourse,” so why is it now protected speech under “academic freedom”? Why were these statements not even examined by the deans who police white board jokes and student party brochures?
When we have members of the community that support calls for other members of our community to be boycotted for who they are, rather than what they believe or say, all pretense of “respectful debate and civil discourse” ends.
The ends of “academic freedom” are to encourage academic excellence, not bigotry and hate. Claremont deserves better than a wishy washy statement.