The Battle at Columbia Microcosm of Larger Trends in US Academia

April 30, 2005

Source: Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

On April 30, 2005 the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs reported, "freedom of speech and conscience on American universities and colleges, particularly in relation to Middle East studies, has been taking some hard hits, of late. First, there was the post-9/11 lawsuit over the use of the book, Approaching the Qur’an: The Early Revelations, in a freshman class at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The book explored the thinking as well as the poetry found in the early suras of the Qur’an. The lawsuit was filed by Christian Evangelicals to prevent the use of the book by the school’s incoming freshman class on the grounds that it was indoctrinating students about Islam. More recently, there has been furor over a controversial essay written by Prof. Ward Churchill of the University of Colorado at Boulder in which he spoke disparagingly of some of those killed in the attack on the World Trade Center, comparing them to Nazis. The comments, which spokesmen for Churchill say have been taken out of context, went unnoticed until they were picked up by a conservative Webblog and then became primetime news when Bill O’Reilly at Fox News attacked Churchill on the air. At the moment, however, the most contentious squabbling over the rights of academics to speak out on controversial issues is taking place on the campus of Columbia University in New York City. The issue involves Jewish students and recent graduates who claim they have been insulted and intimidated by professors who espouse the Palestinian cause and are opposed to Israeli policies. The focus of this criticism has been directed at teachers in the Middle East and Asian Languages and Culture Department, which is one of the most highly regarded Middle East Studies departments in the country. It functions under the acronym MEALAC."