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Fact and Fiction at Brooklyn College: Bruce Kessler

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. Prof. Cherry will be presenting this talk next Tuesday at Brooklyn College’s Hillel.

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.

In particular, he [Bayoumi] 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.

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:

[H]is claims that these abuses were sustained beyond the 9/11 aftermath and are similar if not worse than Japanese internment or the Palmer Raids caused him to misrepresent evidence. He distorts FBI hate crime statistics, distorts the government’s registry policy, and distorts the attitudes and more recent experience and outlook of Muslim Americans. Unfortunately, some of these distrortions have been embraced by sections of the media as a price they pay for aligning themselves with some Muslim organizations….
[Actual treatment of and attitudes toward Arab-Americans] is totally at odds with the broader victimization narrative Professor Bayoumi projects.

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:

“The evidence for this conclusion (that 9/11 was an inside job) has thus far been largely ignored by the mainstream press, perhaps under the guise of obeying President Bush’s advice not to tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories.’”

Whether Zoe still hold 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:

Bayoumi says the book was pieced together in a matter of weeks because it was believed by the project’s backers (Haymarket Books and OR Books) that countering the Israeli propaganda machine, especially in the weeks following the flotilla, meant publishing this accurate account soon in order to provide context and hold discussions on strategies for change.

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.

PLEASE go to the above post link for the full text of Prof. Cherry’s draft critique of Prof. Bayoumi’s book.

Bruce N. Kesler ChFC REBC RHU CLU
BNKSD1@aol.com
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