MEALACMiddle East-Asian Languages and Cultures
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"One must wonder: Why would a video like this be made in a building like that?" Pollack is no great admirer of MEALAC, and he clashed with Columbia's Edward Said over the Israel-Palestine conflict, but he has no patience for the view that the university is hostile to Jewish students: "It is a crazy, crazy exaggeration to claim that Jews are under attack at Columbia or that the faculty is anti-Semitic." And he is caustic about Columbia Unbecoming: "No one has seen the video," says Pollack.
Nevertheless, Columbia Unbecoming does lodge a specific set of allegations against MEALAC in general and Saliba, Dabashi and Massad in particular--allegations that have traveled far and wide, including to Israel, where the film has been screened.
In 1999 Massad was given an assistant professorship in MEALAC, and he is up for tenure in two years.
Nader Uthman, a MEALAC and Center for Comparative Literature & Society doctoral student who was Massad's teaching assistant that semester, says, "In Massad's class, the most prolific contributors to class discussion were students who disagreed with him, and many did not hesitate to interrupt him to make their point." Did Massad, on the tumultuous day in question, threaten to kick Shanker out of the room?
If the faculty committee determines that Shanker's account is correct, Massad's transgression, though certainly reprehensible, would hardly justify the overriding thesis of Columbia Unbecoming: that pro-Israel students are systematically silenced by professors in MEALAC. Shanker herself insists that MEALAC is "a really wonderful department, for the most part." She believes that Columbia's Jewish community is too religious, and she has come to value MEALAC's secularism.
Rabbi Sheer, who ran Columbia's Kraft Center, gave his blessing: Sheer was already a fierce critic of MEALAC, having collided, over the previous two years, with both Dabashi and Saliba.
Says Dabashi: "This film is his revenge on Columbia, and of course on MEALAC"--an opinion Sheer describes as "ludicrous."
He did not respond publicly to Representative Weiner's demand that Massad be fired; he seems unwilling to offer even a perfunctory defense of the MEALAC department; and he failed to confront and contest a torrent of tendentious information from four New York newspapers.
In addition to listing course descriptions that, according to ACTA, symbolize the evils of the liberal arts curriculum, the report ironically insists on scholarly rigor and then recapitulates uncritically the allegations made in the Columbia Unbecoming film against Joseph Massad (another Ward Churchill?) as if they are still pending investigation, knowing full well that the Columbia University Ad Hoc Committee had cleared MEALAC of all charges in its final report a year before ACTA released its screed.