Rebutting a "Misguided Political Project"

    By George Saliba
    November 03, 2004

    As one of the faculty members of MEALAC who has been recently
    slandered in a film that was screened behind closed doors, I feel a
    statement rebutting those slanderous charges is in order.

    After receiving the transcript of the film through the courtesy of
    The New York Sun, I read the statements of a Ms. Lindsay Shrier, in
    which she refers to a 45-minute conversation she claims I had with
    her outside of class, on College Walk, a few years back. Since I
    must have talked to hundreds of students since then, I can assure
    you that I have no memory of the student in question nor of the
    conversation that she claims took place.

    The statements that she attributes to me in the transcript, marked
    between quotations, are blatantly false, and I can say in good
    conscience, and categorically, that I would not have used such
    phrases. At the same time, I do not accuse the student of
    fabricating this conversation, either, since I have checked my
    records and realize that I had thought very highly of this student
    when she took my course in the fall of 2001, and both my TA and I
    have graded her accordingly without any prejudice whatsoever. I
    think Ms. Shrier knows that, and she can publish the grade if she
    thinks it was prejudicial. I only think that quoting an argument
    from memory, going back a few years, may have fogged the mind of
    that student, and now under ideological pressures she could no
    longer remember correctly what words and phrases were used. After
    all, I myself forgot the whole argument altogether.

    What seems to have happened is probably a misquotation of an
    argument I sometimes make and may have made then. The gist of it
    would be to say that being born in a specific religion, or
    converting to one, is not the same as inheriting the color of one’s
    eyes from one’s parents and thus does not produce evidence of land
    ownership of a specific real estate. I may have added that if I
    converted to Catholicism tomorrow I would not expect the Pope to
    grant me a piece of the Vatican real estate.

    On the issue of the Biblical claim to land ownership in Palestine,
    it is possible that I said that my own great ancestors, the
    Canaanites, were the original inhabitants of the land before it was
    promised away to the Patriarch Abraham, and they had more legal
    claim to that same land than any descendant from Abraham. After
    all, Abraham was a “stranger and a sojourner” in my neighborhood,
    as the Bible says, and was decent enough to buy the grave lot for
    his wife instead of taking it by force. That decency may have
    earned him the good points with Melkizedek, another ancestor of
    mine, I presume. I may have also said that we should not forget the
    claims of Ishmael, the first born of Abraham, who was not treated
    fairly by our modern-day standards-—nor was his poor mother Hagar.

    I may have used this argument in order to demonstrate to the student
    the futility of looking back for justification to land ownership
    based on religious claims instead of looking at the real political
    problems in the present Middle East that can be resolved if we stop
    romanticizing them in terms of whose God was more generous with land
    grants than the other.

    As for intimidating students and holding any grudges against them on
    account of their religion, race, or the color of their eyes, I think
    the time spent with that studentafter class—the whole 45 minutes as
    she claims—and the grade she earned in the course speak for
    themselves. They even demand an apology from Ms. Shrier. She
    obviously took a lot of my time yet still managed to misunderstand
    the argument I probably made then and may still make to like-minded
    students who base such real estate claims on their choice of
    religion. I am sorry to say that she obviously did not get it.

    I have nothing but full respect for a student who has taken my
    class, and although I no longer remember her name or face, I
    forgive her and wish I could have taught her a little more, so that
    next time she would at least get the argument right. She may
    continue to read her Bible as she pleases and continue to disagree
    with me for the rest of her life, and that is fine with me as well.
    I do want her to know, however, that her misguided political project
    has already earned me some hate mail that I could have lived

    The author is a professor in the department of Middle Eastern and
    Asian Languages and Cultures

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