Category Archives: Academia

Letter of Protest to Tom Paradise re: Phyllis Chesler

Barbara Joans, anthropologist, wrote the following letter to Thomas Paradise, the head of the “King Fahd Center for Middle Eastern Studies.” I post it here with her permission.

April 20, 2017

Thomas R. Paradise PhD, Director, University Professor
King Fahd Center for Middle Eastern Studies
Department of Geosciences
University of Arkansas
Fayetteville, AR 72701

Dear Professor Paradise

It is with sadness that I write you about disinviting of Dr. Chesler to your conference on the subject of honor-killings. Since Dr. Chesler has long been one of the few scholars on this topic, it came as a surprise. Much is written about honor-killings but few writers take the time to read, study, research and analyze this cultural behavior. Dr. Chesler is one of the few scholars who actually reviews the material and she has been doing so for decades.

As we all know, describing an event, a cultural event from a culture, not our own, is not the same as evaluating nor critiquing the event. It is only when the cultural event is seen as horrendous within our own society, that just the description of it, can be seen as a put down, a criticism of the culture performing the behavior. This happens all too frequently. Dr. Chesler writes about those groups within Islamic Society who practice ritual murder, called honor-killings.

Dr. Chesler studies those societies who accept and participate in honor-killings as part of their culture. These ritual murders occur. She documents the behavior. The behaviors are not seen as innate nor inborn. There is nothing in the religion nor in the past sacred writings that prescribe such behavior. Other factors must be looked for. Cultural events arise for any number of reasons and Dr. Chesler looks for the factors that may have brought about the well documented occurrences.

What I do not understand is why you did not permit Skype to become a tool in your conference. With Skype, Dr. Chesler could have spoken as she wished and been free from the danger of students who did not understand that academia is suppose to take on and debate the hard questions. Another speaker, one who would take a different approach, perhaps an opposite one, could have Skyped into the conference and debated Dr. Chesler, without physical disruption nor confrontation. A fair exchange of views, researched and carefully considered, is what academic debate is all about. Why did you not permit this to happen? The outcome would have been seriously interesting and intellectually important.

As a legal anthropologist of fifty years, who both teaches and appears in court as an expert witness, I have a stake in such conferences. Though my academic and field work specialties are different, American Indians and urban US Sub-Cultures, a similar situation could easily arise. I remain perplexed about the dreadful way your conference played out. It was dishonorable.

Barbara Joans PhD, Director of the Merritt Museum of Anthropology
Past Chair of the Anthropology Department at Merritt College
Author and Invited Speaker.

Note that in the rich Arab countries like Saudi and Kuwait, rather than the more conventional methods of killing daughters, “modern” families drown them in their swimming pools. Not King Fahd, of course, he gives money to American universities to teach about the Middle East.

Intellectual Corruption of Intersectional Academics: Ted Swedenburg’s Palestinian Anthropology

In the Phyllis Chesler case, one of the three authors of the letter (fisked here) that got her disinvited was Ted Swedenburg. The letter embodies everything about the current field of post-Oriental Middle Eastern Studies that leads me to conclude that most of its denizens are proleptic dhimmi – the fear of offending Islam, the use of terms like “Islamophobia” to silence dissenting infidels, their invocation of “safe spaces” and allusions to potential violence as a reason to drop a speaker. In turns out, Swedenburg has been at this for a long time.

In an article he wrote in 1989, Swedenburg lays out his methodology, which coincides quite remarkably with the hegemonic discourse across the “humanities” and “social ‘sciences'” of today. How much headway have they made in the last two decades! (HT: YM)

One of the first days after I had moved to Nablus, in November 1984, I had an experience that has now become a daily routine for Israeli settlers in the West Bank. I was driving downtown, when suddenly, bam! the car shook under the impact of a heavy blow to its side. A Palestinian youth, whom I never saw, had darted out of an alley, hurled a large stone, and rapidly vanished. He only man-aged, luckily, to put a large dent above my gas cap and did not break the wind-shield, the usual goal of hurled stones. I guess he singled out my car as a target from all the others on that busy street because its yellow license plates and my appearance led him to believe I was an Israeli settler. (As the holder of a tourist visa, I had to register my car in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, so its yellow plates stood out amidst the distinctive blue-plated vehicles driven by West Bank Palestinians.) I was so shaken that I was ready to give up fieldwork and go straight home.

Earlier anthropologists, who risked far more serious assaults in far less controlled environments – no recently annexed offices and registrations for Napoleon Chagnon, or any of those working a century ago. If an anthropologist wants to understand up close a culture in which violence is a quotidian presence, then he or she needs to be ready to experience some of it. No serious anthropologist feels entitled to safety (talk about white privilege).

My immediate thought was that I, of all people, should never have been stoned. After all, unlike those other Westerners one saw in the West Bank-the settlers, tourists, and embassy officials-I was a good foreigner, working in the best interests of the Palestinians. My response was typical of a mentality I shared with other Westerners who worked as teachers, journalists, or researchers in the occupied territories and sympathized with the Palestinians.

Who will defend Western Civilization? Not its “Social Justice Warriors”

David Brooks bemoans the inability of the West to defend itself and its values. The plaint is valid, the analysis deeply superficial and, I’d guess, ineffectual in reaching the “millennials” who think they’ve outgrown the need for those values and the democracies they created. Below a half fisking (critique) and whisking (elaboration) of Brooks’ proleptic threnody for Western civ. HT: YS.

The Crisis of Western Civ

David Brooks, NYT April 21, 2017
Between 1935 and 1975, Will and Ariel Durant published a series of volumes that together were known as “The Story of Civilization.” They basically told human history (mostly Western history) as an accumulation of great ideas and innovations, from the Egyptians, through Athens, Magna Carta, the Age of Faith, the Renaissance and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. The series was phenomenally successful, selling over two million copies.
Note the lack of mention of ancient Israel. The Durants did address the issue what they called Judea, briefly if with limited sympathy in their opening volume, a small fraction of that first volume. In discussing the 6th commandment (thou shall not kill [really murder]) he notes:

nowhere is there so much killing as in the Old Testament; its chapters oscillate between slaughter and compensatory reproduction…

What a bizarre thing for a reader of the Iliad and great admirer of Greece to say! Why is so much of this chapter set on comparing ancient Israel (often, as here, unfavorably) with the worst of other cultures, including Christian religious practices like the inquisition?

That series encapsulated the Western civilization narrative that people, at least in Europe and North America, used for most of the past few centuries to explain their place in the world and in time. This narrative was confidently progressive. There were certain great figures, like Socrates, Erasmus, Montesquieu and Rousseau, who helped fitfully propel the nations to higher reaches of the humanistic ideal.

And Jews were a marginal part of the tale, victims of lamentable Western intolerance (read: aggressive supersessionism), but not actual contributors to that great civilizing venture we call the West. I was astonished, when I finally got introduced to “Western Political Thought” at Columbia, to find that everyone began with Socrates/Plato (5th-4th century BCE) and no attention to the Bible as a political document with remarkably modern resonance.

This Western civ narrative came with certain values — about the importance of reasoned discourse, the importance of property rights, the need for a public square that was religiously informed but not theocratically dominated.
… the principal of equality before the law, the value of manual (productive) labor, literacy and self-empowerment for commoners, respect and empathy for the “other,” criticism and self-criticism, rejection of oppression of those weaker, guilt at wrongdoing, the value of all human life…
It set a standard for what great statesmanship looked like. It gave diverse people a sense of shared mission and a common vocabulary, set a framework within which political argument could happen and most important provided a set of common goals.
And this civilizational consensus became the target of the Caliphaters, hard-zero-sum players from what we Westerners refer to as our “middle ages” or more broadly, pre-modern society, from a world of triumphalist religiosity, holy millennial war and inquisition. They have, with really astonishing success, managed to drive a wedge into democratic civilization and hammer away at fending what has become a internalized clash of civilizations between Western “left” and “right.”
Starting decades ago, many people, especially in the universities, lost faith in the Western civilization narrative. They stopped teaching it, and the great cultural transmission belt broke. Now many students, if they encounter it, are taught that Western civilization is a history of oppression.
Pascal Bruckner wrote about this in his Tyranny of Guilt (in French penitence). Tenured Radicals pursuing their supersessionist, revolutionary agenda. When I was at Columbia (1984-86), a fellow grad student gave a presentation in which he argued that liberalism was a self-creating fantasy that did not collapse in a manner similar to how Wylie Coyote did not fall when he ran over a cliff, until he looked down. I did not at the time imagine that GPL radicals would stampede us off the cliff. Now we have millennials, proud of their unerring instinct for social justice, ready to forgo democracy in search of… ?

Millennial Social Warriors Fighting for Justice
The nice touch here is that it’s Western civilization’s teachings that make it possible to identify this oppression, to detect social injustice in every micro-aggression, every invasion of safe space. You won’t find another civilizational ideology (excepting the Jews) that does not take exceptional privilege for the elite – legal and life-style – as a given. And yet now, the demand for radical social justice=equality (whatever that means) has been turned by those who have been trained in the western (and Jewish) moral tradition(s), exclusively on attacking western (and Jewish) exercise of power.

How Academics think about Freedom of Speech: Fisking the Email that Killed Phyllis Chesler’s Talk on Shame-Murders

In preparing an article on how Phyllis Chesler, one of the few scholars and feminists to tackle the problem of honor-killings/shame murders in the Muslim world (and elsewhere, eg, Hindus in India, Sikhs to a much lesser extent everywhere), got disinvited from a conference on the subject of honor-killings, I managed to get a hold of the email that nixed her invitation. Written by three professors from the King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies at University of Arkansas: Joel Gordon (History, author of email), Ted Swedenburg (Anthropology), and Mohja Kahf (Comparative Literature), it addressed Thomas Paradise, the Head of the King Fahd Center.

The letter is deeply embarrassing to its signers in its stupefying polemic, its craven reasoning, and its complete disregard for academic integrity. My guess (hope) is that its authors will object to its being made public in much the same way that “professors” of Middle Eastern Studies object to having their talks and class lectures made public.

UPDATE: Tom Paradise has been suspended as a result of his canceling Chesler’s participation, and the brave people who scuttled her are busy scrambling to get out of the hot seat. Ted Swedenburg told a journalist:

We did not call for her to be disinvited and how that happened, I don’t really know, because none of the three of us were a party to that discussion.

You be the judge of whether the letter quoted below reflects this disavowal.

NB: issue of terminology. “Honor-killing” is a supposedly neutral term that does not judge. Instead, I think, it enables, using “to kill” where, by any standards of modern democracy, these are murders. My use of “shame-murders” not only identifies the act as murder, but makes it clear that this is not restoring family honor – what family is honored by killing its daughter? – but rather it is a grotesque and criminal way of trying to wipe out shame.

Below, a fisking of this McCarthyite letter attempting to ban a major researcher on the basis of a dogmatic and anti-intellectual ideology.

Dear Tom:

It has come to our attention that MEST is co-sponsoring Phyllis Chesler to lecture via Skype at the University of Arkansas Law School’s symposium about honor killings on 14 April 2017. 

Chesler’s writings frequently feature on the ultra-right Breitbart forum as well as many other right-wing platforms.

“Right-wing” is thus, by definition, not acceptable. Merely the use of the term in describing someone renders that person unpresentable, outside of the realm of acceptable speech.

Lethal, Own-Goal Journalism creates Caliphater BDS: Definitions

The following is a set of definitions I will be using in a talk I’m giving on Sunday. They are, I think, critical terms in understanding what has happened in the 21st century, and why we’re losing a war of the minds with triumphalist imperialist zealots. I will post the talk after I deliver it.

Definitions for Talk (* = my terms)


Lethal Narrative (Nidra Poller): a story designed to create hatred and a desire for revenge, like accusing someone of deliberately harming innocents. Most lethal narratives are false.

War Propaganda: False lethal narratives stand at the center of war propaganda produced by a belligerent force about their targeted enemy. A form of hate speech.

Lethal Journalism (Yossi Kuperwasser): The war correspondent’s first task is to filter out malevolent war propaganda, even on his own side. Lethal journalists, however, pass on lethal narratives of one side as news; they act as propagandists in someone else’s war.

Patriotic (tribal) war journalism: reporting “our” side’s propaganda as news. Widespread practice in early national journalism, today a major ethical challenge.

Own-goal War Journalism*: reporting your own side’s enemy’s war propaganda as news. Sinon, Laocoön and the Trojan Horse; Abu Rahmah, Enderlin and al Durah.


Triumphalism: dominion proves truth of one’s religion; to be right, “our” religion must rule. “I’m right cause I’m on top.” One God (ours), one king. Hierarchical.

Supersessionism: passive aggressive monotheist triumphalism; the conviction that one’s own value system completely replaces – erases and replaces – previous ones. Christianity supersedes Judaism, Islam, Christianity and Judaism, secular progressive left, all monotheisms… but especially Judaism.

Demotic religiosity*: dignity of manual labor, egalitarian relations of autonomous moral agents; positive-sum chosenness. No king but God.

Pessin, Ironic Prophet: The Liberal Emperor’s New Clothes of Humanitarian Racism

This article appeared in today’s Algemeiner.

Pessin, Ironic Prophet: The Liberal Emperor’s New Clothes of Humanitarian Racism

[[In the spring of 2015, Connecticut College erupted into a bizarre frenzy of condemnation over philosophy professor Andrew Pessin’s Facebook post from and about the 2014 Israel-Hamas war, falsely (but vehemently) accusing him of racism, hate speech, dehumanization, and celebrating and inciting violence. For those unfamiliar with the Pessin Affair, see here, here, and here.]

In his now notorious Facebook post on Gaza’s rabid pit bull – the very one that caused the scandal – Andrew Pessin described the situation as one in which a rabid pit bull goes for the jugular every chance it gets, meaning that Hamas, obsessed at is it with killing Israelis, will take advantage of any occasion to do so, even if it means stepping on their own people to get at “al Yahood” (the Jews).

jihadi goliath

Cartoon by Ellen Horowitz

In the current context it means that, now that the barrier (aka: “Apartheid Wall”) makes suicide terror too difficult, Hamas fires rockets continuously and episodically at Israeli civilians. And proud of it.

Most people, having been given the “racist alert” were so shocked at the possible description of the Palestinian people as rabid pit bulls, didn’t read any more than this. But Pessin’s subsequent comments constitute the most interesting part of the post. It describes the people who call on Israel to let the rabid pit bull out of its cage (e.g., end the blockade).

He then describes two kinds of people who support that “humanitarian” discourse.

You may call for this release because you are yourself a rabid pit bull protesting your co-specimen’s detention, or because you are a well-meaning liberal hearted animal rights person. But you are demanding the same thing.

This describes perfectly and prophetically, the combination of forces that, seven months later, attacked this post and drove its composer from the “excellently inclusive” campus that ConnColl told everyone they had created and were defending by excluding Pessin. It can be understood in terms of the Emperor’s New Clothes, with the small but significant difference deriving from the fact that it’s not a joke about vanity, but an imperial procession of hatred that promotes the very poison its dupes believe they denounce.

My talk at Connecticut College about the Pessin Affair

I spoke last night at Connecticut College about the Pessin Affair. It was probably the most unusual talk I’ve ever given, and I must say, it was a great privilege and honor to be heard by such a large number of people who, by and large, I was rebuking for their behavior last semester. I was very impressed by the tenor of the discussion, and have the sense that quite a few people there, both faculty and students understood the gravity of their actions last semester.

Sometime soon the video of the talk and the Q&A (the best part of the evening), will be posted here.

Reflections on Academia and Freedom:

The Case of Connecticut College, Spring 2015


Academics like to think of themselves as autonomous thinkers. As the old joke has it, trying to coordinate them is like trying to herd cats. The very principles of academia – literally the protected realm of free speech – including tenure, give professors enormous privileges, not only the right to speak their minds, but protection from retaliation of those in power whom they displease. Few members of even the most highly developed democracies enjoy such exceptional privileges of freedom to speak out, dissent, criticize, to speak truth to power with relative impunity. Try lining up such individuated folks and get them to all toe the line? Sooner try herding cats.

The very fact that Western democratic polities treasure such spaces, speaks volumes about their progressive bona fides: most power elites suffocate dissent. And in principle, that generous investment in a protected space of civil discourse where reasoning (if not Reason) prevails over violent passions, should guarantee some basic results. For example, at a time when anonymous internet sociability can turn ominously feral, one might expect that academics and their institutions would resist such predatory crowd behavior. And surely, we might think, a small, cordial, college community, where the philosophy department champions an inclusive discourse that should make everyone feel “at home,” in the search for understanding our world would be the last place such predatory behavior would occur.

I’m here to make you feel uncomfortable. And so you should be, after your behavior of last semester. As a preface let me quote Proverbs: “He who loves reproof loves knowledge.” Self-criticism is the lifeblood of the academy, the great strength of modern society, and core of a progressive world view: no self-criticism, no learning curve; and, alas, those incapable of self criticism need to blame someone else for failure, they need a scape goat, never mind that that victim is not responsible for their failings.

In that spirit, let me engage in some public self-criticism. When the CIA first formed after World War II, they sought out the advice of medievalists because, they reasoned, medievalists were trained to reconstruct a situation from fragmentary evidence. I’m a medievalist, and normally I try and reconstruct events so far back in history that no one I’m talking about can contradict me, and only my medieval colleagues can gainsay me. But today I engage in the most perilous act of reconstructing events here at the college and standing before those of you who know far better than I what happened. I’ve done my best to assemble the documents, and have them up at my blog The Augean Stables.

But if, sometimes, we can see more because we know less, the forest for the trees as it were, there may be a number of ways in which I’ve gotten the story wrong, ways that I’ve misconstrued the behavior or motivations of the actors in the drama, that I’ve missed important elements. So before I begin giving you a hard time, let me say that I am open to your rebuke, to your challenges to my reconstruction of these events.

Let me begin with what you, the students, faculty and administration of Connecticut College, have done. On the basis of a systematically misrepresented Facebook post, some students and faculty accused Prof Andrew Pessin, of “directly condoning the extermination of a people… calling for the systematic abuse, killing, and hate of another people.” This hateful statement, at least as far as one can tell from the outside, seems to have inspired a wave of condemnations of “hate speech,” that issued in formal declarations from virtually every organization, department, program, desk, at Connecticut College. That list of formal declarations is still proudly posted at your university’s website, many of which refer explicitly to his post and a couple of which identify him by name.

The Pessin Affair and Rhino-Peacocks: The Pre-modern Rhino Hide on the Post-Modern Campus

In a previous post from 2010, I proposed the term Peacock-Rhinos to describe a tendency on the “left” of people like Judge Richard Goldstone and members of the international “human rights” organizations,  who thought of themselves as truly good, caring, empathic people who nonetheless had grown the hide of the Rhinoceros that Ionesco so devastatingly describes among those who gave in to fascism’s collective appeal.

The Pessin Affair and Peacock-Rhinos

In preparing some essays on the Pessin Affair, I wanted to use the term Peacock-Rhino to describe the group who attacked Pessin by claiming deep personal pain even trauma at reading his Facebook post. In rereading the post where I first proposed the term, I realize the phenomenon, best exemplified by the star of this particular staged emergency, Lamiya Khandaker, varies considerably from that of Goldstone. What I emphasized in an earlier post was the rhinos’ hide, their thick skin, their imperviousness to empirical reality and reasoned argument, their willingness to run over anything that gets in their way. But in the Pessin Affair, this trait exists alongside another, seemingly contradictory one – an exquisitely thin skin.

At least one species of Peacock Rhinos has very thin skins, and almost anything will set off deeply-felt responses. In modern terminology, they have very bad anger management skills. An affront can trigger a violent tirade; words can ever harm them. In some cases, this is true of people who are simply rhinos, like the Jihadis who go bonkers at the very sight of a picture of Muhammad, no matter how anodine and slaughter blasphemers in response. In 2006, for example, at false news that the Pope had called Islam inherently violent – apparently an unbearable insult to the faithful – set thousands of Muslims the world over to rioting in protests that killed dozens of people. Rather than laugh at the childish absurdity of people violently objecting to being called violent, most Western commentators, both journalistic and political, pressured the pope to apologize.

As there, so in many other places, the guardians of the Western public sphere call for systemic placation. To crudely summarize the prevailing attitude one finds among not just diplomats but journalists and policy advisors: Don’t piss them off. As a result of this pervasive placation of cries of injury, those thin-skinned folks who bruise easily and have problems with anger management get to lead with their glass chin. If you will, they manage an elaborate intimidation/protection racket, carried out in the name of sensitivity. The widespread belief that drawing pictures of Muhammad is somehow “punching down” and in bad taste because it hurts the feelings of over a billion Muslims illustrates the dynamic.

At Connecticut College, however, we find a special breed of Peacock Rhino. There the activist students used this aggressive sensitivity to maximum effect by expressing it as a vulnerability. Everywhere in this affair, one hears of the wounded, anxious, unsafe, deeply hurt, students, whose trauma at encountering Pessin’s Facebook post, triggered and sustained the entire episode. The gaping wound their deliberate misreading of his piece provoked, provided the occasion and sustenance of revolutionary time.

Radical Thoughts on Fighting BDS

I was just on a panel at the IDC Herzliya Conference about BDS and Europe. [My remarks made to the panel treated BDS as a cogwar campaign to destroy Israel, one of the most coveted desires of the apocalyptic millennial set (and many other Arabs and Muslims, alas).]

This is the second such discussion I’ve been in (the previous one, on Wednesday past is here in French), and below are some of the thoughts they both have inspired.

If Others Think It’s Our Fault, It Is.

People who identify themselves as “left” consistently pooh-pooh the problem on the one hand, and then turn around to say, “and if we [Israel] weren’t so bad, if our behavior didn’t seem so close to South African apartheid, then we wouldn’t be having these problems.” So on the one hand, “it’s not a big deal,” and on the other hand, “it’s our fault.”

Of course what they mean by “our fault,” is not their fault, but the “right’s” fault – Bibi, Hotovely, Bennett, the settlements, the occupation, and any other Israeli action that provokes anger among outsiders, whether they be Arab or Western. “As long as the ‘right’ keeps talking and acting the way it does, it’s impossible to win the fight against BDS. If we uprooted the settlements, then the BDS advocates wouldn’t find so sympathetic an audience.” To paraphrase Roland Freudenstein, a foreign panelist, most sympathetic to Israel, “explain and defend everything you do, including the wall, including the occupation. But building settlements?!? Seriously, Settlements?!”

As for disagreements with figures like Obama and Kerry, their perception, even if false, trumps our sense of reality. One Israeli panelist at the IDC actually dismissed the Levy Commission’s ruling on the legality of the settlements, by invoking Ban Ki Moon, “certainly no anti-Semite” (and also, no lawyer). The invocation of Moon was not about legal reasoning, but about international perception. If that’s the way the world thinks, don’t fight it. If the world sees the settlements as an illegal move that prevents peace, then it’s up to Israel to bend. As one of my (former) colleagues once said to me during the early years of the intifada, “I support Israel, but Sharon! ShaRON!.”

The situation, as I see it, is the opposite. It’s not the right that’s responsible for the loss to BDS, but the progressive left, which should have won this particular battle against the demonization of Israel handily. Indeed, the attitude of submission that it argues we Israelis should take – if the “vast majority” (apparently a favorite meme in more than one place) believes we shouldn’t have settlements, then so be it – is the reason why progressives have folded in the face of aggressive Islamist demands. 

Nuggets from the Pessin Affair: For Inclusiveness against Essentializing

As those following this blog know, I’ve been uploading documents on the Pessin Affair, a remarkable and terrifying moment when Connecticut College became Salem on the Thames.

As I sift through the evidence, the arguments employed by faculty when discussing the issue offer interesting insights into the kind of discourses that allowed the public sphere in the college be seized by cognitive Jihadis, driving an entire university community, with only the dimmest awareness of what they were doing, to conduct a human sacrifice in the name of inclusivity. Post modern shades of Rene Girard’s theory of sacrifice.

One of the memes much in use is that of the “equality of all cultures.” What this allegedly multi-cultural sentiment actually means in practice, however, is a dogmatic projection of a Western culture which has, by and large, renounced violence, encouraged individuality and diversity, and chosen to resolve disputes through public discussion. Combined with “moral equivalence,” this notion of cultural equality permits critics to equate acts that have vastly different moral and cultural settings and meanings.

This projection, which had something of a dogmatic sanctity to it, operated on two critical planes during the Pessin episode, granting to the “hurt students” all respect and concern for their feelings, despite the fact that they tendentiously interpreted Pessin’s remarks, and were “coming from a place” of war and not peace.

On a second plane, it operated to equate Israeli/Jewish culture and Palestinian/Muslim. Following up on comments outlining the wide range of beliefs and attitudes within the variegated Jewish community (i.e., opening up a place for Jewish colleagues to dissent from Pessin’s tone and opinions), a colleague insisted that everyone also should acknowledge the same for

… the much larger populations of Arab and non-Arab Muslims and Arab Christians worldwide who are nearly as diverse in their political and religious affiliations as culture itself. We must take care not to conflate these groups or essentialize them in our social / political / religious discourse.

Would this were true. On the contrary, the near-total homogeneity of the 1.6 billion Muslims on the planet when it comes to the political issue of Israel is nothing short of astonishing. There is vastly more variety of political opinion about the Arab-Israeli conflict, openly expressed, in .2% of the global population (12 million Jews), than there is in almost 20% of the global population (1.6 billion Muslims) about Israel. If this astonishing uniformity of opinion is a form of “essentializing,” then Muslims essentialize themselves by peer pressure and policing the narrow borders of dissent with violence, both state- and sect- driven.

Ironically, this professor’s advice not to conflate or essentialize contradicts his empirical assertions: he conflates Muslim and Jewish culture as “equally diverse in political matters,” and thus fails to understand the very dynamics that make this  conflict so adamantine.

Pessin Archive: Pessin’s Remarks on College Panel about Charlie Hebdo Attacks, January 22, 2015

The following are the comments Pessin made at a panel on January 22, on the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris at the beginning of  the month. It initiated a series of email exchanges with Lamiya Khandaker in February, which preceded the full-fledged assault in March.

Notes for Hebdo comments 1/22/15

Of the many issues, questions, problems in play here, one particularly strikes me:

“moral relativism” … in particular, the profound moral differences in play between distinct cultures/subcultures …

–in the academic bubble we live in we are firm believers in tolerance and diversity … which leads to a strong default inclination toward a kind of relativism — different societies and cultures and religions are all equally valuable, equally legitimate, equally ‘correct’ in their own way — at the very least we are in no justified position to critique their differences … it’s imperialistic, colonialistic, to impose our values on other cultures … shades of European imperialism, colonialism, conquest, domination etc….

–the fascinating irony of course is that these ideas of tolerance, diversity, individual liberties etc. are profoundly European ideas in the first place …

–helping to support these ideas is that it can be very difficult to distinguish “cultural” differences from “moral” differences … of COURSE differences in dress, and language, and cuisine, and customs, etc. should be tolerated, celebrated … so that bleeds over into tolerating/celebrating the diversity of practices that begin spilling into moral practices — the role/status of women, FGM, the role/status of gays, freedoms of the individual (speech, assembly, religion) etc….

–and it is instances like Hebdo which show just profoundly problematic this strongly relativistic attitude is … which reveal just how profoundly different are the value systems in play …

–for most of “us,” OF COURSE Hebdo had the right to satirize religion (not just islam but pretty nasty toward Christianity and Judaism too) … perhaps we find it offensive, in bad taste, maybe even “wrong” in some sense — but in no sense deserving of execution

–but for many of “them” (leaving that undefined!) OF COURSE Hebdo did not have that right, and WAS deserving of execution …. (demonstrations all over the world AGAINST Hebdo, incl riots and deaths against Hebdo … Nigeria (burning churches), Pakistan, Gaza…) ….

–tho I am very skeptical of sharp black/white distinctions, of us/them distinctions — they’re generally not accurate and not helpful to productive discussion — I use the distinction here only to demarcate a strong moral dividing point — either you condemn the Hebdo shootings simpliciter or you don’t … events like this force you finally to make a choice … and I’m using ‘us’ to indicate the former and ‘them’ to indicate the latter, regardless of race/ethnicity/religion etc.

–[and note I’m not even talking about the shooting of the Jews here — separate issue(s) — just focusing on the Hebdo]

–it’s easy to be tolerant and celebrate the diverse practices when “they” are “over there” “elsewhere” — but the world is getting smaller, now they are right “here” … so what can and should you do?

–can you “tolerate” those who don’t want to tolerate you?

–can you “coexist” with people who want to kill you?

–how is it possible to affirm your commitment to “individual liberty, freedom, diversity” when “sub-cultures” within your culture want to overthrow you and your values?

–this also shows up “between” cultures — eg how do states go to war justly, morally (by their own standards) against non-state entities that don’t play by the same rules (eg re protecting civilians) …

–I have no answers, to either the theoretical or practical problems raised here … but I do suspect one thing, regrettably, in both domains — that whatever the answer is, it might well involve re-examining and articulating far more precisely the nature and limits of the key notions (liberty freedom diversity tolerance) we celebrate …. Or to articulate it more precisely: the great challenge for societies committed to liberal democratic values is how to maintain those values, to maximize those values, even toward those who don’t share those values, who are so opposed to those values that they attack them with violence ….

Pessin Affair: Faculty Dissent, Jeff Strabone, March 31, 2015

Published with permission of author.

From: Jeff Strabone <[email protected]>

Date: Tue, Mar 31, 2015 at 9:25 AM

Subject: [faculty] why I have not signed

To: faculty <[email protected]>

Dear Colleagues,

Last night I received an e-mail message from a student who was outraged that I did not sign my department’s recent statement. The student then offered to “help facilitate” my class for me.

I have declined to sign my department’s statement for a number of reasons, some of which have already been articulated by other colleagues. I will therefore explain just one: declaring that you’re not a racist and thinking that you can beat or disprove racism by signing an oath or making a declaration are, to my way of thinking, fundamental misunderstandings of the nature of racism. Most racists (or, more helpfully, people who contribute to racism) don’t think they’re racists. There is no cost or sacrifice required to sign such a statement. It is, in short, too easy to sign a statement and think one’s work is done.

Pessin Archive: Using Saïd and Finkelstein to Shed Light on Pessin Affair

Demystifying Media Bias Surrounding Anti-Semitic and Islamophobic Discourses

In light of recent events on this campus as well as articles in the media, we find it necessary to highlight a number of misconceptions about Islam and anti-Semitism. We would like to dispel the notion that criticizing the Israeli government or military amounts to a condemnation of Judaism or Jewish people (just as a critique of Saudi Arabian state is not automatically anti-Islam or anti-Arab).

Edward Said’s seminal work on orientalism serves as our first point of reference. Said asserts that Western conceptions of the Middle East do not arise from an objective analysis of the region, but rather are viewed through a lens that in effect distorts reality. Orientalism propagates a false historical narrative through its creation of an “ideal other.” Said’s conception of American Orientalism is particularly relevant to our analysis of current campus events and to the larger narrative of Islamophobia. The history of orientalism in Europe differs from the American narrative, as the United States never possessed colonies in the Middle East. As a result, America’s brand of orientalism is entirely unique, defined and politicized by its relationship with Israel, a Western democracy.

Along the same vein, Said remarks that Israel regards the entirety of the Arab world as its principal enemy. Viewed through this framework, the Palestinian desire for national determination is seen as a disturbance to Israeli security. Resultantly, Palestinians and pro-Palestinian Arabs are seen as irrational, violent and inclined toward terrorism. This very fact helps explain the sheer magnitude of Islamophobia on both this campus and in the United States in general. Similarly, these massive generalizations conflate a number of distinct categories, as many individuals believe all Arabs are Muslims, and these two categories are regularly conflated with violent terrorists. 

The conception of the “dangerous Arab terrorist” is also manifested in the portrayal of the Middle East in Western media. In emphasizing the figure of the dangerous Arab terrorist, the media propagates the false presumption that all Arabs are a threat to Western interests. This tendency is visible in the Washington Post article published about the current situation on our campus. David Bernstein, author of the article and also a Professor of Law at George Mason University, singles out a student who wears the hijab as the sole voice on campus who spoke out against Pessin’s anti-Palestinian post, ignoring the numerous other members of the Connecticut College community who were alarmed by it. Our own Hillel House issued a statement on March 25th as a result of the Facebook post stating “We do not condone racist speech or actions toward any group under any circumstance.” Bernstein also quickly conflated criticism of the post with anti-Semitism itself, as if a critique of the Israeli government was itself anti-Semitic. Finally, his thinking ignored the fact that many Jews themselves are critical of the Israeli government as are other citizens of the United States. Singling out the most visible Muslim woman on campus as the sole voice was permissible precisely because of the Islamophobic discourse in the media and the broader public. The media’s tendency to generalize and broadcast false assumptions detracts immensely from a clear-headed discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian problem.     

With these ideas in mind, it is imperative to turn now to Norman Finkelstein, an American political scientist and author of Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History. Finkelstein argues that charges of anti-Semitism, identical to the accusation David Bernstein made in The Washington Post, are essentially misuses of anti-Semitism that serve to delegitimize valid criticisms against the Israeli state. In other words, criticisms against Israel as a state are in fact not anti-Semitic in nature. Criticizing Israel’s policies does not amount to criticizing Judaism or Jewish people. With Finkelstein’s remarks in mind, we as the authors want to make an imperative clarification. In criticizing Professor Pessin’s original Facebook post, which likened Palestinians to rabid pit bulls, students were not invoking anti-Semitism but were simply criticizing the racist and orientalist nature of his remarks. We can see how this is an instance of anti-Semitism discotorse being appropriated to mask Islamophobia.

The polarizing nature of the current conversation precludes productive dialogue on this subject. In order to transcend orientalist assumptions and language, we must stop making generalizations that impede dialogue. Similarly, we must become more critical of the way in which Western media portrays issues of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, using anti-Semitism to avoid criticism of the Israeli government and ignore orientalist assumptions about Arabs and Muslims. It is evident from the events that have transpired on this campus that generalizations about Islam, Arabs, Jews and all of their representations perpetuate unproductive dialogue. We hope that in invoking Said’s discussion on Orientalism and Finkelstein’s discussion on anti-Semitism we have begun to provide a greater understanding of Islam and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. •    

4 thoughts on “Demystifying Media Bias Surrounding Anti-Semitic and Islamophobic Discourses”

Pessin Archive: Pessin’s Letter of Apology for Post, March 8, 2015

Letter to the Editor

I am truly sorry for the hurt and offense that I have caused via my Facebook post of last summer, to individuals on this campus and now beyond.

It was written last August in the middle of the war between Israel and Hamas, and sat quietly (if publically) on my Facebook page until a Connecticut College student, displaying courage and integrity, emailed me about it on February 18 and described in no uncertain terms how she felt about it. I acknowledged how much I respected her speaking up, apologized for my language in the post, and removed it that very day. But my initial apology to her, and then to many others since the Voice articles appeared two weeks afterward, was rather defensive in tone. I see now—particularly after a moving conversation with a group of bright, brave, and sincerely wounded Conn students—just how damaging and hurtful the language of that post was. I made a great mistake in writing in the inflammatory manner that I did, and deeply regret the injury that I caused and have now directly witnessed.

It’s essential for me also to remark that I in no way hold and do not condone the terrible racist views that have been ascribed to me on the basis of the language of this post. I hope that my past actions and words already demonstrate that I am not the person some now think I am; I know that my future actions and words will. Let my first such action be the reiteration of my deepest apology for causing such wounds.

Andrew Pessin

Professor of Philosophy


Pessin Archive: Khandaker’s Take on her Role in the Controversy, April 15, 2015

Why I Wrote My Letter-to-the-Editor and How a 19-Year-Old Received Backlash

Editor’s note: This is a revised version of the article written by the author for the April 13 print edition of issue 10.

Here is what really happened and where it all started.

It was 8:42 p.m. on February 18th when I received an email of an offensive Facebook post made by a philosophy professor from four concerned students. They had found it from the public Connecticut College Philosophy Department Facebook page.

When the initial students found the Facebook post their first instincts were to send it to the media right away, to print it out and paste it all over Blaustein and other academic buildings. But I had asked them not to.

After some time on contemplating how to proceed, I decided to compose an email. This would be my second concerned email to the same professor. The first time I expressed concern was on Jan. 24 over ideas he shared at a public Charlie Hebdo panel which made me and several other students feel uncomfortable. I emphasized to him the significance of acknowledging that intolerance and violence occur in various forms regardless of who perpetrates it, and the importance in having solidarity for all victims. I received a defensive, unapologetic, and more offensive response in return.  I did not engage with him after that until Feb. 18. I thought I would let him know that his use of language was bothering many students.

This is an excerpt of the response that I received:

“It’s particularly upsetting that in both the Hebdo case and the FB comment, you seem to have misunderstood or misinterpreted what I said.”

In addition to an attempt to justify the use of language by reference to a political conflict, followed by:

“If my analogy inadvertently invites that overly literal misunderstanding, then I am truly sorry and surely need to be more careful, and I’ve taken the post down to think about whether it does; and I appreciate your calling attention to that fact; but either way, it is a serious misunderstanding.”

For the second time in a row, I have been told that I had misunderstood language that was either harmful, offensive, derogatory, or dehumanizing. I asked myself: Should I continue to privately engage with someone who keeps dismissing me and telling me I misunderstand everything he says? If it was just me, then fine. But over a dozen faculty members, and dozens of students cannot all be mistaken.

Over the next two weeks many students, including myself, contemplated the best way to approach this. We were not seeking to criticize his pro-Israel views, but the use of irresponsible language from a philosophy professor. This was a group of intellectual young adults in college who understand the definition of racism as a “social structure that yields superiority and privilege for some, and discrimination and oppression for others.” An analogy that justifies an “owner” and a “cage” in a sensitive region where women, children and civilians are known to die in large numbers is a racist analogy regardless of one’s political views. And we engaged with racism through the best outlet possible—our student-run college newspaper. 

My letter to the editor in The College Voice along with the others did not cause worldwide attention to his post. This attention was going to happen regardless of whether we had written them or not. My letter in addition to the other two actually stopped his post from getting into the media right away. I had advised students to keep it within the local community so we can have a community conversation about our values.

When my letter was published, the administration facilitated a private meeting with the professor and eight other students—the writers of the other College Voice letters and students who filled out a bias incident report. A few days afterwards, the professor issued a public apology to our college newspaper which I acknowledged publicly as well. My role in all this ended right there, right then.

The ending of my active role, however, did not stop other students from continuing to address this issue. A petition was created by others to ask the administration to take a clear stance on disrespectful, racist speech. This petition was created because students were tired of having the conversation end behind closed doors. But I still did not sign or share this petition.

I felt my role was to express grievances on behalf of underrepresented students who felt uncomfortable by this professor’s comments. I hoped whatever transpired afterwards would help push for a positive change for our school to move in the direction of a more acceptable community, but I ended up receiving backlash.

Andrew Pessin as a tenured professor reached out to media and singled out specific students. I immediately became vilified as the 19-year-old Muslim college student who silenced him for his political views.  David Bernstein, who writes in Volokh Conspiracy a Blog from the Washington Post—has simplified me to “a Bangladeshi who wears an Islamic head covering,” and made unsubstantiated claims of my affiliation with “anti-Semitic” and “terrorist-like” organizations. My involvement with Students for Justice in Palestine, the so-called “anti-Semitic, terrorist organization,” seeks to raise awareness on human rights abuses against Palestinians. Raising awareness and fostering controversial conversations do not amount to anti-Semitism.

I was stripped of my American identity and reduced to the Muslim activist who had targeted her professor. My name is blacklisted on hate blogs and national media. My past activity in high school (when I was a minor) was sensationalized to anti-Semitic, terrorist-like activity. The attempt to dig up dirt on a 19-year-old student was not only unprofessional from a grown tenured man, in league with a clearly bigoted journalist at the Washington Post, but also inappropriate. Has this professor lost sight of his role as an educator and protector of students?

We are all entitled to our political opinions. Not once have we attacked his right to have a political opinion. This was supposed to be a community dialogue on the use of racist speech. Ironically, I have been the one to be attacked for my free speech regarding my activity and commentary on political issues.

This is what happened to the 19-year-old who published a letter in her college newspaper only read by the immediate community, to the 19-year-old who has been vilified by the Washington Post. But I stand by my principles and will continue to criticize hate speech.

30 thoughts on “Why I Wrote My Letter-to-the-Editor and How a 19-Year-Old Received Backlash”

Pessin Archive: Balomenos Apology to Pessin, April 16, 2015

Letter to Professor Pessin

Note from the editor: This letter is an update from an earlier one written by Mr. Balomenos. You can read it here.

Dear Professor. Pessin,

I wish to formally apologize for the letter that I published in the Connecticut College Voice in early March 2015.  Since then, I have come to the realization that I made a grave error in writing and publishing such an accusatory piece outlining your actions and opinions.  I now understand that I was not operating with sufficient contextual knowledge on the matter, and thus misinterpreted your words.

I should like to make it absolutely clear that justice based on the information made available to me by current Connecticut College students was my only goal. I want to stress that I am not an anti-Semite, nor was I operating with any ulterior anti-Israel agenda.  Based solely on the information provided to me at the time, I was deeply uncomfortable with the opinions expressed; however, I now understand the entire background and context of the situation.  After reading some of the comments on my letter in the College Voice, it is obvious that I was naïve of how my words would inevitably be construed, and that the situation would explode into what it has. Thus, I am sorry for my accusatory and rash language, as well as the harm I have done to your reputation. At the time, I had the best intentions for the college community, about which I care deeply, but I now see that much to my distress, I have done far more harm than good to both you, and the community as a whole.

While I understand that my actions may be unforgivable and not soon forgotten, I would like to extend my sincerest compassion and empathy for the stress you and your family must be experiencing. It is my hope that as a community we can put this behind us and you are able to return to teaching as effectively as you have in the past. If you would like to discuss my actions further, or if there is anything I can do to help, I would be more than willing to do so.



Zachary Bertrand Balomenos

Class of 2014

Amman, Jordan

Pessin Archives: Letter #3, Zachary Balomenos ’14, College Voice, March 2

Dear President Bergeron: A Letter from a Concerned Alum

Dear President Bergeron,

I hope your second year at Connecticut College is treating you well and that you are surviving the harsh winter.  While we only overlapped a semester at the college, I will always remember your involved and hands on style of leadership as something truly unique about Connecticut College.  From the Senior Dinner Series to welcoming my fellow Arabic Studies colleagues and me into your office for an honest discussion, I was moved by your desire to know the students on an individual basis.  Thus, I hope you will accept this letter detailing my deep concern over a matter that has recently come to my attention. 

I was extremely disappointed to learn this week of some rather hateful comments a certain Professor Pessin of the Philosophy Department wrote on his private Facebook page.  The comments purportedly outlined Professor Pessin’s views on Gaza and what precisely ought to be done with the people of Gaza.  I am not going to quote the comments, as apparently they have been removed and I don’t want to falsely accuse Professor Pessin or misquote him based off of hearsay.   

While I understand everyone is entitled to his or her opinions, even if hateful, I still feel this should be brought to your attention.   I am incredibly proud of Connecticut College and I shamelessly brag about it whenever I can.  However, I would be deeply disappointed in my alma mater if I knew that an individual entrusted to provide the education I am so thankful for so openly expressed such hateful and bigoted opinions on a public forum such as Facebook, even if it is a private account.  We are all representatives of the College, and thus, I worry about the message we would be sending if individuals who acted in such a racist and inappropriate manner were so irresponsibly employed by the school.  This certainly isn’t the school I brag about to everyone I meet, nor is it a school I would be proud of. 

Let me say, that I have known about Professor Pessin’s extremist opinions for some time, but his reported comments that I only recently learned about go much too far.  If true, it shouldn’t matter whom he said such remarks about, but rather that a member of our community expressed hatred and racism about any peoples.  While inappropriate to make a direct accusation without hard evidence in front of me, I do feel it my responsibility as an alumnus who cares about my school to bring this matter directly to your attention.  I believe that a thorough and immediate investigation into this matter is imperative. 

This comes at a time of global debate on freedom of expression and the limits of free speech.  Let me be the first to say that I stand with free speech and freedom of expression and I detest those who wish to restrict this.  However, there is a line between expressing one’s opinion and thoughts through thoughtful satire or discourse, and bigoted hate speech.  If true, the comments I have hopefully enlightened you on fall into the latter category. 

I hope you will look into this matter, not just for me, but also for the good of Connecticut College. 

Zachary Bertrand Balomenos
Class of 2014
Amman, Jordan

Note from the Editor: Mr. Balomenos has written an update to his original letter, which can be read here.

Pessin Archives: Letter #2, Michael Fratt and Katilyn Garbe, College Voice, March 2

“Respect for the Dignity of all Beings”: The Honor Code and Hate Speech

We have often thought about the proliferation of student protests in the 1960s and how pervasive the culture of civil disobedience was during the time of the Vietnam War.  Are students in this day and age less politically active than previous generations?  Why do we not see outpourings of protest on this campus of the scale that used to be the norm?  Rarely in our time at Conn have we seen almost unanimous student uproar about any given injustice barring only the Fishbowl controversy.  On Wednesday February 25th, in the aftermath of an ironically timed event called the Jerusalem Food Tour celebrating shared humanity, we found our outrage.  We discovered information that put my apathy to rest; it made us sick.  It came to our knowledge that Andrew Pessin wrote on his Facebook page a rant on the nature of Palestinians.  Professor Pessin compared Gazan Palestinians to “rabid pit bulls” who need to be caged. He described the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a cycle of letting the “snarling dogs” out of their “cage” and then beating them back into it.  One person named Nicole commented on the post suggesting the “dogs” be put down.  Professor Pessin responded, “I agree.”  Professor Pessin directly condoned the extermination of a people.  A member of our community has called for the systematic abuse, killing, and hate of another people.  This post came to the attention of students as well as faculty members and has thus far only been spoken of privately.  It is clear that the imagery used is not only incredibly offensive, but also particularly damaging within the culture of Islam, which has a potent conceptualization of dogs.  We vehemently believe that this deserves the attention of the Conn community: students, staff, and alumni.

What does this statement made by a faculty representative of our school say when our College is in the process of hiring a Dean of Inclusive Excellence? How can we stay true to our ideals as a college that prides itself so much on our inclusive learning community?  We must ask ourselves, what kind of community do we want to be?  According to a noted scholar of the Rwandan genocide, James Waller, “dehumanizing victims removes normal moral constraints against aggression.”  We all know that it is through dehumanizing language that hate crimes begin.  We call upon students, faculty, and alumni to ask themselves: Is there a place for this language at Connecticut College?  We wonder ourselves how this particular situation would play out had this Professor spoken out against Jews or LGBTQ individuals. We believe that if Professor Pessin made these comments about women, African Americans, Jews, LGBTQ individuals or any other underrepresented group this issue would have reached our ears earlier and he would have been dealt with swiftly.  This is not about the beliefs of Professor Pessin regarding Israel or Palestine; this is about hate speech.

Based on an ancient Athenian oath of citizenship, Connecticut College’s Honor Code states:

“We will never, by any selfish or other unworthy act, dishonor this our College; individually and collectively we will foster her ideals and do our utmost to instill a respect in those among us who fail in their responsibility; unceasingly we will strive to quicken a general realization of our common duty and obligation to our College. And thus in manifold service we will render our Alma Mater greater, worthier, and more beautiful.”

We invite students, faculty, and alumni to ask themselves: Are the statements of this professor in tune with the ideals of the honor code? We as students are bound by this honor code and are expected to uphold it within the external community as much as we are expected to uphold it on our campus. If a student said these words what could we expect as a response? Are professors not bound by the same moral standards of the honor code?  Should we expect more from them as leaders of this institution? 

We humbly address President Bergeron.  We humbly address Dean Van Slyck, Dean Denard, Dean Arcelus, Dean Zimmer, Dean Highbaugh, Dean Garcia and the Board of Trustees.  We call for a conversation; cancel classes, events, and athletics on one day.  This must be addressed.  The administration cannot keep silent over such disgusting hate speech.  We Implore a response and for the Administration to take action. Years ago before we were students here the former president cancelled all events one day in the wake of a racist hate crime on campus and established an open mic discussion in Palmer that stopped the College in its tracks.  This event is deserving of the same attention and we must have a discussion as a campus regarding what the shared values of this College ought to be.  Be angry, talk to your professors, start the conversation.  This outrage should not be a private matter, this must be public and we must re-evaluate what we think our values are as students, faculty, and alumni of this college. Students need this, staff needs this, we need to lament, we need context, and we need a thoughtful discussion.  This is a red line, one that has been crossed.  How we proceed now is up for debate. 

Pessin Archives: Letter #1, Lamiya Khandaker, College Voice, March 2

On March 2, The College Voice published three letters from four students informing the college community about Pessin’s Facebook post. The letters make no reference to the fact that the post was from the previous summer, that Pessin had already clarified (and apologized for) its apparent ambiguity, and deleted it two weeks prior to these letters. The College Voice did not warn Pessin that these letters were being published, nor invite him to respond or comment in the same issue. The second letter was later proven to have changed Pessin’s words in the comment thread to the post to make it seem like he was calling for genocide of Palestinians when in fact he was calling for the defeat of Hamas.

The first letter is, from Lamiya Khandaker, student chair of the Committee for Diversity and Equity, and the main student protagonist in the affair, whose prior correspondence with Professor Pessin was substantial. Letter posted here with extensive subsequent commentary.

Why Hate Speech is Not Free Speech in an “Inclusive Excellence” Community

I am infuriated, repulsed and depressed. I feel unsafe.  Free speech is a given.  Free speech means that you have the right to say what you want to say without the penalty of breaking the law.  Does that mean free speech is acceptable in all circumstances? No. Not when your free speech is hate speech and takes place in a community which professes values of “diversity and equity,” and “inclusive excellence.”

I had not understood the exact importance of my role as Chair of Diversity and Equity until actual encounters with subtle institutional racism were taking place at our academic institution.  Not until the college decided to paste my face as the face of diversity, yet sweeps under the rug when an influential member of its own community actively engages in dangerous hate speech.  Not until it took a few of us students to identify a problem that should have been recognized long ago by the administration itself. This is not diversity and equity. This is not inclusive excellence. This is institutional racism.

People have this misconception that racism and bigotry are direct; that they are in your face; that they are physical acts. No.  Racism isn’t explicit. Racism is subtle.  Racism is institutional. Racism is systematic. Racism is embedding seeds of hate and bigotry into the psyche of social culture. Racism is only the foundation of what leads to later acts of violence.  Racism takes root when we have influential academics in our school who publicly express views of bigotry. Racism is accepted when the institution fails to address the responsibility of academics to watch what they say.

I have had several email exchanges with Professor Andrew Pessin regarding my concerns as an underrepresented student on campus.  And each time, his response was more of a, “I’m sorry you misunderstood what I said.” On the contrary, I did not misunderstand.  I did not misunderstand his contribution at the Charlie Hebdo panel when he posed indirect, yet problematic questions such as, “How do we tolerate cultures of intolerance?” only to end his portion of the Q-and-A session with an emphasis of hate crimes perpetrated by Muslims. I did not misunderstand the content of this public Facebook post that insinuated Palestinians (NOT Hamas) as “rabid pit-bulls.“  I did not misunderstand when he told me that, “Muslim terrorists were at the top of the totem pole as perpetrators of violence.” Tell me, what part of all this did I misunderstand? The fact that I may be a “liberal animal rights activist” sympathizing with this “rabid pit bull?” Oh no wait, perhaps, I am the “co-specimen” who sympathizes. Because my people are breeds of dogs, and not human beings? Or, perhaps I misunderstood his floods of articles that specifically talk about the failure of addressing “Arab and Muslim terrorism.” 

Just imagine if he substituted Gaza for “Ferguson.” Imagine if he spoke of “Ferguson thugs” as “rabid pit bulls” needing to be “caged,” by its “owner” who provides it with “government assistance, affirmative action, and welfare.” But when giving these “Ferguson thugs” a little bit of space to “breathe;” they start “snarling” and “aim for the throat,” and as a result need to be “put down.” And if you sympathize with Ferguson thugs, you’re either one yourself, or a liberal animal rights activist. Just imagine if all his postings were about Black crime. Would you raise an eyebrow?

One only needs to look at the recent horrific murders of the three Muslim Arab Americans in the UNC shootings to acknowledge that violence against minorities occur through the repetition of stereotypes; through the repetition of “the other” as the violent one; through engrained feelings of fear, hate and bigotry.  I have had Professor Pessin as a student and never felt victimized in class.  As a matter of fact, many students find him smart, engaging, and influential. But that is the problem. If students are finding an academic within our institution as smart and influential, and then read his overtly public hateful posts regarding socio-political issues, they are going to listen and absorb. They are going to be influenced by his words, and that is the biggest danger.

In a time when everyday news headlines are sensationalizing the correlation between “Muslims” and “Terrorism,” it becomes increasingly hard to feel safe as a Muslim. I feel unsafe when I go out to the local community. I felt unsafe when my quick stop to Shop Rite resulted in dirty looks, and couples bringing up the topic of ISIS purposely in front of me. I feel unsafe if this is what our own academics are publicizing. 

Our academic community, and all academic communities need to address actual issues of diversity, acceptable speech and community values for the sake of the safety of all students, and faculty– especially underrepresented ones.  Our academic communities need to have zero tolerance for such speech.  It does not matter if these aren’t vocalized in a classroom. It matters if you are an active community member who publicizes such views, no matter where you are.

If I am going to recite, “We will never, by any selfish or other unworthy act, dishonor this our College; individually andcollectively we will foster her ideals and do our utmost to instill a respect in those among us who fail in their responsibility; unceasingly we will strive to quicken a general realization of our common duty and obligation to our College. And thus in manifold service we will render our Alma Mater greater, worthier, and more beautiful,every Thursday night, then I expect to see such behavior on our campus on behalf of ALL its members. Or else, I don’t want to be your face of Diversity.•

Pessin Archive: Online Petition Posted March 18, 2015

Originally sponsored by Ayla Zuraw-Friedland, editor-in-chief of The College Voice, subsequently taken over on April 2 by Aparna Gopalan, Opinions Editor of The College Voice. The petition went through several revisions. Originally it named Prof. Pessin by name, but after Pessin informed Zuraw-Friedland that the petition was generating anti-Semitic hate mail and threats to him and his family, she made the petition more anonymous and transferred sponsorship to Gopalan. (Still, the information in the petition makes it easy for anyone to find out who the professor is, and Pessin’s name remains explicit through the hundreds of comments.) This is the text of the petition as of May 28, 2015. It presents only the first paragraph of Prof. Pessin’s FB post, leaving out the second paragraph (which made it clearer that the post was about Hamas) and the comment thread (which makes it explicit that the post is about Hamas). [Bold text in original.]

Online Petition Posted March 18, 2015

On March 8, a philosophy professor who made the above remarks about Palestinians issued an apology in The College Voice for a post on his personal Facebook page (published publicly in August 2014) that caused widespread alarm in the campus community. The professor’s apology was in response to three Letters to the Editors published in the March 2, 2015 edition of The Voice written by three current students and an alum.

Since then, two emails have been sent out from the President of Connecticut College asking for our participation in an event that has been planned for March 25th in which the community will “reflect.”

What is missing from all of this is any desire for the senior administration of the College as a whole to develop the competency to identify racism when we see it. This is a vital component of our advancement with regards to inclusive excellence.

For the students who brought the issue forward, President Bergeron has said: “I commend them and many others for their courage.” However, victims of racism who have had to publicly fight racism on their own need more than the College’s admiration. Commendation is not a substitute for actual, public support or an excuse to leave the work of combating institutional racism to a handful of minority students.

The senior administration of the College has refused to publicly acknowledge the racist nature of what has occurred and has not taken steps to remedy this problem. We demand an end to silence.

We the undersigned acknowledge the professor’s apology and hope that it is a sign of enhanced understanding of what precisely constitutes racist speech. We firmly believe and uphold the principle of free speech – free speech, moreover, that entitles one to their racist, homophobic, sexist, bigoted or violently hateful opinions.

We do not believe censoring the professor to be the answer. That we are in disagreement with his opinions does not mean we wish to silence them, because, in the words of the American Civil Liberties Union,