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Columbia Spectator Staff

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 without.

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