An Inclusive Litany

5/14/02

Course description for "The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance," a fall offering from the English department at the University of California at Berkeley:
The brutal Israeli military occupation of Palestine, [ongoing] since 1948, has systematically displaced, killed, and maimed millions of Palestinian people. And yet, from under the brutal weight of the occupation, Palestinians have produced their own culture and poetry of resistance. This class will examine the history of the [resistance] and the way that it is narrated by Palestinians in order to produce an understanding of the Intifada.... This class takes as its starting point the right of Palestinians to fight for their own self-determination. Conservative thinkers are encouraged to seek other sections.
The teacher of the course, Snehal Shingavi, was reprimanded after controversy erupted over the last sentence, which was subsequently removed from the course description. The rest of the text, however, remained intact.

Commenting on the controversy on NBC's "Hardball," Sarah Eltantawi of the Muslim Public Affairs Council defended Shingavi's course, referring to an article that contrasted the partisan tone of the course description with the educational ideal of "disinterestedness" championed by 19th-century critic Matthew Arnold:

Well, I defend the course, of course, because you know, it's funny, this is based on a Wall Street Journal article today by Roger Kimball and his basis for making this—this basically, critique of any discussion of Palestinian resistance is some sort of academic notion of objectivity and how it's—how, you know, the institutions need to stay objective. Well, the notion of objectivity is in and of itself a politicized notion that—that can be exploited by people like your guests for their own political agenda. You know, anyone who has been in the academy since the civil-rights movement knows that the notion of objectivity in and of itself is very problematic and you can't just bandy it around for your own political reasons. So basically what this is is it's a hit on any class that wants to take as a point of reference Palestinian resistance as a legitimate course of study. There's nothing wrong with this class, it studies Palestinian poets that have been recognized for decades in American universities that—that speak about resistance in the Israeli occupation. And that's what the academy is for.

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