Fundamental Injustice?

The Connecticut Journal Inquirer reports on a possible case of academic persecution:

MANCHESTER – A professor who claims he was unjustly removed from teaching a non-credit class titled “Understanding Militant Islamic Fundamentalism” at Manchester Community College said Friday that the American Civil Liberties Union has taken up his cause.

Michael Abdelmessih taught only one class before the college assigned another instructor to teach it.

MCC officials are not commenting on his removal, but Abdelmessih claims he was replaced because two of his students, who are both Muslim and MCC faculty members, disagreed with his definition of “jihad.”

The story was first broken by Michael Meunier‘s US Copts Association; it has since been picked up by Frontpage, which declines to mention the ACLU connection. According to the Journal report, Abdelmessih gives two reasons for his firing:

in a handout to students, he said the Muslim religion does not forgive but seeks revenge, and that there were grammatical errors in the handouts.

Abdelmessih also alleges that Fatma Antar, a faculty member who took his class

threatened him during the first class, saying she would work to ensure he did not continue teaching the course. Abdelmessih said Antar, who also is Egyptian, threatened to contact authorities in Egypt to report him.

Frontpage, as expected, tries to find further evidence against Antar:

According to Jerry Gordon, a pro-Israel activist with several Connecticut Jewish organizations, the Antars were involved in 2002 in a dispute with the local Jewish community.

What precipitated the feud was the Antars’ insistence on using anti-Israeli literature as part of a 2002 seminar called the Teachers’ Institute on Middle Eastern Studies. The seminar, funded by the U.S. Department of Education and the Connecticut Humanities Council, was intended to teach Connecticut public school teachers about the history, culture, and religions of the Middle East. Jewish groups charged that the accounts of the Middle East provided by Antar singled out Israel for opprobrium while maintaining a comparative silence on the faults of other Middle Eastern countries.

Gordon is also himself a contributor to Frontpage and CampusWatch; the Journal mentions him in passing as a friend of Abdelmessih. A Columbia alumnus, his name also pops up on sites in connection with attacks on Joseph Massad and Edward Said. Meanwhile, Antar’s position on Israel/Palestine is hardly extremist. In 2001 she co-wrote a piece for Common Dreams, arguing that:

We believe that a peaceful, long-term and just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires security for both Israelis and Palestinians. This should include the establishment of a viable independent Palestinian state, the removal of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, a negotiated resolution of the status of Jerusalem in which all alternatives are open for discussion, and an equitable resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem. We also believe that most people are yearning for such a peace and are ready to accept its terms.

Israel as a nation must be rooted in fundamental principles of justice and democracy. To continue its policies of occupation, retaliation and collective punishment will not only undermine the genuine security of Israel, but also poison it from within. Rather than inflame the war, now is the time to use every instrument of law, diplomacy and negotiation to find a way to peace. The Palestinian Authority must do its job to prevent violence. The United States should support negotiations, as an impartial party, and not encourage military escalation.

I look forward to seeing how Antar will respond to Abdelmassih accusations (if they are false, I’d be heading for a lawyer). And, if Abdelmassih really has a case, I hope the ACLU will pursue it vigorously. Certainly, he will be better off being championed by them than by hypocritical ideologues whose idea of academic freedom is to persecute critics of Israel.

(Tipped by Agape Press)