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I'm happy I don't go to Berkeley

Professor Volokh reports on yet another story of craziness at Berkeley. One student accuses a teacher of anti-Semitism, the other argues over-sensitivity, and no one at Berkeley is embarassed at being open-minded to the point of idiocy. To quote from the article:

Perhaps the "Protocols" was written by Jews and perhaps it was written by Russian secret police, said Kadhim, adding that he hasn't done the research to know for sure.

"This is not my expertise, this is not my Ph.D. I am not a scholar of everything. I know some people say it is a forgery and some people say it is not, but it not my job or duty to know the details," said Kadhim, 37, a graduate student in Arabic and Islamic studies [emphasis mine] and a former Iraqi resistance fighter in the curtailed 1991 uprising against Saddam Hussein.

"I never in my life thought I would be asked about the 'Protocols.' It's unfair to ask me to have a precise opinion on it. I always thought it was enough to know both sides and be open to change. It is not responsible to endorse one view or the other without the full information."

Isn't anybody at the university ashamed that someone who purports to be a graduate student in Arabic and Islamic studies is admitting to being so ignorant of the origins of a text that, elsewhere in the article, he admits to having been taught in school in Iraq? He never thought he would be asked in class about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion? When he's talking about Arab culture and one of the big hot-button issues in the last year has been the Egyptian decision to screen A Knight Without a Horse? What alternate world does this fellow live in?

But the more one looks into the incident, it's just disturbing on both sides. Kadhim's view of 'rational ignorance' is bad enough--teaching Arabic culture and not having a view on the Protocols would be like me teaching Japanese and not having heard of the Rape of Nanking. In a letter to Volokh he proclaims that "As you know, this issue of authenticity and the identity of the author -- or authors -- of the Protocols has not been settled between the Middle Eastern disputants (that is to say, no one said to the other, 'you are right.')." Maybe my own knowledge is incomplete, but I was pretty certain that outside of the Middle East (and it's not a Middle Eastern document, it just appeals to popular prejudices there) the matter was pretty well settled.

But Volokh presents both sides and the other side is pretty ugly too. His accuser, Susanna Klein, is hardly a model of intellectual tact and comity. You really can't take seriously someone who thinks it appropriate to spit in people's faces at a political rally.

All in all, it's just a depressing incident. One wishes that Berkeley's dean would write his teacher telling him to do some reading, and his student telling her to grow up. Berkeley campus life is never going to be lived according to Debrett's, and I understand that, but this is something that serious scholars, serious students, and those who truly care about political thinking should view with disgust.


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