Franck Salameh, who teaches Arabic studies at Boston College, writes about the marginalization of non-Muslim Arabic-speaking people, as well as of non-Arab Muslims, and the erasure of Israel, at Middlebury College’s highly politicized Arabic Summer School. From RealClearPolitics:
At Middlebury College’s Arabic Summer School, where I recently taught Arabic, students were exposed to more than intensive language instruction. Inside the classroom and across campus, administrators and language teachers adhered to a restrictive Arab-nationalist view of what is generically referred to as the “Arab world.” In practice, this meant that the Middle East was presented as a mono-cultural, exclusively Arab region. The time-honored presence and deep-rooted histories of tens of millions of Kurds, Assyrians, Copts, Jews, Maronites, and Armenians–all of whom are indigenous Middle Easterners who object to an imputed “supra-Arab” identity–were dismissed in favor of a reductionist, ahistorical Arabist narrative. Those who didn’t share this closed view of the Middle East were made to feel like dhimmi–the non-Muslim citizens of some Muslim-ruled lands whose rights are restricted because of their religious beliefs.
In maps, textbooks, lectures, and other teaching materials used in the instruction of Arabic, Israel didn’t exist, and the overarching watan ‘Arabi (Arab fatherland) was substituted for the otherwise diverse and multi-faceted “Middle East.” Curious and misleading geographical appellations, such as the “Arabian Gulf” in lieu of the time-honored “Persian Gulf,” abounded. Syria’s borders with its neighbors were marked “provisional,” and Lebanon was referred to as a qutr (or “province”) of an imagined Arab supra-state.
Nor was the Arabic school’s narrow definition of Middle Eastern culture restricted to the classroom. Alcohol was prohibited during school events and student parties, and although a school official claimed the ban reflected Middlebury’s campus policy, beer and wine flowed freely during cookouts and gatherings organized by the German, French, and Spanish schools. Banning alcohol is a matter of Islamic practice and personal interpretation–not accepted behavior throughout the Middle East–and reflected the Arabic school’s conflation of Arabic with Islamic.
Similarly, the Arabic school’s dining services conformed to the halal dietary restrictions of Islam, an act implying that all Arabic speakers are Muslims, and that all Muslims are observant; yet less that 20 percent of the Arabic school community was Muslim. No such accommodations were made for Jewish students who kept kosher, even though they outnumbered the Muslims.
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