CSU Fresno will offer Mideast studies — with a slant?

By Vic Rosenthal

California State University, Fresno (CSUF) has been known until now primarily for its excellent business school and its scandal-prone Athletic Department.

Now it is developing a program in Middle East Studies. Today it is only an interdisciplinary collection of courses, but in a year or so it will be possible for an undergraduate to minor in the program, and some day it may become a department in its own right.

The project is being spearheaded by Dean of the College of Humanities Dr. Vida Samiian; one of the co-directors is her husband, Dr. Sasan Fayazmanesh.

In November 2003, Dr. Samiian organized ‘Palestine Day’ at CSUF. Speakers included the renegade Israeli academic Ilan Pappé on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Dr. Saleh Abdul Jawad on “The End of the Two State Solution: Apartheid, Bi-national State, or the Final Stage of Socioside”, the film “Jenin, Jenin” which falsely depicted a ‘massacre’ that never occurred, the film “Gaza strip”, and more. Jewish students who attended said that the atmosphere was not only anti-Israel, but also antisemitic.

And Dr. Fayazmanesh? In a recent interview, he says

the Middle East Policy of the current administration has been determined by the “neoconservatives,” individuals who virtually see no distinction between the “interest” of the US and Israel and might even put the “interest” of the latter above the former. — (The US, Israel and Iran: An Interview with Sasan Fayazmanesh)

He names seven “neo-cons”, six of whom are Jewish, and then goes on to talk about the power of the Israeli lobby in the US. Indeed, he likes to use the expression “USrael” to express the idea that US policy is identical to that of Israel.

It is hard to believe that a program led by these two will present an unbiased view of the Middle East.

We can possibly get an idea of what they have planned by reading between the lines of some of the course descriptions. For example, in a course given by Dr. Sameh El Kharbawy on “Islamic Art and Architecture”, students will learn about

…the historical tensions between Islam and modernity, and explore Islam’s engagement with radical social and political theory; its flirtation with utopianism and mass culture; its encounters with colonialism and war; its flirtation with technology, as well as its changing conceptions of mind and human nature. Contemporary critical issues of post-colonial identity, exile, cultural hybridity will also be studied through art and architecture. The goal is to re-orient the historiographic project of modernity within Islam’s regional, pan-Islamic, and cross-cultural contexts, exposing the course participants, in the process, to their role in the construction of modern identities.

It isn’t hard to imagine the discussion sessions.

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2 Responses to “CSU Fresno will offer Mideast studies — with a slant?”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    Is there no Jewish community in Fresno capable of opposing the development of such a department?
    More significantly, is there no real academic leadership at Fresno State University who are capable of seeing that this will not be a proper university department based on real scholarship, but rather a bigoted propaganda faculty?

  2. Vic Rosenthal says:

    There’s a small Jewish community, but keep in mind that academics guard their autonomy fiercely against ‘outside interference’.

    I hope that pro-Israel faculty, few as they are, will be able to push for a more balanced approach, but the organizers are highly political and in my opinion committed to developing a politicized program.

    And most academics try to avoid conflicts outside of their own field, since it might be their own ox that gets gored next!