Commentary Magazine


Topic: American University

Sex, Gender and Culture on Campus

Meanwhile, on the lighter side, back in Academe . . .

The Eagle, American University’s student newspaper, was about to create a “hostile work environment” for Assistant Anthropology Professor Adrienne Pine by running a story about her breastfeeding her baby during the opening lecture of her intro “Sex, Gender, and Culture” class. It seems the baby woke up sick that day and couldn’t be sent to daycare. So, rather than cancel the class, Ms. Pine brought her daughter to the lecture room, where she crawled around on the floor, tried to eat a paper clip, made a beeline for an electrical outlet, and ultimately needed to be breastfed.

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Meanwhile, on the lighter side, back in Academe . . .

The Eagle, American University’s student newspaper, was about to create a “hostile work environment” for Assistant Anthropology Professor Adrienne Pine by running a story about her breastfeeding her baby during the opening lecture of her intro “Sex, Gender, and Culture” class. It seems the baby woke up sick that day and couldn’t be sent to daycare. So, rather than cancel the class, Ms. Pine brought her daughter to the lecture room, where she crawled around on the floor, tried to eat a paper clip, made a beeline for an electrical outlet, and ultimately needed to be breastfed.

A student — perhaps sadly inhibited about public nipple displays, or possibly arrogantly assuming that his or her $50,000-a-year tuition might have earned a professor’s undivided attention — alerted The Eagle, which promptly dispatched a reporter to get Ms. Pine’s side of the story. Was it appropriate to nurse in class? Was anyone made uncomfortable? Had she crossed a line? Ms. Pine — with visions of tenure dancing in her head — couldn’t have a story about her breasts circulating in an endless loop on the Internet. She tried womanfully to convince The Eagle that this was a non-story: “I tried to explain that in most other societies, people don’t have the kind of ridiculous Puritanical hangups that would turn a working woman breastfeeding into a newsworthy ‘incident,’” she reports in “The Dialectics of Breastfeeding on Campus: Exposéing My Breasts on the Internet,” published on CounterPunch, the news site once edited by the late Alexander Cockburn, RIP.

When it looked like The Eagle was going ahead with the story, Ms. Pine simply had no choice but to get out ahead of it and write that CounterPunch piece — all 3,800 words of it. There were, after all, principles at stake here. “I was being targeted as a working woman in a way that would permanently tie my reputation to my perceived biological condition.” And “[t]o be honest, if there were an easy way I could feed my child without calling attention to my biological condition as a mother, which inevitably assumes primacy over my preferred public status as anthropologist, writer, professor, and solidarity worker, I would do so. But there is not.” (Um, maybe a bottle?)

Well, there never was a story in The Eagle. But, thanks to Ms. Pine’s Counterpunch piece, the story did make it onto:

The Washington Post

ABC

Huffington Post

The Washington City Paper

Salon

Slate

Tenure, anyone?

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Another Ground Zero Mosque Opponent

You recall that when Obama signed a bill named in honor of Daniel Pearl, his father, Judea Pearl, was not afforded the opportunity to speak. He’s a blunt man, so that may have been a wise move by the Obama White House. He is an especially effective spokesperson when it comes to “Muslim outreach.” The JTA reports:

Pearl told JTA that while he was “touched” by [Imam] Rauf’s appearance and speech at his son’s memorial, “many Muslim leaders offered their condolences at the time.” More to the point, Pearl said he is discouraged that the Muslim leadership has not followed through on what he hoped would come from his son’s death.

“At the time, I truly believed Danny’s murder would be a turning point in the reaction of the civilized world toward terrorism,” said Pearl, who engages in public conversations with Akbar Ahmed, an Islamic studies professor at American University, on behalf of the Daniel Pearl Dialogue for Muslim-Jewish Understanding. The established Muslim leadership in the United States, Pearl said, “has had nine years to build up trust by pro-actively resisting anti-American ideologies of victimhood, anger and entitlement.” Reactions to the mosque project indicate that they were “not too successful in this endeavor.” …

“If I were [New York] Mayor Bloomberg I would reassert their right to build the mosque, but I would expend the same energy trying to convince them to put it somewhere else,” he said. “Public reaction tells us that it is not the right time, and that it will create further animosity and division in this country.”

So I suppose David Axelrod and Daisy Khan would say that Pearl is simply following in the footsteps of infamous anti-Semites. I guess Nancy Pelosi would want him investigated. But under no circumstances would Obama want him back at the White House.

You recall that when Obama signed a bill named in honor of Daniel Pearl, his father, Judea Pearl, was not afforded the opportunity to speak. He’s a blunt man, so that may have been a wise move by the Obama White House. He is an especially effective spokesperson when it comes to “Muslim outreach.” The JTA reports:

Pearl told JTA that while he was “touched” by [Imam] Rauf’s appearance and speech at his son’s memorial, “many Muslim leaders offered their condolences at the time.” More to the point, Pearl said he is discouraged that the Muslim leadership has not followed through on what he hoped would come from his son’s death.

“At the time, I truly believed Danny’s murder would be a turning point in the reaction of the civilized world toward terrorism,” said Pearl, who engages in public conversations with Akbar Ahmed, an Islamic studies professor at American University, on behalf of the Daniel Pearl Dialogue for Muslim-Jewish Understanding. The established Muslim leadership in the United States, Pearl said, “has had nine years to build up trust by pro-actively resisting anti-American ideologies of victimhood, anger and entitlement.” Reactions to the mosque project indicate that they were “not too successful in this endeavor.” …

“If I were [New York] Mayor Bloomberg I would reassert their right to build the mosque, but I would expend the same energy trying to convince them to put it somewhere else,” he said. “Public reaction tells us that it is not the right time, and that it will create further animosity and division in this country.”

So I suppose David Axelrod and Daisy Khan would say that Pearl is simply following in the footsteps of infamous anti-Semites. I guess Nancy Pelosi would want him investigated. But under no circumstances would Obama want him back at the White House.

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Obama Tries to Put the Immigration Onus on GOP

While the ostensible purpose of President Obama’s speech at American University this morning on immigration reform was to put forward a realistic proposal, it was clear that his main intent was to try and put Republicans on the spot.

Calling, as he is fond of doing on every issue, for others to put aside politics, he specifically challenged the GOP to support his rather loosely defined plan that called for giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, an attempt to control the border as well as rationalizing the complex and largely unfair existing immigration statutes. He claimed that he was merely being forced to clean up the mess left behind by others since he “won’t just kick the can down the road” on this issue. Asserting that the Democrats are behind him, he said the whole question of reform would rest on whether Republicans would join him on the issue. It was only toward the end of the speech that he acknowledged in passing that his “predecessor” had “shown courage” on the issue. In fact, George W. Bush put forward a not dissimilar package of immigration reform in 2005.

It’s no secret that the chances of passage of any such bill in the current Congress are less than nil. Far from a stark partisan division on the issue, many Democrats have indulged in the same sort of “demagoguery” on immigration that Obama seemed to imply was limited to Republicans. In fact, had the Democrats in Congress been united and passionate advocates of this cause, President Bush would have succeeded in his attempt to do more or less what Obama says he wants to accomplish. It is a testament to Obama’s knowledge of this political reality that he did not spend much of his speech bashing the controversial Arizona law enabling law-enforcement personnel to inquire about the immigration status of a person already in trouble with the law. Nor did he follow Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s lead when she recently told a South American journalist that Obama would order the Justice Department to sue Arizona to stop the measure’s enforcement. Indeed, the worst he said of the law was that it was “divisive.”

It is an unfortunate fact that many on the right have boxed themselves in on immigration to the point where any position on it other than a call for a draconian crackdown on illegals and mass deportation (which Obama rightly claims is unrealistic) is considered akin to amnesty. While the president attempted to pose somewhat disingenuously as the man between two extremes, by offering those here illegally a path to citizenship (preceded by paying a fine, waiting in line behind those who have applied via the legal apparatus, and learning English), he is unlikely to get much support from many conservatives or moderates from either party. That’s a shame, since Obama’s proposals, like those of Bush before him, constitute nothing more than recognition of reality in terms of both law enforcement and the undeniable demand that exists here for low-wage foreign workers. While neither this Congress nor its successor is likely to pass such a bill, that does not mean that it shouldn’t.

But unlike Bush, who unveiled his immigration plan at the start of his second term hoping (in vain, as it turned out) to cash in some of his political capital on an issue he cared about, Obama’s purpose here seems to be about politics, not principle, as he is hoping that Hispanics will blame Republicans for the inevitable failure of this proposal. While this may ratchet up the Hispanic vote for the Democrats, it’s hard to see how this will work in a midterm election in which many Democrats around the country are just as likely to resent illegal immigrants as Republicans.

While the ostensible purpose of President Obama’s speech at American University this morning on immigration reform was to put forward a realistic proposal, it was clear that his main intent was to try and put Republicans on the spot.

Calling, as he is fond of doing on every issue, for others to put aside politics, he specifically challenged the GOP to support his rather loosely defined plan that called for giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, an attempt to control the border as well as rationalizing the complex and largely unfair existing immigration statutes. He claimed that he was merely being forced to clean up the mess left behind by others since he “won’t just kick the can down the road” on this issue. Asserting that the Democrats are behind him, he said the whole question of reform would rest on whether Republicans would join him on the issue. It was only toward the end of the speech that he acknowledged in passing that his “predecessor” had “shown courage” on the issue. In fact, George W. Bush put forward a not dissimilar package of immigration reform in 2005.

It’s no secret that the chances of passage of any such bill in the current Congress are less than nil. Far from a stark partisan division on the issue, many Democrats have indulged in the same sort of “demagoguery” on immigration that Obama seemed to imply was limited to Republicans. In fact, had the Democrats in Congress been united and passionate advocates of this cause, President Bush would have succeeded in his attempt to do more or less what Obama says he wants to accomplish. It is a testament to Obama’s knowledge of this political reality that he did not spend much of his speech bashing the controversial Arizona law enabling law-enforcement personnel to inquire about the immigration status of a person already in trouble with the law. Nor did he follow Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s lead when she recently told a South American journalist that Obama would order the Justice Department to sue Arizona to stop the measure’s enforcement. Indeed, the worst he said of the law was that it was “divisive.”

It is an unfortunate fact that many on the right have boxed themselves in on immigration to the point where any position on it other than a call for a draconian crackdown on illegals and mass deportation (which Obama rightly claims is unrealistic) is considered akin to amnesty. While the president attempted to pose somewhat disingenuously as the man between two extremes, by offering those here illegally a path to citizenship (preceded by paying a fine, waiting in line behind those who have applied via the legal apparatus, and learning English), he is unlikely to get much support from many conservatives or moderates from either party. That’s a shame, since Obama’s proposals, like those of Bush before him, constitute nothing more than recognition of reality in terms of both law enforcement and the undeniable demand that exists here for low-wage foreign workers. While neither this Congress nor its successor is likely to pass such a bill, that does not mean that it shouldn’t.

But unlike Bush, who unveiled his immigration plan at the start of his second term hoping (in vain, as it turned out) to cash in some of his political capital on an issue he cared about, Obama’s purpose here seems to be about politics, not principle, as he is hoping that Hispanics will blame Republicans for the inevitable failure of this proposal. While this may ratchet up the Hispanic vote for the Democrats, it’s hard to see how this will work in a midterm election in which many Democrats around the country are just as likely to resent illegal immigrants as Republicans.

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More Academic Mobbery at AUC

Every few months or so, I’ve been reporting about another incident at the American University in Cairo (AUC) concerning calls for boycotting Israeli academics and universities. Until now, this has been a mostly student-led campaign, with students threatening to hold strikes and sit-ins in response to rumors that Israeli professors would be attending conferences on campus. On November 1st, a group of students made national news after storming a faculty senate meeting at which the issue was being discussed, forcing its adjournment. Meanwhile, the administration has issued a series of gutless statements, refusing to tackle the bigotry inherent in the students’ actions head-on, while claiming that “security concerns” have prevented it from bringing Israeli scholars to campus.

Well, it’s no longer just the students engaging in this shameful charade of intolerance. Last week, the AUC faculty senate passed a resolution discouraging the “normalization” of relations with Israeli institutions of higher education. Although the resolution stops short of banning individual Israeli academics outright–senate chairman Fred Perry acknowledged that banning individuals would be “against human rights law”–it virtually ensures that the severe vitriol fling at Israel by Egypt’s finest institution of higher learning will go unchallenged for many years to come.

But beyond providing yet another expression of AUC’s inhospitality towards Israelis, the circumstances surrounding the faculty’s resolution reveal a disturbing trend: the involvement of American students in fanning the flames of anti-Israel hostilities while studying abroad. Kate Dannies, a student involved in AUC’s pro-Palestinian al-Quds Club is a case in point. Ms. Dannies, who was among thirty al-Quds Club members to attend the faculty’s final vote, called the anti-normalization decision a “feel-good resolution,” dismissing objections from certain sectors of the student body that such a resolution might jeopardize American funding. “If we lose funding from American institutions, maybe we can gain it from Arab ones,” she said.

I, for one, interested in putting Ms. Dannies’ ideology-over-funding priorities to the test. Back in 2004, Ms. Dannies won a $1,000 scholarship from the United States Institute of Peace for a national peace essay contest. Having risen to the forefront of a campaign to undermine Egyptian-Israeli peace by protesting Egyptian-Israeli people-to-people exchanges, it seems only fair that the USIP demand that its congressionally funded scholarship be returned.

Every few months or so, I’ve been reporting about another incident at the American University in Cairo (AUC) concerning calls for boycotting Israeli academics and universities. Until now, this has been a mostly student-led campaign, with students threatening to hold strikes and sit-ins in response to rumors that Israeli professors would be attending conferences on campus. On November 1st, a group of students made national news after storming a faculty senate meeting at which the issue was being discussed, forcing its adjournment. Meanwhile, the administration has issued a series of gutless statements, refusing to tackle the bigotry inherent in the students’ actions head-on, while claiming that “security concerns” have prevented it from bringing Israeli scholars to campus.

Well, it’s no longer just the students engaging in this shameful charade of intolerance. Last week, the AUC faculty senate passed a resolution discouraging the “normalization” of relations with Israeli institutions of higher education. Although the resolution stops short of banning individual Israeli academics outright–senate chairman Fred Perry acknowledged that banning individuals would be “against human rights law”–it virtually ensures that the severe vitriol fling at Israel by Egypt’s finest institution of higher learning will go unchallenged for many years to come.

But beyond providing yet another expression of AUC’s inhospitality towards Israelis, the circumstances surrounding the faculty’s resolution reveal a disturbing trend: the involvement of American students in fanning the flames of anti-Israel hostilities while studying abroad. Kate Dannies, a student involved in AUC’s pro-Palestinian al-Quds Club is a case in point. Ms. Dannies, who was among thirty al-Quds Club members to attend the faculty’s final vote, called the anti-normalization decision a “feel-good resolution,” dismissing objections from certain sectors of the student body that such a resolution might jeopardize American funding. “If we lose funding from American institutions, maybe we can gain it from Arab ones,” she said.

I, for one, interested in putting Ms. Dannies’ ideology-over-funding priorities to the test. Back in 2004, Ms. Dannies won a $1,000 scholarship from the United States Institute of Peace for a national peace essay contest. Having risen to the forefront of a campaign to undermine Egyptian-Israeli peace by protesting Egyptian-Israeli people-to-people exchanges, it seems only fair that the USIP demand that its congressionally funded scholarship be returned.

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Carter’s Dixie Chicks Moment

Yesterday, following meetings with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and another Hamas delegation, Jimmy Carter blasted American attitudes regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “My country, the political arena of my country, is almost 100 percent supportive of the Israeli position,” Carter said. “You never hear any debates on both sides much, and most of the information is predicated on that sort of original premise.”

The spectacle of a former U.S. president denouncing his fellow countrymen abroad was a Dixie Chicks moment for the ages. But his choice of venue for decrying the lack of debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was no less ironic: the American University in Cairo–where students are so unwilling to consider the “other side” that they threatened strikes and sit-ins when rumors surfaced that Israeli professors had been invited to campus. Most recently at AUC, a play that featured an Israeli character was protested by its own student-actors, who walked on the stage draped in kaffiyehs and donned “Palestine will remain Arab” t-shirts following the performance. (The actors objected to Israelis being portrayed “as humans only,” one cast member said.)

Sadly, if Carter’s address has any influence, AUC is unlikely to become more hospitable to meaningful dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict anytime soon. After all, the more Carter spoke, the more he justified AUC students’ hatred for the Jewish state. At one point, after speaking of his visit to Sderot, where the daily barrage of rockets from Gaza has traumatized the community, Carter said, “At the same time, if you live in Gaza, you know that for every Israeli killed in any kind of combat, between 30 to 40 Palestinians are killed because of the extreme military capability of Israel.” At another point, he creatively redefined “terrorism” to equate Palestinian rocket-firings with Israel’s military response, saying that any “killings of civilians is an act of terrorism.”

Even for Carter, this exercise in public counter-diplomacy is shocking. After all, Carter’s greatest legacy–for which he still deserves his Nobel Peace Prize–remains his efforts to forge peace between Egypt and Israel. The more vociferously he denounces Israel to young Egyptians still raised to hate it, the more he jeopardizes that one accomplishment.

Yesterday, following meetings with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and another Hamas delegation, Jimmy Carter blasted American attitudes regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “My country, the political arena of my country, is almost 100 percent supportive of the Israeli position,” Carter said. “You never hear any debates on both sides much, and most of the information is predicated on that sort of original premise.”

The spectacle of a former U.S. president denouncing his fellow countrymen abroad was a Dixie Chicks moment for the ages. But his choice of venue for decrying the lack of debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was no less ironic: the American University in Cairo–where students are so unwilling to consider the “other side” that they threatened strikes and sit-ins when rumors surfaced that Israeli professors had been invited to campus. Most recently at AUC, a play that featured an Israeli character was protested by its own student-actors, who walked on the stage draped in kaffiyehs and donned “Palestine will remain Arab” t-shirts following the performance. (The actors objected to Israelis being portrayed “as humans only,” one cast member said.)

Sadly, if Carter’s address has any influence, AUC is unlikely to become more hospitable to meaningful dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict anytime soon. After all, the more Carter spoke, the more he justified AUC students’ hatred for the Jewish state. At one point, after speaking of his visit to Sderot, where the daily barrage of rockets from Gaza has traumatized the community, Carter said, “At the same time, if you live in Gaza, you know that for every Israeli killed in any kind of combat, between 30 to 40 Palestinians are killed because of the extreme military capability of Israel.” At another point, he creatively redefined “terrorism” to equate Palestinian rocket-firings with Israel’s military response, saying that any “killings of civilians is an act of terrorism.”

Even for Carter, this exercise in public counter-diplomacy is shocking. After all, Carter’s greatest legacy–for which he still deserves his Nobel Peace Prize–remains his efforts to forge peace between Egypt and Israel. The more vociferously he denounces Israel to young Egyptians still raised to hate it, the more he jeopardizes that one accomplishment.

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Toobin on Gitmo

Jeffrey Toobin has a pretty good overview in the current issue of the New Yorker of the whole issue of Guatanamo and the handling of terrorist detainees–especially useful for those like me who have not followed the issue super-closely. Two points in particular jumped out at me.

1) “But, in 2004, the Supreme Court ruled, in Rasul v. Bush, that, because the Guantánamo base was under the exclusive control of the U.S. military, the detainees were effectively on American soil and had the right to bring habeas-corpus petitions in federal court.”

This is something that conservative critics of John McCain don’t seem to have grasped–that, rightly or wrongly, the Supreme Court has already conferred rights on detainees at Gitmo and they probably won’t gain any more rights simply by being transferred to the mainland, as McCain has proposed. (Full disclosure: I am a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

2) Neal Katyal and Jack Goldsmith–a liberal and a conservative law professor–have come up with an idea for trying detainees: “a national-security court:”

According to their proposal, which was recently the subject of a conference sponsored by American University’s Washington College of Law and the Brookings Institution, sitting federal judges would preside over proceedings in which prosecutors would make the case that a person should be detained. There would be trials of sorts, and detainees would have lawyers, but they would have fewer rights than in a criminal case. Hearsay evidence may be admissible-so government agents could testify about what informants told them-and there would be no requirement for Miranda warnings before interrogations.

This seems like an excellent idea and one that could address concerns that if detainees are moved from Gitmo they will be afforded all the same rights as normal criminal defendants.

Of course even beyond the issue of trials there is the equally vital issue of preventative detention: There is insufficient evidence against many of the Gitmo detainees to convict them in a court of law but sufficient evidence to hold them indefinitely because of the risk that if released they would go back to terrorism. Obviously this needs to be part of any longterm legal solution. But simply keeping them at Gitmo will not do anything to resolve this thorny issue–and all the while it will continue to cost us international support.

Jeffrey Toobin has a pretty good overview in the current issue of the New Yorker of the whole issue of Guatanamo and the handling of terrorist detainees–especially useful for those like me who have not followed the issue super-closely. Two points in particular jumped out at me.

1) “But, in 2004, the Supreme Court ruled, in Rasul v. Bush, that, because the Guantánamo base was under the exclusive control of the U.S. military, the detainees were effectively on American soil and had the right to bring habeas-corpus petitions in federal court.”

This is something that conservative critics of John McCain don’t seem to have grasped–that, rightly or wrongly, the Supreme Court has already conferred rights on detainees at Gitmo and they probably won’t gain any more rights simply by being transferred to the mainland, as McCain has proposed. (Full disclosure: I am a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

2) Neal Katyal and Jack Goldsmith–a liberal and a conservative law professor–have come up with an idea for trying detainees: “a national-security court:”

According to their proposal, which was recently the subject of a conference sponsored by American University’s Washington College of Law and the Brookings Institution, sitting federal judges would preside over proceedings in which prosecutors would make the case that a person should be detained. There would be trials of sorts, and detainees would have lawyers, but they would have fewer rights than in a criminal case. Hearsay evidence may be admissible-so government agents could testify about what informants told them-and there would be no requirement for Miranda warnings before interrogations.

This seems like an excellent idea and one that could address concerns that if detainees are moved from Gitmo they will be afforded all the same rights as normal criminal defendants.

Of course even beyond the issue of trials there is the equally vital issue of preventative detention: There is insufficient evidence against many of the Gitmo detainees to convict them in a court of law but sufficient evidence to hold them indefinitely because of the risk that if released they would go back to terrorism. Obviously this needs to be part of any longterm legal solution. But simply keeping them at Gitmo will not do anything to resolve this thorny issue–and all the while it will continue to cost us international support.

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“Stay Positive”

I first discovered William F. Buckley in my early teens. In an effort, I suppose, to become more serious and informed, I started regularly reading the Star Ledger—the closest thing to a real newspaper in New Jersey. On one occasion when I made my way through enough of the paper to reach the op-ed page in the back, I ran across a Buckley column, which I remember finding oddly intense and captivating. I was soon a regular reader—almost always with a dictionary in hand. It’s hard now to imagine what sense I could have made of Buckley then, but somehow he got me to think, and to laugh, and to read. And I was pleased to discover that this very strange and interesting voice found expression in more than brief columns but in books (so many books!) and on the pages of a magazine filled with other voices and views like his. He directed me to a world of ideas and good sense and good humor that I soon discovered was vast and deep. I was hooked, and have been an incurable conservative since.

I only met Buckley once, and only for a moment. I was in college, attending some sort of conservative conference at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. I was with three friends, and we walked up to Buckley and introduced ourselves as the only four conservatives at American University (which was only a slight exaggeration). Buckley laughed at our travails, so familiar they must have been to him, and he said just two words, through a chuckle: “stay positive.”

He always did, and that was always an important part of his power and appeal. Conservatives easily get dour and down, and the rest of humanity finds such grumpiness unattractive. Buckley offered a smiling, confident, and very appealing conservatism that was at the same time also deeply serious. His good cheer was not an act. It was the proper response to the truth that moves conservatives: that the world we have inherited is a good place, worth defending and cherishing. As Buckley always seemed to understand, that’s a good reason to smile.

Others who knew Buckley will have much deeper and more meaningful things to say about him. But like most of those deeply in his debt, I didn’t know the man personally, and can think of nothing more profound and true to say in this sad moment than two plain and simple words I would have loved to say to him in person: thank you.

I first discovered William F. Buckley in my early teens. In an effort, I suppose, to become more serious and informed, I started regularly reading the Star Ledger—the closest thing to a real newspaper in New Jersey. On one occasion when I made my way through enough of the paper to reach the op-ed page in the back, I ran across a Buckley column, which I remember finding oddly intense and captivating. I was soon a regular reader—almost always with a dictionary in hand. It’s hard now to imagine what sense I could have made of Buckley then, but somehow he got me to think, and to laugh, and to read. And I was pleased to discover that this very strange and interesting voice found expression in more than brief columns but in books (so many books!) and on the pages of a magazine filled with other voices and views like his. He directed me to a world of ideas and good sense and good humor that I soon discovered was vast and deep. I was hooked, and have been an incurable conservative since.

I only met Buckley once, and only for a moment. I was in college, attending some sort of conservative conference at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. I was with three friends, and we walked up to Buckley and introduced ourselves as the only four conservatives at American University (which was only a slight exaggeration). Buckley laughed at our travails, so familiar they must have been to him, and he said just two words, through a chuckle: “stay positive.”

He always did, and that was always an important part of his power and appeal. Conservatives easily get dour and down, and the rest of humanity finds such grumpiness unattractive. Buckley offered a smiling, confident, and very appealing conservatism that was at the same time also deeply serious. His good cheer was not an act. It was the proper response to the truth that moves conservatives: that the world we have inherited is a good place, worth defending and cherishing. As Buckley always seemed to understand, that’s a good reason to smile.

Others who knew Buckley will have much deeper and more meaningful things to say about him. But like most of those deeply in his debt, I didn’t know the man personally, and can think of nothing more profound and true to say in this sad moment than two plain and simple words I would have loved to say to him in person: thank you.

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Love Lost for the Palestinians

It took me a while, but I’ve finally come around on David Hazony’s argument that Gaza has become Egypt’s problem. Beyond the strategic implications of this development, Egypt’s newfound responsibility for containing Gaza—and all the security risks it entails—has serious implications for the way Egyptians will view the Palestinian issue.

Consider the sudden shift in public debate at the American University in Cairo. Although AUC has long been a hotbed of anti-Israel activism, students are exhibiting a staggering decline in their enthusiasm for the Palestinian cause, with a rift developing between a small cadre of pro-Palestinian activists—most of whom are Palestinian—and the rest of the student body. Last week, the pro-Palestinian Al-Quds Club organized the “End the Siege on Gaza” sit-in—an effort that was heavily promoted on campus and via Facebook. During the demonstration, protesters held posters accusing Israel of terrorism and ominously vowing, “Palestine, we die so we can live!” Meanwhile, student speakers compared Gaza to a cage—all in all, typical rhetoric that the AUC student body had long embraced as doctrine.

Yet the student body—which is roughly 80% Egyptian—was hardly impressed. According to The Caravan, turnout was far less than expected, with students noticeably uninterested in the sit-in. But the true insult to pro-Palestinian activism came in The Caravan’s weekly “Q & A,” which asked students what the Egyptian government should do about the Gaza border. Without exception, students’ responses sounded shockingly Lou Dobbsian:

“The government has an obligation to protect its border and its people.”

“This is not one nation’s problem, Egypt should join forces with other countries to find satisfactory solutions.”

“They should close it. Only medical conditions should be admitted.”

In short, AUC students are indicating that, with Hamas now firing at Egyptian workers, the Palestinian cause is just a bit less compelling.

It took me a while, but I’ve finally come around on David Hazony’s argument that Gaza has become Egypt’s problem. Beyond the strategic implications of this development, Egypt’s newfound responsibility for containing Gaza—and all the security risks it entails—has serious implications for the way Egyptians will view the Palestinian issue.

Consider the sudden shift in public debate at the American University in Cairo. Although AUC has long been a hotbed of anti-Israel activism, students are exhibiting a staggering decline in their enthusiasm for the Palestinian cause, with a rift developing between a small cadre of pro-Palestinian activists—most of whom are Palestinian—and the rest of the student body. Last week, the pro-Palestinian Al-Quds Club organized the “End the Siege on Gaza” sit-in—an effort that was heavily promoted on campus and via Facebook. During the demonstration, protesters held posters accusing Israel of terrorism and ominously vowing, “Palestine, we die so we can live!” Meanwhile, student speakers compared Gaza to a cage—all in all, typical rhetoric that the AUC student body had long embraced as doctrine.

Yet the student body—which is roughly 80% Egyptian—was hardly impressed. According to The Caravan, turnout was far less than expected, with students noticeably uninterested in the sit-in. But the true insult to pro-Palestinian activism came in The Caravan’s weekly “Q & A,” which asked students what the Egyptian government should do about the Gaza border. Without exception, students’ responses sounded shockingly Lou Dobbsian:

“The government has an obligation to protect its border and its people.”

“This is not one nation’s problem, Egypt should join forces with other countries to find satisfactory solutions.”

“They should close it. Only medical conditions should be admitted.”

In short, AUC students are indicating that, with Hamas now firing at Egyptian workers, the Palestinian cause is just a bit less compelling.

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Obama’s Real Israel Problem

Last week, the blogosphere hotly debated Barack Obama’s stance on Israel. Here at contentions, Noah Pollak argued that Obama’s advisory staff suggests an unfavorable disposition towards Jerusalem, while I noted that Obama’s strongly pro-Israel statements on the campaign trail contrasted with his previous call for an “even-handed approach” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Over at The American Prospect, however, Matthew Duss intimated that these concerns were petty—“Good heavens, ‘an even-handed approach’? What’s next, wearing a keffiyeh?” The Atlantic’s Matthew Yglesias agreed.

Unfortunately, Duss and Yglesias declined to address criticisms of Obama’s apparent Israeli-Palestinian flip-flopping—which was first exposed by a prominent pro-Palestinian activist—substantively. But, with the Patriots-Giants Super Bowl affording downtrodden Jets fans ample time to mull, I’ve decided that Duss and Yglesias are right: our focus on the various forces shaping Obama’s outlook and statements on Israel is petty, though not for their condescending reasons.

Consider the following: over the next four-to-eight years, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is likely to be the least dynamic feature of Middle Eastern politics and, by extension, U.S. policy in the Middle East. Firmly in control of Gaza, Hamas is bound to remain an actively destabilizing force in Palestinian politics for years to come. Fatah—the U.S.’s great hope for Palestinian moderation post-Arafat—remains weak and unpopular, and its decline will accelerate once Abbas leaves office in 2009. Meanwhile, Israel’s leadership still sees no contradiction between pursuing peace and expanding settlements, further lacking the vision to transform short-term military successes against terrorism into long-term political solutions.

Indeed, the Israeli-Palestinian sphere will remain unambiguously hopeless for years to come. It is thus hard to imagine Obama adopting Samantha Power’s advice that pumping billions of dollars into a nascent Palestinian state is a panacea. Indeed, focusing on Obama’s Israel outlook merely distracts from his potential approach to far more dynamic—and therefore critical—areas of Middle Eastern politics.

For example, consider U.S. public diplomacy—the area in which Obama has the greatest potential to truly affect change. As LinkTV reports, “many Arabs believe that Obama’s ethnicity and background give him a kinder understanding of Third World countries.” I can vouch for these sentiments: when Obama announced his candidacy early last year, his childhood years in Indonesia and Islamic middle name enthused my classmates at the American University in Cairo, who were otherwise strictly critical of American politics and policy. These students represent the foremost demographic that U.S. public diplomacy must attract if it is to succeed: they are well educated, fluent in English, exposed to American culture, and relatively liberal in their social outlooks.

Yet Obama’s policy proposals would immediately undermine his biographical advantages with this key Arab constituency. After all, Obama has repeatedly called for dialogue with Iran and a conference with the leaders of Islamic states—initiatives that would sacrifice these young moderates to the region’s most illiberal forces. In Iran, Obama’s overture would inflict double damage: it would represent official U.S. acceptance of the hostage-taking Revolutionary regime, while debunking public sentiment that views Iran’s isolation as too steep a price for Ahmadinejad’s vitriolic rhetoric. Ultimately, the U.S. would be more in bed with Middle Eastern authoritarians than ever before, acquiescing to Iranian ascendancy in the process.

In short, if Barack Obama truly views himself as an “agent of change,” then scrutinizing his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—the least dynamic of all Middle Eastern policy areas—is wasteful. Rather, it is his approach on Iran, Arab democracy, and U.S. public diplomacy—fluctuating issues that will demand Obama’s immediate attention should he assume office—that require the deepest evaluation.

Last week, the blogosphere hotly debated Barack Obama’s stance on Israel. Here at contentions, Noah Pollak argued that Obama’s advisory staff suggests an unfavorable disposition towards Jerusalem, while I noted that Obama’s strongly pro-Israel statements on the campaign trail contrasted with his previous call for an “even-handed approach” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Over at The American Prospect, however, Matthew Duss intimated that these concerns were petty—“Good heavens, ‘an even-handed approach’? What’s next, wearing a keffiyeh?” The Atlantic’s Matthew Yglesias agreed.

Unfortunately, Duss and Yglesias declined to address criticisms of Obama’s apparent Israeli-Palestinian flip-flopping—which was first exposed by a prominent pro-Palestinian activist—substantively. But, with the Patriots-Giants Super Bowl affording downtrodden Jets fans ample time to mull, I’ve decided that Duss and Yglesias are right: our focus on the various forces shaping Obama’s outlook and statements on Israel is petty, though not for their condescending reasons.

Consider the following: over the next four-to-eight years, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is likely to be the least dynamic feature of Middle Eastern politics and, by extension, U.S. policy in the Middle East. Firmly in control of Gaza, Hamas is bound to remain an actively destabilizing force in Palestinian politics for years to come. Fatah—the U.S.’s great hope for Palestinian moderation post-Arafat—remains weak and unpopular, and its decline will accelerate once Abbas leaves office in 2009. Meanwhile, Israel’s leadership still sees no contradiction between pursuing peace and expanding settlements, further lacking the vision to transform short-term military successes against terrorism into long-term political solutions.

Indeed, the Israeli-Palestinian sphere will remain unambiguously hopeless for years to come. It is thus hard to imagine Obama adopting Samantha Power’s advice that pumping billions of dollars into a nascent Palestinian state is a panacea. Indeed, focusing on Obama’s Israel outlook merely distracts from his potential approach to far more dynamic—and therefore critical—areas of Middle Eastern politics.

For example, consider U.S. public diplomacy—the area in which Obama has the greatest potential to truly affect change. As LinkTV reports, “many Arabs believe that Obama’s ethnicity and background give him a kinder understanding of Third World countries.” I can vouch for these sentiments: when Obama announced his candidacy early last year, his childhood years in Indonesia and Islamic middle name enthused my classmates at the American University in Cairo, who were otherwise strictly critical of American politics and policy. These students represent the foremost demographic that U.S. public diplomacy must attract if it is to succeed: they are well educated, fluent in English, exposed to American culture, and relatively liberal in their social outlooks.

Yet Obama’s policy proposals would immediately undermine his biographical advantages with this key Arab constituency. After all, Obama has repeatedly called for dialogue with Iran and a conference with the leaders of Islamic states—initiatives that would sacrifice these young moderates to the region’s most illiberal forces. In Iran, Obama’s overture would inflict double damage: it would represent official U.S. acceptance of the hostage-taking Revolutionary regime, while debunking public sentiment that views Iran’s isolation as too steep a price for Ahmadinejad’s vitriolic rhetoric. Ultimately, the U.S. would be more in bed with Middle Eastern authoritarians than ever before, acquiescing to Iranian ascendancy in the process.

In short, if Barack Obama truly views himself as an “agent of change,” then scrutinizing his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—the least dynamic of all Middle Eastern policy areas—is wasteful. Rather, it is his approach on Iran, Arab democracy, and U.S. public diplomacy—fluctuating issues that will demand Obama’s immediate attention should he assume office—that require the deepest evaluation.

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An African Toothache

Answer honestly: what would bother you more, waking up with a toothache or waking up to read a headline in the newspaper about an ongoing malaria epidemic in Malawi causing thousands of deaths a year? 

This question came to mind at a fascinating event here in New York as part of a series called Intelligence Squared, a public forum aimed at improving the level of discourse about important public issues. On Tuesday night, in front of a full house and recorded for subsequent broadcast on NPR, six leading specialists debated the proposition: aid to Africa is doing more harm than good.

I will admit to never having had much of an interest in African affairs, and I will also confess to being one of those people who would find the toothache more bothersome than news of a malaria epidemic. So, for me, one of the achievements of this debate was that it got me thinking about a range of issues that I have given little thought to in the past, and perhaps made my hypothetical toothache feel a bit less sore.

I was helped along by the speakers. George Ayittey, an economist from Ghana who teaches at American University, offered a devastating and passionately delivered evisceration of the existing system of aid, which he argued is keeping large swaths of Africa trapped in poverty under autocratic and kleptocratic regimes. He was helped along by William Easterly of NYU, who following in the footsteps of the great P.T. Bauer, has written the most recent bible of his side: The White Man’s Burden: How the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. The writer David Rieff was also on the same three-man team, but his deeply abstract points, delivered in an academic modality (“modality,” as was apparent, is his all-time favorite word) and qualified by a sententious and irrelevant declaration that he remained a man of the Left, made him more of a drain to his side than an asset.

The defenders of aid to Africa, C. Payne Lucas, president of Africare (an aid organization), John McArthur of Columbia University’s Earth Institute (whatever that is), and Gayle Smith, director of African affairs on the National Security Council under Bill Clinton, also put on a very persuasive case that the aid picture is not entirely bleak. But it was marred by gratuitous Bush-bashing, in which they juxtaposed the billions spent fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with the paucity of funds spent eradicating poverty in Africa. Revealing their left-wing tilt did not help to persuade me that their arguments focusing on the merits of aid itself were rock solid.

In the end, I came away with the view that the proposition itself, while it led to an illuminating discussion, does not make all that much sense. Like all subjects, aid to Africa is a many-sided subject and the issue cannot be decided by an easy yes or no. But I also came away with the conviction that public debate of this sort is a very valuable thing. Robert Rosenkranz, the philanthropist who has brought this Oxford-style forum from England to American shores, deserves congratulations for a genuine and original accomplishment.

Answer honestly: what would bother you more, waking up with a toothache or waking up to read a headline in the newspaper about an ongoing malaria epidemic in Malawi causing thousands of deaths a year? 

This question came to mind at a fascinating event here in New York as part of a series called Intelligence Squared, a public forum aimed at improving the level of discourse about important public issues. On Tuesday night, in front of a full house and recorded for subsequent broadcast on NPR, six leading specialists debated the proposition: aid to Africa is doing more harm than good.

I will admit to never having had much of an interest in African affairs, and I will also confess to being one of those people who would find the toothache more bothersome than news of a malaria epidemic. So, for me, one of the achievements of this debate was that it got me thinking about a range of issues that I have given little thought to in the past, and perhaps made my hypothetical toothache feel a bit less sore.

I was helped along by the speakers. George Ayittey, an economist from Ghana who teaches at American University, offered a devastating and passionately delivered evisceration of the existing system of aid, which he argued is keeping large swaths of Africa trapped in poverty under autocratic and kleptocratic regimes. He was helped along by William Easterly of NYU, who following in the footsteps of the great P.T. Bauer, has written the most recent bible of his side: The White Man’s Burden: How the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. The writer David Rieff was also on the same three-man team, but his deeply abstract points, delivered in an academic modality (“modality,” as was apparent, is his all-time favorite word) and qualified by a sententious and irrelevant declaration that he remained a man of the Left, made him more of a drain to his side than an asset.

The defenders of aid to Africa, C. Payne Lucas, president of Africare (an aid organization), John McArthur of Columbia University’s Earth Institute (whatever that is), and Gayle Smith, director of African affairs on the National Security Council under Bill Clinton, also put on a very persuasive case that the aid picture is not entirely bleak. But it was marred by gratuitous Bush-bashing, in which they juxtaposed the billions spent fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with the paucity of funds spent eradicating poverty in Africa. Revealing their left-wing tilt did not help to persuade me that their arguments focusing on the merits of aid itself were rock solid.

In the end, I came away with the view that the proposition itself, while it led to an illuminating discussion, does not make all that much sense. Like all subjects, aid to Africa is a many-sided subject and the issue cannot be decided by an easy yes or no. But I also came away with the conviction that public debate of this sort is a very valuable thing. Robert Rosenkranz, the philanthropist who has brought this Oxford-style forum from England to American shores, deserves congratulations for a genuine and original accomplishment.

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“Security Concerns”?

Last week, the American University in Cairo’s faculty senate reconvened to discuss the possibility of academic exchanges with Israeli universities. AUC President David Arnold, who has refused to take a stand for academic freedom and defend these proposed exchanges, has now offered an official excuse to forestall any resolution that would open the campus to Israeli academics: security concerns. “My opinion is that it will be ill-advised and unwise for the senate to adopt a formal resolution dealing with cooperation with Israeli universities and research institutions,” Arnold said. Provost Tim Sullivan was more blunt, saying that AUC has to uphold “the high principle of security.”

But security from whom? The AUC campus, where I studied last year, is remarkably safe—its gates are protected 24 hours a day by security patrols, with bags and ID’s checked at every entrance. Moreover, little of what happens on campus permeates beyond these gates, as the Western dress of many female AUC students is rarely otherwise seen on the surrounding streets. Finally, AUC currently is situated in one of the most heavily policed—and thus safest—parts of Cairo, and will be moving to the outskirts of the city by fall 2008—where it will be even more insulated from those who might wish to do Israeli visitors harm.

Indeed, one is forced to wonder whether the “security concerns” to which AUC’s leadership alludes exist within AUC itself. As I reported two weeks ago, AUC students—outraged by the prospect of exchanges with Israelis—have threatened to hold strikes and sit-ins should Israelis be permitted on campus. On most campuses, the cancellation of proposed academic activities due to real security concerns might raise the alarm of students. Not so at AUC, however, where one active alumnus called Arnold’s decision a “win-win situation.” Meanwhile, another student deplored that AUC did not take a more explicitly political stance against exchanges with Israelis, saying that, “They have no right to say that AUC is only an academic institution.”

The facts of this case indicate that President Arnold is less motivated by “security concerns” than by a fear of challenging large segments of his student body. His American patrons need to call him on this shortcoming. If AUC is to serve its declared mission of fostering “freedom of expression” and “the exchange of ideas on campus,” its President must be the first to stand for these principles, leaving matters of security to his guards.

Last week, the American University in Cairo’s faculty senate reconvened to discuss the possibility of academic exchanges with Israeli universities. AUC President David Arnold, who has refused to take a stand for academic freedom and defend these proposed exchanges, has now offered an official excuse to forestall any resolution that would open the campus to Israeli academics: security concerns. “My opinion is that it will be ill-advised and unwise for the senate to adopt a formal resolution dealing with cooperation with Israeli universities and research institutions,” Arnold said. Provost Tim Sullivan was more blunt, saying that AUC has to uphold “the high principle of security.”

But security from whom? The AUC campus, where I studied last year, is remarkably safe—its gates are protected 24 hours a day by security patrols, with bags and ID’s checked at every entrance. Moreover, little of what happens on campus permeates beyond these gates, as the Western dress of many female AUC students is rarely otherwise seen on the surrounding streets. Finally, AUC currently is situated in one of the most heavily policed—and thus safest—parts of Cairo, and will be moving to the outskirts of the city by fall 2008—where it will be even more insulated from those who might wish to do Israeli visitors harm.

Indeed, one is forced to wonder whether the “security concerns” to which AUC’s leadership alludes exist within AUC itself. As I reported two weeks ago, AUC students—outraged by the prospect of exchanges with Israelis—have threatened to hold strikes and sit-ins should Israelis be permitted on campus. On most campuses, the cancellation of proposed academic activities due to real security concerns might raise the alarm of students. Not so at AUC, however, where one active alumnus called Arnold’s decision a “win-win situation.” Meanwhile, another student deplored that AUC did not take a more explicitly political stance against exchanges with Israelis, saying that, “They have no right to say that AUC is only an academic institution.”

The facts of this case indicate that President Arnold is less motivated by “security concerns” than by a fear of challenging large segments of his student body. His American patrons need to call him on this shortcoming. If AUC is to serve its declared mission of fostering “freedom of expression” and “the exchange of ideas on campus,” its President must be the first to stand for these principles, leaving matters of security to his guards.

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Pseudo-reform in Egypt

Earlier this week, Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party held its annual conference, which closed with President Hosni Mubarak’s declaring that Egypt is “on the road to reform and development.” Naturally, not everyone agreed with his assessment. Given political conditions in Egypt, however, only a small group of protesters braved the ever-looming threat of violent crackdowns to protest the conference, where they were typically outnumbered four-to-one by armored riot police.

Restraints on freedoms of speech and association have been well-documented in Egypt, deplored by everyone from Condoleezza Rice to the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet there is one area in which speech in Egypt is remarkably free: vilification of Israel. In limiting the scope of free speech to this small area, Egypt has built a potent strategy for deterring Western efforts to promote greater liberty.

Consider the recent history of the Kifaya movement, which spearheaded the mass protests in 2005 that paved the way towards theoretically competitive—though ultimately rigged—elections that September. But after the elections, as a consequence of disappointing results and the absence of a unifying platform, Kifaya quickly fizzled.

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Earlier this week, Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party held its annual conference, which closed with President Hosni Mubarak’s declaring that Egypt is “on the road to reform and development.” Naturally, not everyone agreed with his assessment. Given political conditions in Egypt, however, only a small group of protesters braved the ever-looming threat of violent crackdowns to protest the conference, where they were typically outnumbered four-to-one by armored riot police.

Restraints on freedoms of speech and association have been well-documented in Egypt, deplored by everyone from Condoleezza Rice to the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet there is one area in which speech in Egypt is remarkably free: vilification of Israel. In limiting the scope of free speech to this small area, Egypt has built a potent strategy for deterring Western efforts to promote greater liberty.

Consider the recent history of the Kifaya movement, which spearheaded the mass protests in 2005 that paved the way towards theoretically competitive—though ultimately rigged—elections that September. But after the elections, as a consequence of disappointing results and the absence of a unifying platform, Kifaya quickly fizzled.

That is, until last autumn, when Kifaya returned to international headlines emboldened by its new campaign: to collect one million signatures in support of annulling Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. To many commentators, Kifaya’s actions—coupled with the Muslim Brotherhood’s electoral successes—indicated that the United States faced a tradeoff between promoting democracy and maintaining stability in the region, and that U.S. interests might be served best by sticking with a reliable authoritarian regime. Indeed, this is exactly what the Bush administration ultimately did, virtually eliminating democracy-talk from its Egypt agenda earlier this year.

This rapid shift away from the democracy agenda, however, sent a troubling signal to the Egyptian regime: that it would take remarkably little to distract Washington from promoting liberalization. Mubarak had thus stumbled across a new strategy: conditioning Egyptian dissidents to organize for anti-Western causes rather than their own civil liberties. This strategy undermines domestic opposition while deterring American democratizing pressures.

The vocal student outcry against academic exchanges with Israel at American University in Cairo, which I reported on Wednesday, is a prime example of this strategy’s successful implementation. I happen to know one of the protest’s foremost organizers—for his security, I’ll call him Muhammad—who had previously been active in liberal anti-government protests. But, after a harrowing experience in March 2007, he swore off these protests. While distributing pamphlets opposing constitutional amendments that would restrict parties’ electoral participation, Muhammad was arrested, thrown in the back of an armored police vehicle, and driven out to the desert, where he was held with seven colleagues for twenty-four hours. During that period, he was given little water and fed one small container of macaroni; when he had to use the bathroom, he urinated in the empty container. He was later released in the desert and, after finding his way back to Cairo, learned that he had lost his teaching job.

Yet in the uproar against academic exchanges with Israelis, Muhammad has found a new outlet for organizing. In an e-mail sent to me earlier this week, he argued against these exchanges until Israel recognizes Palestinian rights. As I responded, it is saddening to compare the ease with which he protests for Palestinian rights to the difficulties he faces in advocating for his own.

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