On November 29th I attended the program “Middle East in 2007: Same Old Story or a New Beginning?” at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). It was co-sponsored by the Middle East Studies Student Initiative, The Department of History, and the Samuel Jordan Center for Persian Studies. Panelists included:
1.)Mark LeVine, Associate Professor, Modern Middle Eastern History, UCI
2.)Lina Haddad Kreidie, Lecturer, Department of Political Science, UCI
3.)Nasrin Rahimieh, Director of the Samuel Jordan Center for Persian Studies, UCI
Opening remarks were made by LeVine, who told the overflow crowd to “spread the knowledge and inform others.” Some of the views presented by the panelists during the panel discussion and the question-and-answer session which followed are shown below.
1) Kreidie suggested that Israel, not Syria, not Hezbollah, was responsible for the assassination of Pierre Gemayel. When asked if she had any evidence during the Q&A session which followed the Panel discussion, both she and LeVine said that their extensive experience in the Middle East gives them reason enough to conclude that Israel was probably responsible for the assassination.
2) Kreidie also suggested that Israel might have started a war with Lebanon because Lebanon poses a threat as another regional power in the Middle East and that the outcome of the war was the destruction of Lebanon, not Hezbollah.
3) Kreidie stated that Syria wants stability and the return of the Golan Heights.
4) Rahimieh said that President Bush caused a provocation by saying that Iran was not a democratic country. During the Q&A session which followed, LeVine stated that Iran was not a theocracy.
5) LeVine discussed whether the Israelis and Palestinians were wounded enough to consider becoming partners for peace. He said that Israel lost all credibility as a partner for peace when it continually violated the Oslo Peace Accords by creating more settlements, intensifying the occupation, and creating poverty. During the Q&A session I asked if Israel had demonstrated that it was a willing partner for peace in 2000 at Camp David by offering 100% of Gaza, 97% of the West Bank, East Jerusalem as a capital, contiguous land and a $30 billion redevelopment package. LeVine said that is what is commonly believed but not accurate. I then showed him a StandWithUs report which confirmed my understanding. He told me he had other information that gives a different story.
6) During the Q&A session one of the students asked why a more balanced panel wasn’t used for this important program. LeVine replied that the panel wasn’t biased and that the truth, based on the facts, was presented. He further characterized the program as not political and that empirical data was presented. In a subsequent email, LeVine wrote “you are certainly right that there are always two sides of a story and it’s impossible to decide definitively who’s right without evidence.” He also repeated a suggestion that we schedule a debate on these issues and let everyone decide for themselves. I told LeVine that we have different points of view and different sources of information. I hope we can find some common ground and teach others to do the same rather than proving the other side to be biased using our “unlimited sources of empirical data.”
On November 1st UCI hosted “Religious Diversity: An Interfaith Dialogue.” Dean of Students Sally Peterson, who served as moderator, and Vice Chancellor Manuel Gomez attended the program. The program was co-sponsored by Hillel and the Muslim Student Union. At the last minute however, the MSU withdrew their sponsorship.
The panelists were:
1. Rabbi Richard Steinberg, Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’alot, Irvine;
2. Reverend Gary Barmore, Fairview Community Church, Costa Mesa;
3. Sheik Sadullah Kahn, Executive Director of Religious Affairs, Islamic Center in Irvine, son in law of Imam Muzammil Siddiqi (Director of the Islamic Center of Orange County). Sheik Kahn arrived in Irvine from South Africa in 1998.
Sheik Sadullah Kahn at UCI's panel discussion
Picture courtesy of Janet Lawrence
After some friendly discussion about religion by the participants, the audience was invited to ask questions. The first question came from a student who asked: Does Israel have a right to exist?
Rabbi Steinberg said he was a Zionist and then proceeded to explain the importance of Israel to the Jewish people.
Sheik Kahn said that all people have the right to Palestine, that he opposes Zionism, that Israel is a racist state and that the Palestinians are fighting for their freedom. He also said that Jews are not “the Chosen People;” we are all children of God. When he finished, a loud “Allah Akbar” was shouted three times from the back of the room by Muslim students.
Rabbi Steinberg responded by saying that words are very powerful. Looking at both Sally Peterson and Manual Gomez, he said that we must be sensitive about the way we speak. He said that a third of the Jews, 6 million people, were wiped out during WWII. He said that the University must do a better job of dealing with words. There was no response from the UCI administrators.
This was a “very educational” evening. One I will long remember.
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