And by the Middle East, I mean Israel and Palestine. How long is this foul conflict going to last? Does anyone else ever ask this question? Since the creation of Israel in 1948, the region has been plagued by wars, sieges, intifadas, occupations and [insert politically-charged term here]—not to mention the history of “tension” in pre-modern-day Israel. These tensions have inundated academia—supposedly a bastion of critical thinking and reflection—in dumbfounding ways.
Some of my Jewish and/or pro-Israel friends are strikingly resolute in their beliefs that Palestine is a source of unfettered evil. They refuse, for instance, to recognize that a security fence could be intellectually construed as a relic of Apartheid. Likewise, some of my pro-Palestinian comrades don’t bat an at eye suicide bombings—after all they’re just freedom fighters, right?
The Palestinian Solidarity Movement conference has again pitted “free thinker” against “free thinker” as we are all forced to take sides and risk shattering friendships and offending peers. The Freeman Center for Jewish Life has joined the fun by sponsoring a slate of pro-Israel politicos, including the likes of Gary Bauer. It is too bad the Freeman Center has fallen prey to the simple “you’re either with us or against us” bifurcation that so often entrenches these types of discussions.
Certainly, there are some members of this campus who are willing to stand somewhere in the middle and emphasize the complexity inherent in many of these issues. Unfortunately, I predict that these faculty and students will largely avoid the roundtable during the conference discussions to maintain some level of sanity.
Maybe the bystanders can already hear the cries of racist Zionism, Jihads inspired by no one other than Lucifer himself and a slew of shout-outs to Arafat or Sharon. Based on the typical rhetoric I witness on these pages and elsewhere at Duke (and the world), I’m skeptical that the PSM conference and parallel conversations will lead to anything but polarizing, pedestrian discussion.
The “us or them” attitude that already permeates campus discourse—even before these shenanigans commence in October—completely misses the point of debate. The pro-Palestine camp will decry the horrors of Israel and highlight the plight of the Palestinian people, all huddled up incestuously at the PSM conference.
Down the road, students and faculty of the opposite, and apparently mutually exclusive, persuasions will celebrate the joys of a Jewish state and condemn the supposed fanaticism of the Palestinians. How many from the pro-Israel camp will dare venture to the PSM conference? Will a Dukie donned in a kaffiyeh set foot in a sea of yarmulkas? Somehow, I doubt it.
So, what exactly is the point of the PSM conference and the concurrent pro-Israel discussions? To convince us that Israel is a benevolent state? To demonstrate that Palestinians are just as oppressed as Jews were in Nazi Germany? To create a platform to rally around immutable ideologies? Or to educate this campus about the conflict and its various nuances and intricacies?
If Duke is incapable of shaping thoughtful, critical and reflective thinkers who can read the necessary complexity into these sorts of issue, then I don’t know how we can expect political actors to do any better. Why don’t we just bomb Israel and Palestine and shift our focus to other issues, like Sudan or HIV/AIDS? On second thought, I’m sure we’ll screw up those debates, too.
Before we resort to bombing brigades to end this conflict, I desperately challenge the organizers of the PSM conference, the Freeman Center and all of the other relevant groups to work together—for once—to create an edifying experience for all parties, in the spirit of what this university expects of its students. As long as this issue remains outside of the parameters of balanced debate and critical thought, few of us will leave this campus with a perspective other than the one we were molded into before freshman year.
In short, it’s time to put all of the crap aside and actually talk with one another about otherwise “sensitive” issues. I’m skeptical that will happen in October, but I hope to God and/or Allah that this campus proves me wrong.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Christopher Scoville is a Trinity senior.