I have a spot in my heart for Brooklyn College, which for many years was the gem of the City University of New York college system. I taught summer sessions there for one or two years. The chairman of the History Department at that time was the great hero of the 1956 Hungarian revolt, the late Bela Kiraly. Only in New York City could one find an institution that gave a home to the rebellious general of Hungary’s Red Army, who fresh out of prison as a political dissident led the Hungarian people in an attempt to fight off the Soviet invasion. He was professional, warm, and supportive — even though he knew from my conversations at the time that I was a man of the Left.
That was back in its halcyon days. Then, a decade ago, a controversy arose when the college tried to fire one of its best historians, KC Johnson. I entered into KC’s defense with a series of articles in the great short-lasting paper published by Seth Lipsky, The New York Sun. The protests were so fierce that over the objections of his own left-wing department, the chancellor of CUNY was forced to override their attempt to dismiss him, and appointed him with tenure.
Now, Brooklyn College is showing its worst face once again. As The New York Jewish Week reports, incoming transfer students have been assigned a book to read that is meant to give them a common framework for discussion. As the newspaper informed its readers, “‘How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America,’ by Moustafa Bayoumi , has been assigned to about 1500 incoming transfer students ‘in an effort to provide a common experience for this population of students,’ according to a letter from the school administration to Brooklyn College faculty members.”
The book was described by the trade publication Publisher’s Weekly as a “quintessentially American picture of 21st century citizens ‘absorbing and refracting all the ethnicities and histories surrounding [them].’ However, the testimonies from these young adults — summary seizures from their homes, harassment from strangers, being fired for having an Arab or Muslim name—have a weight and a sorrow that is ‘often invisible to the general public.”
It is clear that the book is a highly exaggerated view of how American citizens treat Muslims and Arabs. (The book carries a blurb by none other than Rashid Khalidi.) It is not being paired with any readings that challenge its biased thesis. But what is also upsetting many of Brooklyn’s residents, as well as CUNY faculty and students, is that its author, who is also an associate professor at the college, recently edited another book titled Midnight on the Mavi Marmara: the Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and How it Changed the Course of the Israeli-Palestine Conflict.