Tuesday, June 25, 2013

you're invited to...

A classroom full of surprises    After reading the headline below, I fumed.

Orlando Sentinel

Islamic group says UCF professor promotes anti-Muslim hate
By Denise-Marie Ordway, Orlando Sentinel
7:07 pm, June 20, 2013
The Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is accusing a UCF professor of teaching anti-Muslim bigotry. Officials with the group sent a complaint to the University of Central Florida asking it to review the content of professor Jonathan Matusitz's courses.
My concern? Why does CAIR have the right to ask for a review of Dr. Matusitz’s class? What if CAIR wanted to monitor mine? Since I encourage political incorrectness derived from well-researched opinion, I staunchly defend my students’ right to address almost any side of any issue. Mine too.
If the UCF professor does the same, does he have to look over his shoulder while delivering each lecture? I hope not.
“In this room, we are free and safe to discuss anything,” I told my class yesterday. I explained to them that intimidation is unacceptable. “One of you has told me that a friend of yours is angered by my recommendation of a book by Robert Spencer, The Truth About Mohammad. If they want to discuss that text reasonably, they can. This is the place for that. Is that clear? Do you have any questions?”
Only one did. “I’ll write my question,” he said, concerned that it was inappropriate. As he handed it to me, I told the class about a song from Bob Dylan’s album, Infidels, “Neighborhood Bully” and started playing the song. After the first stanza, I stopped the recording.
“It’s about Israel,” I said, “and it refers to Holocaust survivors like Solly Ganor.” Its first three stanzas are telling:
Well, the neighborhood bully, he's just one man,
His enemies say he's on their land.
They got him outnumbered about a million to one,
He got no place to escape to, no place to run.
He's the neighborhood bully.

The neighborhood bully he just lives to survive,
He's criticized and condemned for being alive.
Not supposed to fight back, and have thick skin,
Supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in.
He's the neighborhood bully.

Neighborhood bully been driven out of every land,
He's wandered the earth an exiled man.
Seen his family scattered, his people hounded and torn,
He's always on trial for just being born.
He's the neighborhood bully.
“Why would Dylan record an album titled Infidels?” I asked. I looked directly at one of my students in the front row, a young veteran who’d served in Iraq.
“Were you ever called an infidel?” I asked.
“That’s what they called all of us,” he said, as if it had no real significance.
“Did your officers explain what it meant, why they referred to you that way?”
“No,” he said. Suddenly he looked more puzzled than unconcerned.
I glanced at my Muslim student. “On Wednesday, we’ll find out. In fact, we’ll begin to explore Islamic ideology. And we’ll have a guest, a Colonel who was largely responsible for extricating our troops and materiel from Iraq. It should be fascinating.”
I picked up the question that the other student on the front row had handed me earlier. He’d asked why we had to study something that had happened during World War II when there were so many pressing issues in today’s world. I read it to the class. “This is an important question,” I said. “Who can help with the answer?”
One of my older students, late forties, unemployed, spoke up. “It’s about man’s inhumanity to man,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said. “That didn’t stop with the Holocaust. Think about what happened in Rwanda, what’s happening in Sudan, the deadly civil war in Syria.”
With that, I started a documentary, Sugihara, about the Japanese Ambassador to Lithuania in Kaunas. Thanks to a chance meeting with eight or nine year old Solly Ganor, the Ambassador was eventually led to sign visas that allowed thousands of Jews to escape certain death at the hands of their non-Jewish neighbors and the Nazis.
“You’ll get to meet Solly today,” I told the class. In the documentary, Solly explained how his innocent invitation to Sugihara had led the Ambassador to Solly’s family’s Hannukah party. That’s where Sugihara heard, first hand, about the persecution of Jews in Poland from other guests in Solly’s home.
My students appeared to absorb every word Solly spoke. His eyes sparkled; his smile reflected what must have been among the few happy memories of his danger-filled childhood. Although he was speaking in English, Solly’s third or fourth or fifth language, his message was absolutely clear: Ambassador Sugihara was a hero.
Silence reigned until I abruptly ended the documentary. “It’s time for our debate,” I announced.
Minutes later, the captains of each team made opening statements. One spoke in behalf of the virtues of theocracy; the other, democracy. Brisk arguments followed until the class ended.
Speaking to the panel of judges, I told the class that we’d hear the judges’ verdict on Wednesday. Everyone packed up and headed for the door.
As I prepared to leave, I noticed my Muslim student approach my desk. Quietly respectful, with a slight smile, she indicated she wanted to ask me a question. Before she could, I told her that I wanted her to sit next to me on Wednesday when we began our discussion of Islam. “Or you can sit nearby,” I suggested, not wanting to make her uncomfortable.
Her response was a smile, pleasantly appreciative.
“I want to read your book,” she told me. “Can I get a copy at the bookstore?”
I tried to hide my surprise. Deeply touched by the sincerity of her request, I told her I’d bring a copy to class on Wednesday. In a way I never expected, I felt I was being honored by a young woman who had earned my admiration.
Indeed, she helped make my classroom a very special place.

                                                B.Koplen 6/25/13

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