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February 11, 2005

Looking Away from the Threat

I had forgotten the anecdote that Jay Nordlinger reprints today, and since it ought not be forgotten, I rereprint it here (I don't think Mr. N will mind):

... I enrolled in the Near Eastern Studies Department at the University of Michigan, where I took several courses, including the Arabic language. The department was dominated by extremists. The graduate assistants, certainly, were Arabs to the "left" of the PLO, meaning, they took Arafat and Co. to be sell-outs, untrue to the cause. There was no discussion of the legitimacy of Israel: It wasn't discussable; Israel was illegitimate, and every worthy person knew it.

One day, we trooped into an auditorium to see a documentary on the conflict. I can't remember the name of the documentary or of the documentary-maker, but I can see her, and she was on hand to introduce her film and to take questions. The film featured mainly radical Palestinians talking about dismembering Israel.

During the Q&A, a middle-aged white woman — a little fat — raised her hand and asked the following question: "These were such extreme voices. You've made a wonderful film, but couldn't you have found some softer, more moderate voices?"

In the row in which I was sitting were several Arab students — older ones, graduate students — and one of them, in front of everybody, stood up and said words I will never forget. I won't forget the words, or his face, or his relatively quiet, determined tone. He said: "I will kill you." (This was directed at the woman who had asked the question.) His buddies got him to sit down.

But that's not the important part — what he said is not the important part. The important part is, no one said a word. No one reacted. We all sort of coughed, and looked away, nervously. We all pretended that what had just occurred had not, in fact, occurred — or that it was normal, acceptable. We simply ignored it.

The emphasis is his.

Posted by Justin Katz at February 11, 2005 10:12 AM
Middle East