Connecticut: Arab Nationalism Run Rampant at Middlebury

Stan and Sandy Anonby stan-sandy_anonby at
Tue Aug 29 22:30:28 UTC 2006

Interesting how the Arabic language seems to be becoming more closely tied 
to Arab culture.

The English language doesn't seem to be as closely tied to English culture 
in places like Africa. I think the tie would be closer in England and the 

I'm not sure why these languages have taken different paths, but I assume 
the answer lies in history and economics. Anybody have any explanations?

Stan Anonby

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Harold F. Schiffman" <haroldfs at>
To: "Language Policy-List" <lgpolicy-list at>
Sent: Tuesday, August 22, 2006 6:03 AM
Subject: Connecticut: Arab Nationalism Run Rampant at Middlebury

> Arab Nationalism Run Rampant at Middlebury
> Franck Salameh
> Fri Aug 18, 7:30 AM ET
> At Middlebury College's Arabic Summer School, where I recently taught
> Arabic, students were exposed to more than intensive language instruction.
> Inside the classroom and across campus, administrators and language
> teachers adhered to a restrictive Arab-nationalist view of what is
> generically referred to as the "Arab world." In practice, this meant that
> the Middle East was presented as a mono-cultural, exclusively Arab region.
> The time-honored presence and deep-rooted histories of tens of millions of
> Kurds, Assyrians, Copts, Jews, Maronites, and Armenians--all of whom are
> indigenous Middle Easterners who object to an imputed "supra-Arab"
> identity--were dismissed in favor of a reductionist, ahistorical Arabist
> narrative. Those who didn't share this closed view of the Middle East were
> made to feel like dhimmi--the non-Muslim citizens of some Muslim-ruled
> lands whose rights are restricted because of their religious beliefs. In
> maps, textbooks, lectures, and other teaching materials used in the
> instruction of Arabic, Israel didn't exist, and the overarching watan
> 'Arabi (Arab fatherland) was substituted for the otherwise diverse and
> multi-faceted "Middle East." Curious and misleading geographical
> appellations, such as the "Arabian Gulf" in lieu of the time-honored
> "Persian Gulf," abounded. Syria's borders with its neighbors were marked
> "provisional," and Lebanon was referred to as a qutr (or "province") of an
> imagined Arab supra-state.
> Nor was the Arabic school's narrow definition of Middle Eastern culture
> restricted to the classroom. Alcohol was prohibited during school events
> and student parties, and although a school official claimed the ban
> reflected Middlebury's campus policy, beer and wine flowed freely during
> cookouts and gatherings organized by the German, French, and Spanish
> schools. Banning alcohol is a matter of Islamic practice and personal
> interpretation--not accepted behavior throughout the Middle East--and
> reflected the Arabic school's conflation of Arabic with Islamic.
> Similarly, the Arabic school's dining services conformed to the halal
> dietary restrictions of Islam, an act implying that all Arabic speakers
> are Muslims, and that all Muslims are observant; yet less that 20 percent
> of the Arabic school community was Muslim. No such accommodations were
> made for Jewish students who kept kosher, even though they outnumbered the
> Muslims.
> Arab nationalism was also evident in the school's official posture toward
> America's national holidays. The Arabic school was alone among Middlebury
> programs to ignore Fourth of July festivities. Worse, visiting faculty
> from the Middle East cold-shouldered older students sporting the closely
> cropped hair, courteous manners, and discipline suggesting membership in
> the U.S. armed forces. Most students and faculty avoided contact
> altogether with those dubbed hukuma (government) or jaysh (army).
> Such attitudes and practices aren't confined to Middlebury. A former
> student of mine who recently took a summer Arabic course at Georgetown
> University relates that one of her professors, an otherwise excellent
> language instructor, refused to allow the word "Israel" to be uttered in
> class. And his bigotry wasn't confined to the Jewish state: during a class
> discussion on nationalism, my former student argued that "many Lebanese
> did not think of themselves as Arabs." The instructor's response: "while
> they might say that, it's just politics, because all Lebanese people know
> on the inside that they are indeed Arabs."
> Arabism flies in the face of historical fact. Ethnic minorities in
> Lebanon, as throughout the Middle East, have suffered at the hands of
> Arabs since the Arab-Islamic invasions in the early Muslim period. Of the
> efforts of Arab regimes and their ideological supporters in the West to
> de-legitimize regional identities other than Arab, Walid Phares, a
> well-known professor of Middle East studies, has written: "[The] denial of
> identity of millions of indigenous non-Arab nations can be equated to an
> organized ethnic cleansing on a politico-cultural level." This tradition
> of culturally suppressing minorities is the wellspring of the linguistic
> imperialism regnant at Middlebury's Arabic Summer School.
> Yet healthier models for language instruction are easy to find. In the
> Anglophone world, Americans, Irish, Scots, New Zealanders, Australians,
> Nigerians, Kenyans, and others are native English-speakers, but not
> English. Can anyone imagine an English language class in which students
> are assumed to be Anglican cricket fans who sing "Rule Britannia," post
> maps showing Her Majesty's empire at its pre-war height, and prefer
> shepherd's pie and mushy peas? Yet according to the hyper-nationalists who
> run Middlebury's Arabic language programs, all speakers of Arabic are
> Arabs--case closed.
> A leading Arabic language program shouldn't imbue language instruction
> with political philosophy. It should instead concentrate on teaching a
> difficult language well--on promoting linguistic ability, not ideological
> conformity. Academics should never intellectualize their politics and then
> peddle them to students under the guise of scholarship. Those who do may
> force a temporary dhimmitude on their student subjects, but in the end
> they only marginalize their field and themselves.
> This marginalization has never been clearer than it is today, when Middle
> East studies scholars are depressingly consistent in their condemnation of
> American policy in the region, including its support for the democracies
> in Israel and Turkey. The same Arabist orthodoxy that seeks to
> indoctrinate summer language students in Vermont is at work every day in
> classrooms across the country, where professors whose vision is limited by
> ideological blinders ill serve their students and the nation. Set against
> this backdrop, Middlebury's Arabic Summer School is a window into an
> academic field in crisis.
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