January 25, 2006: Letters
Letter Box Online
PAW welcomes letters on its contents and topics related to Princeton University. We may edit them for length, accuracy, clarity, and civility; brevity is encouraged. Letters, articles, and photos submitted to PAW may be published or distributed in print, electronic, or other forms. Due to the volume of correspondence, we are unable to publish all letters received. Write to PAW, 194 Nassau St., Suite 38, Princeton, NJ 08542; send e-mail to email@example.com
Christopher Shea ’91’s “Lessons of the Middle East” (cover story, Dec. 14) shows how careful one has to be to avoid bias. On the “key to peace in the Middle East,” Mr. Shea writes, “most Mideast studies scholars say it’s the Israel-Palestine issue.” Who (never mind “most”) believes Kurdish insurgency, Afghani intertribal violence, Chechen civil war, terrorism in Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, and separatist battles in Kashmir would all be resolved if only Israel and the Palestinians reached a treaty? Would even one scholar say about the recent intercountry wars — the Iraq/Iran war, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, or the India/Pakistan wars: “It’s the Israel-Palestine issue?”
An intelligent writer in a serious publication publishing a statement as absurd as the quoted phrase shows how ridiculously widespread the tendency is to blame Israel. It’s unfair, considering the Jewish people are attempting in Israel to live as a nation of their choice, on land that has been their homeland for 3,000 years (albeit interrupted for 2,000 years by occupiers — Greek, Roman, and Turkish).
The article belittles charges of bias — on allegations of anti-Israel bias at Columbia, it says a committee “could not confirm them.” I’m a graduate of Columbia Law and followed that issue closely. Mr. Shea’s quote is misleading. The committee’s composition was objected to because it included a close colleague of one of the alleged perpetrators, and still it found at least one of the serious events probably occurred (though not proved — the professor denied it while saying he couldn’t recollect the alleged conversation).
Mr. Shea quotes a complaint that allegations of bias have “led to caution,” as if exercising caution to be impartial is bad. Belittling caution seems wrong if an unbiased writer, like Mr. Shea, in an unbiased publication, can so easily slip.
One pro-Palestinian tactic has been to loosen academic impartiality to admit polemic. Rather than belittling opposition to this onslaught, PAW’s position should be: No amount of “caution” is too great to insure that only impartial academics are taught at this country’s universities.
SETH A. AKABAS ’78
Your recent article on Princeton’s Near Eastern studies department helps me answer a question I’ve had for some time about my former graduate school professor at Columbia, Edward Said ’57. One day after a class in 1978, I casually mentioned to Professor Said that I was very proud to learn that he was a Princeton alumnus; specifically, that he was a “Princeton Tiger” like me. I never forgot his adamant response, which was: “Me, a Tiger? No, not at all, not ever! I’m a Columbia Lion through and through.” For years I never understood this forceful denial of his affiliation with Princeton, especially in the face of clear evidence to the contrary.
But, given the heated debates between him and Princeton Professor Bernard Lewis over Said’s book Orientalism, which had just been published, I now realize that he was trying to take his distance from an institution whose ideology had apparently become anathema to him, at least at the time. From that moment on, Professor Said deflected any further comments or questions from me in and out of class. This never ceased to sadden me, since I never stopped admiring much of his work.
STAMOS METZIDAKIS ’74
PAW’s coverage of the contentious issues involved in the study of the Middle East on our campus was a welcome look at a difficult set of questions. Your recent article noted concern that the inclusion of Rashid Khalidi on our faculty might “make the campus a hostile one for Jewish students.” I have known Professor Khalidi for 25 years and would like to offer a personal perspective on this issue.
Khalidi has never shown any sign of the intolerance of which he is accused by those who have never met him, heard him speak, or read his work. He is a historian of intellectual depth and passion, balanced by respect for judicious empirical research. The nation’s premier “war colleges,” which prepare the leaders of our armed forces for service in the Middle East, invite him repeatedly to lecture in their classrooms. They turn to him for the same clear-eyed understanding that we will hear from him if he joins our community.
Having had many debates with Khalidi about Israeli policy and Palestinian politics, I can testify to the fact that there is not an anti-Semitic bone in his body. He is a passionate advocate for human rights and believes, as many Jews I know do, that the rights of the Palestinian people have been trampled. At the same time, he has been unequivocal in his denunciations of terrorism and suicide bombings and equally clear about his aspirations for peace based on mutual respect.
As Jerome Karabel’s new book, The Chosen, makes clear, Princeton has a difficult history of its own when it comes to anti-Semitism, as do other Ivy League universities. Students who know this past want to be sure it never revisits our campus. The entire University stands with them. Based on my long personal acquaintance with Rashid Khalidi, I can assure all concerned that he would be the first to mount the barricades against any form of intolerance.
KATHERINE S. NEWMAN
While Christopher Shea’s article, “Lessons of the Middle East,” is informative, it hardly does justice to its own subtitle: “Questions of balance loom everywhere.” It is either a deliberate affront or a sign that Mideast studies at Princeton is badly in need of a histo-rian that the three article illustrations show only the crescent, symbol of Islam, and the Star of David, symbol of Judaism. For “balance” there should equally be the cross, symbol of Christianity, since Christian churches and communities have been in the Middle East for centuries before Islam. Or is Christianity off-limits for Middle East studies at Princeton?
EDWARD A. TIRYAKIAN ’52
I take issue with Maria Davidson ’90’s attack (Letters, Dec. 14) on Margaret Johnson ’05’s essay (Perspective, Oct. 19). It has gotten to the point where it has become “insulting” to express “privileged and affluent” viewpoints. Princeton’s greatest strength is its diversity, but often that term is misunderstood. It is the mixing of many viewpoints, not the simple existence of underrepresented ones, which is at diversity’s foundation. To truly understand the “complexities of living in a multicultural society,” one must understand all aspects — including that of the affluent. The push to marginalize “affluence” into a category unworthy of respect is to spit in the face of the very goals Ms. Davidson propounds.
ADAM E. KOPALD ’05
In his uncritical account of Yale’s gridiron victory over Princeton (sports, Dec. 14), Brett Tomlinson misses a crucial point. With only 74 seconds remaining on the clock, there was no realistic prospect that Princeton’s sputtering offense could move the ball 50 yards into field goal range. However, the Tigers could have sent the game into overtime by simply falling on the ball three times. In view of Princeton’s superior field goal kicker and fired-up defensive unit, and with six turnovers already committed, this seemed a prudent alternative. The decision to risk everything, going for a highly unlikely victory in regulation time, led to an unnecessary defeat. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.
C. THOMAS CORWIN ’62
According to the Los Angeles Times, the Princeton University Art Museum has now been caught up in the ever-widening scandal concerning the purchase of stolen antiquities by ethically challenged American art museum directors and curators. The Italian prosecutors have reportedly identified two vases in the Art Museum’s collection as having been looted from their nation’s archaeological sites (Notebook, Dec. 14).
In the past, such charges were taken lightly on this side of the Atlantic. No longer. Unfortu-nately, if true, it will be difficult for the Princeton Art Museum’s director and curator to profess ignorance of the legal standing of these vases because everyone — literally everyone — in the art world knows perfectly well how undocumented antiquities come onto the market.
And that leads us to a very sad thought.
On the one hand, the faculty of the storied Princeton Department of Art and Archaeology has been conducting professional archaeological excavations all over the ancient world practically since the science was invented. That kind of careful, methodical excavation is the correct, and indeed the only, way to unearth, preserve, and document, and thereby understand the history of the ancients. Princeton’s traditional funding of these scholarly excavations expressed the core values of the University and its art department — the encouragement of higher learning, and support for increasing the store of human knowledge.
However, if what the Italian prosecutors are alleging proves true, the Art Museum, a major beneficiary of scholarly archaeological research, has in effect been funding the clandestine looting of critically important Italian archaeological sites in the middle of the night by thieves often connected to organized crime, a process that destroys any possibility of ever understanding the history of the unearthed objects in anything more than the most superficial way.
Nothing has been proven yet, and one can only hope that the charges are unjustified. But if the Italians are correct, it will clearly demonstrate that the individuals who were involved in this potentially disgraceful insult to the nation of Italy have completely lost sight of, and betrayed, Princeton University’s core mission and values as an institution of higher learning.
CHRISTOPHER D. COMER *80
Having read/scanned/skipped through PAWs during 11 American presidencies, I can say with comfort that your sports-photo spread Dec. 14 is as good as any I might remember. Proof, for sure, that a fine shot can indeed be better than a thousand four-minute miles analyzed in labored texts.
ROB CARLISLE ’44
I am not particularly sad to learn that Princeton cannot afford to purchase rare and expensive manuscripts (feature, Nov. 16).
There should be a difference between a library and a treasury. With state-of-the-art technology, it is now possible to reproduce artworks with such astonishing accuracy that it makes the acquisition of the original virtually unnecessary.
Since these reproductions are effectively indistinguishable from the original, the only difference between the two is the ability of the original to confer prestige upon the owner, and its capacity, through the power of the imagination, to provide a certain frisson in the beholder. Neither of these is of particular interest to the scholar. These reproductions would not require such meticulous care, and they would be less of a target to thieves.
I would suggest that once an institution acquires an original, it should set about making a number of replicas to be sold to other institutions. These would cost but a fraction of that of the original so that libraries could develop larger, albeit “inauthentic,” collections.
STEPHEN E. SILVER ’58
I very much enjoyed reading the Perspective (Nov. 16) by Louis P. Masur *85 about The Boss, in which he referred to the concert by Bruce Springsteen in Jadwin in 1978. I was lucky enough to be there, fourth row center! My recollection is that we got Springsteen to perform for us as a stopover between New York and Philadelphia for the princely sum of $5,000. He always did have a soft spot for everything Jersey. He rocked the house for more than four hours straight, and he’s never sounded better (at least in the times I’ve seen him since).
Near the end, we were all standing on the folding chairs, jumping up and down and screaming at the tops of our lungs, when we must have set up some kind of harmonic wave, fracturing the floor of the gym with a loud crack. Needless to say, the administration was not too happy with us or Bruce Springsteen! After large sums of money were spent to repair the damage, I believe no further concerts were allowed in Jadwin. Ah well, it was certainly a night to remember, and the best concert I’ve ever been to!
AMY (KOPP) HOPKINS ’80
The potential closure of both Dillard University and Xavier University, two traditional all-black universities, because of the damage incurred by Hurricane Katrina would have long-term implications. Both universities excelled at encouraging the development of a strong African-American business and professional class, a class badly needed in the African-American community and by the United States.
As a Princeton alumnus and current Louisiana resident, I want to commend Princeton and Brown for their joint effort to help Dillard University (Notebook, Oct. 5). However, we need even more Ivy League institutions to join the effort and save Xavier as well. The rebuilding of these universities is not only in the best interest of their students, but the future generations of the United States.
I am glad to see that Princeton has demonstrated the vision and leadership to help save these important institutions, and I hope that more institutions will join in the effort.
DANIEL NOVAK *02
I find it somewhat saddening, to say the least, that Princeton University would accept the donation of Immanuel Velikovsky’s writings as an addition to its library (Notebook, Oct. 5). Personally, I learned to disdain Velikovsky at the age of 12 from my readings of the works of Isaac Asimov. The fact that Velikovsky corresponded with Einstein, or other notables, only confirms the dubiety of the judgment of those other “notables.” Most of Velikovsky’s work is plainly ridiculous, like a comic book.
By acquiring the Velikovsky collection, Princeton endorses drivel, instead of honest inquiry, science, and reasoned discourse. Of course, if Princeton wishes to secure its place in history as a place where dogma (devoid of logic or fact) is taught, perhaps this is a good first step in that mistaken direction.
NICHOLAS MEYLER ’81
Why would someone who has been afforded the chance of a debt-free education at Princeton opt to attend another institution? Could fear of adjusting to an unfamiliar culture in a prestigious institution of higher learning present a hurdle too steep to overcome? Should Princeton explore how it might persuade all financially disadvantaged minorities who are granted admission that theirs is a welcomed — and needed — voice on campus?
I ask these questions because, in the past few years, I have encountered not a few poor, academically promising African-American students who either have decided not to apply to Princeton or — having applied and been granted admission — have elected to attend other institutions at which their financial aid packages were not debt-free.
If even a loan-free education cannot persuade more minority and/or underprivileged high school students that they should come to Princeton, how else can those outside be convinced that Princeton welcomes and supports (with more than its generous pocketbook) all who merit admission?
Having had the privilege of teaching students who range far and wide on the socioeconomic and racial spectra of the United States, I have witnessed firsthand the richness of intellectual discussions that take place among people of diverse backgrounds. Only when it more accurately reflects the socioeconomic and racial diversity of the United States can Princeton adequately prepare its graduates to be “in the nation’s service.”
CLARE WILDE ’96
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s statement at Princeton, “In a world where evil is very real, democratic principles must be backed with power in all its forms” (Notebook, Oct. 19), is rather shocking, especially when it comes from an intellectual. Most reasonable people believe (1) evil is within ourselves as well as in our enemy; (2) in calling upon democracy in the campaign against evil, it may not be the ideal of democracy we promote but only our idea of democracy; (3) monarchy, aristocracy, and socialism have also been, at times, ramparts against evil in general and certain “evils” in particular.
Is Ms. Rice’s mixing ideas of evil and politics typical of the present intellectual climate in Washington? Isn’t it dangerous for American diplomats to point fingers about where evil exists? For such an ambitious project, the United States needs the help of the world community. “Evil” is many-faceted, and among world bodies the United Nations has been the best (despite its limitations) to propose solutions for the many aspects of “evil.”
Surely the idea of placing politics at the service of religion is against the Constitution. The struggle against evil is mainly, though not exclusively, a religious struggle. Of course, political power is necessary in combating certain “evils,” but to make politics the main actor in the struggle against evil in general seems an exaggeration.
It cannot be denied that Americans have often considered themselves destined to fight for “the Lord’s cause.” This has led to a mix of good and bad results. Will this phenomenon continue forever? It appears that such a destiny needs to be better integrated with the destiny of many other political and civil society actors in the world. Working together with extra-American cultures could be very productive vis-à-vis American “destiny.”
CHARLES GRAVES ’53
The bicker picture (From the Archives, Dec. 14) was taken no later than 1956. The visible face at left is Jim Brazell (with collar pin). The smiling chap in the middle of the doorway is Scott Conover. They were in Quadrangle, Class of 1956.
GALEN WHITE ’56
Editor’s note: Arthur J. Bellinzoni ’57 identified the man at right in the photo as Joseph M. Woods III ’57; Woods and Brazell also contacted PAW.
Contending Visions of the Middle East was written by Zachary Lockman, a professor at NYU. The author was re-ported incorrectly in an article Dec. 14 about teaching Mideast studies.
An Under the Ivy column posted on the PAW Web site Dec. 14 incorrectly identified a Princeton student who was one of the country’s leading runners in the 1930s. He was Bill Bonthron ’34.