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Claremont McKenna College: An American Al-Azhar


Palestinian refugees fleeing the Sabra and Shatila Massacre. (Palestinian Return Center)

I am writing this piece not with frustration but with disappointment in myself. Following the events after October 7th, 2023, in Gaza, I realized that I had to spend four years of my undergraduate education at Claremont McKenna College to discover that our region’s salvation does not rest in the American way but in itself. How naïve I am! Perhaps if I had given an ear to İsmet Özel, I would not have had to spare four years of my life in California away from my loved ones to reach this conclusion. Nevertheless, let us accept what I will tell you as an experience that helped a young man find the truth about himself, his region, and his belief: Almost like Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man!


After I completed my high school education in Istanbul, Turkey, I decided to continue my higher education at Claremont McKenna College, a prestigious liberal arts college based in Claremont, California. I thought an interdisciplinary education at Claremont McKenna could mold me into the knowledgeable and well-rounded politician I want to become someday. However, as an international relations and economics major, my recent experiences at CMC made me sure that my mission catastrophically failed.


On October 23rd, more than sixty CMC faculty members signed a letter titled “Statement on the Hamas terrorist attack of October 7, 2023.” Naturally, the Professors paid respect to the lost Israeli lives following Hamas’ incursion; however, many students were shocked by the statement’s complete disregard for lost lives in Gaza. I had to read the statement several times to be convinced that faculty members did not show the courtesy to mention the lost Palestinian lives in Gaza, as I would have never guessed this disrespect from my professors. In response to the student backlash against the faculty statement, faculty members had to write another statement, but again, this time, they did not use the word Palestinian. Instead, they decided to call Palestinians “innocent people who just happen to be living in the wrong place.”


Later, much more provoking and disrespectful things happened on the CMC campus. In an event about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hosted by CMC’s Keck Center, CMC’s Middle Eastern Politics Professor Hicham Bou Nassif, who is also a politician in Lebanon, gave a keynote about the ongoing conflict while Phalangist militant Bachir Gemayel’s picture in his background. Those who are knowledgeable enough about Middle East politics know that Bachir Gemayel is the figurehead of Phalangist radicalism, which is the fundamentalist ideology behind massacres in which Gemayel and his troops killed thousands of Palestinian refugees. The Keck Center’s event was a depiction of utmost hypocrisy on the CMC campus as Hicham Bou Nassif was criticizing Hamas’ fundamentalism while, at the same time, glorifying an ethnic cleanser.


Bashir Gemayel (Bottom Left). Prof. Bou Nassif at Keck Center Event.

When I reached out to the Keck Center regarding the professor’s insensitivity, the Center’s director, Hillary Appel, thanked me for my input and disregarded Bou Nassif’s disgraceful display. Furthermore, she allowed Bou Nassif to keep Gemayel’s image in his background for the professor’s second event on the ongoing conflict in Gaza. Some may argue that Bou Nassif is entitled to glorify a fascist figure. I agree with this viewpoint. However, we – CMC students interested in Middle Eastern politics – are also entitled to take Middle East politics classes from a different professor. The CMC administration should ensure faculty viewpoint diversity instead of showcasing a radical and mediocre politician.


Although, as I have previously mentioned, I am disappointed in myself since it took four years for me to realize the salvation for the Middle East does not rest in the West, I still want to thank Claremont McKenna for helping me to understand why Sayyid Qutb did not become an Islamist in Cairo but in Greenly, Colorado.


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