Posted by: r.m. | January 26, 2009

teaching… who are we?

Last week, a student asked me what I thought about Israel.  I was caught off guard by the question. This is a student that is Lebanese, an Arab, raised in the Arab world; does he not know about Israel?  Still, quickly, I explained to him that Israel is an entity that was built on the land of others, conducted ethnic cleansing, and imposed an apartheid system and continues to occupy the land of others (OPT, Golan Heights, Cheba’a Farms). He said, well, that’s one perspective.

That’s one perspective?

So, I asked him, if I say that you’re a woman, should that be accepted as “my perspective” or would that be rejected because it is not based on clear observational and biological fact? Would you no longer be a man if I think you are a woman?

No, he said, of course I’m still a man.

Well, exactly. The historical facts about Israel are clear. It is not a mere perspective.

A few days later, another student asked me about Starbucks, and I explained to him the various reasons that are given by the international boycott campaign against Starbucks (environmental rights, farmers’ rights, prison labor, workers’ rights, and peace issues).  He accepted all of them, except when I said that Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, identifies himself as an “active Zionist” and, as such, those of us who are opposed to Zionism choose not to drink our coffee at Starbucks.

But, he replied, that’s just his opinion. He should be free to have his own politics and to act the way that he sees fit.

Yes, said another student, he should be free to act the way that he wants to.

Really? Do we advocate absolute freedom? and, more practically, do we deny ourselves the choice – no, the right – to support policies that are constructive and to oppose policies that are destructive?

Do we regard slavery as a choice? Apartheid as a choice? All acceptable by our societies – to be welcomed – for us to “co-exist”?


On a deeper level, it is not only this false believe in relativism and neutrality that is scary, but that these students — born and raised in Lebanon, witness to Israeli atrocities against Lebanon — can be so cold, so devoid of historical understandings.

On a rational level, I’m not surprised. Their families encourage certain philosophies. Or, by having historical and political discussions absent from their home, their families encourage the false idea that politics and historical understanding and recognition is a luxury, perhaps akin to studying a certain obscure field.

On an emotional level, I’m quite angered.  To have ahistoric, apolitical, apathetic youth is scary. But, perhaps like my dear friend Rami says, perhaps they are not apolitical.  He is right in an important way. Everything is political.  To pretend that historical understanding and justice issues is a choice — IS a political decision, and is a political statement — and that statement says, I am comfortable with the status quo; I am not bothered by the massacres and the apartheid and wars and perhaps not even by the future potential wars and massacres.  That is a political decision.  A scary one. Fueled by the belief that knowledge is a luxury and that ignorance is an acceptable choice.

On all levels, I’m not interested in educating technicians — engineering technicians, medical doctor technicians, scientists technicians — seeing themselves as separate from their locale, separate from their history, and separate from justice struggles.

… Perhaps we need to teach hope.  teach history.  teach justice. in everything we do.  all the time.



  1. i’m so glad you posted this. i meant to respond to your email. i’m just getting around to that now. i think this is an important post and it will be important for your students to read.

  2. Well i for one hope that you know that not all Lebanese youth are as apathetic and ignorant as the model you describe. i like to consider myself, and many people i know, do the minimum of caring, and then some. i don’t know what age are the students you talked to to come with these conclusions, but i think they are not more than 20. i think that voting age in Lebanon is at 21 for a reason that becomes clear in light of what you wrote.
    maybe it is our job to show people the way to and of social awareness. and although it might prove a heavy task to undertake, it is all the more interesting and noble, dare i say.
    so to teach, even without a diploma, is something everyone who believes in something is bound to do… even if some days it is distressing.

  3. I didn’t mean to include myself in the Academic body, as it may sound I did, I just meant that conversation is better than silence only if one takes away something from it. And what is teaching if not conversation and argumentation? Maybe at this stage my conversations will mostly be leading to my education, in order to prepare me to teach and educate on a higher level someday, but i like to believe that as it is, my opinions are instructive in some way, because mainly i put a lot of thought and effort in them…

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