Visiting Professor’s ‘Anti-Muslim’ Op-ed Draws Concern From Students

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story | Alysha Chandra, Editor-in-Chief

photo | Shaul Mishal

  

An Op-ed written by Visiting Professor Shaul Mishal in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has recently raised concerns among members of the student body, who say that its words echo white nationalist rhetoric, such as suggestions that Islam is a threat to democracy and liberal values in Europe. Mr. Mishal, who is the director of the Middle East studies program at Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) and a Professor Emeritus of Tel Aviv University, says that the article, titled ‘Europe’s Muslim Moment’, was written for an Israeli audience in mind and he meant only to refer to radical Islam. 

On July 30th, Michael Smith ’20 wrote in a Yale-NUS Facebook group, “The ideas expressed by white nationalists are shockingly close to the ideas Mishal expresses in his article. Where Mishal warns that ‘Islamic pincers are closing in on Europe’, white nationalists warn of the ‘Muslim invasion of Europe’.” 

“The overlap in words and ideas between a visiting professor to Yale-NUS College and honest-to-god white nationalists is pervasive and alarming,” Smith said. Smith raised concerns that Mr. Mishal’s rhetoric was similar to the Great Replacement Theory, a white nationalist conspiracy theory that warns of the extinction of white people and the replacement of them by people of color. The Great Replacement Theory has been cited by perpetrators of mass killings from El Paso to Christchurch. 

This semester, Mr. Mishal is teaching the classes ‘Middle East Society and Politics” and “Palestinian Politics in the Changing Middle East.” 

Yusra Zaheer ’21, who applied to take “Middle East Society and Politics”, told the Octant that Mr. Mishal’s Op-ed made her wary of taking the class, saying, “When I read the post I was very disappointed because I really didn’t want to take a class for which the professor made such crude or insensitive remarks.”

“It took me a while to go through with the decision, but I thought taking his class would let me know first hand where he stands on the matter,” she said.

Mr. Mishal had not read the English translation of the Op-ed until Global Affairs Head of Studies Professor Anju Paul raised Smith’s concerns with him. He said that he had written the Op-ed in Hebrew for an Israeli audience, and that he meant to refer not to Islam as a whole, but only radical Islam. 

Mr. Mishal said that he understood radical Islam as a movement within other radical trends in Europe. “When I talk about ‘Islamic pincers closing in on Europe’–  there are two components, one being radical Islam and the other right-wing European organisations that share in common an extreme ideology,” he said. 

“Of course not all the Muslims who immigrate to Europe are like that, but as we notice, there are elements within this group of people that affiliate or associate with radical organisations or hold a radical view of what Islam means.”

Simon Spungin, Managing Editor of the Haaretz English Edition, told the Octant that in the majority of cases, authors are not asked to approve translations of their articles before publication.

“While imperfect, the article published by Haaretz is a fair and accurate translation of Prof. Mishal’s original in Hebrew and in no way misrepresents his views, as expressed in the Hebrew version,” he said. 

In response, Mr. Mishal said that the translation from Hebrew was accurate, but that since he was writing for an Israeli audience, he assumed that they understood he was referring to radical Islam. “For foreign readers, by saying Islam I may cause confusion and misunderstanding. If that is the case I apologize for that,” he said.

In a Op-ed titled ‘No, Europe isn’t Returning to the Bosom of Islam’, Haaretz Correspondent David Stavrou responded to Mr. Mishal’s Hebrew piece, saying that most of the problems mass migration poses to Europe originate from right-wing nationalists, not Muslim refugees. Mr. Stavrou also told the Octant that he did not see significant differences in the translation of Mr. Mishal’s Op-ed. 

“I think [Mr. Mishal’s Op-ed] has both factual problems and a mistaken approach to current trends in European politics and social issues. These problems I think are typical to many Israeli journalists, academics and others. Mr. Mishal is certainly part of a much wider group of writers who see immigration to Europe as part of a so called ‘downfall’ or decline of the continent,” he said. 

While Ms. Paul acknowledged that hateful rhetoric and ideologies should not be invited into the College, she cautioned students against shutting out different opinions.

“To me, Professor Mishal is somebody who has a different idea about the impact of contemporary European Muslim migration to Europe. I want to know more about why he thinks that way, and talk about it and learn from each other. We might not necessarily all agree in the end, but at least we can learn a little bit more about where each of us is coming from,” she said. 

Ms. Paul invited students to share their concerns in a dialogue session with Mr. Mishal on August 20th, 6.30 pm in the Saga Rector’s Commons. Students can RSVP for the dialogue here

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