The young woman who wrote the article, “The Problem with Band-Aids,” is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania. Her article appeared in Penn’s highly regarded newspaper, the Daily Pennsylvanian, on September 8. The subtitle of O’Conor’s article is: “From Palestine to Penn/ When Talking About Dialogue, Empowerment and Reform Does the Rhetorical Work of Oppression and Injustice.” At Penn, Clarissa O’Conor focuses on Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies and Modern Middle East Studies.
But O’Conor, who presents herself as an advocate for those who are disempowered, is fed up with what she claims is the oppressive force behind the term “empowerment.” This fall O’Conor is studying at al Quds University, in a place she calls, without quotation marks, “Palestine.”
In this article, O’Conor explains why Penn, which apparently gives her college credit for studying at al Quds, and Bard College, which created at al Quds “a small honors college at which Palestinian students can earn a dual-degree with American accreditation,” earn her contempt.
“Especially at Penn, we like to ‘empower’ people. We have all sorts of organizations and initiatives to do this. We really like to ‘empower’ communities and women,” she writes, but O’Conor is above all that. She disdains the Western efforts to empower her comrades in “Palestine.”
Bard’s program is going about things in a contemptible way, O’Conor contends. You see “the discourse of empowerment makes us feel good about putting a Band-Aid on something while avoiding actually questioning our role in systematic racism, oppression and injustice.”
You’ve probably guessed it by now: O’Conor thinks that Western efforts to “swoop in and empower” the Arab Palestinians, ignores that what oppresses them is the “worldwide systems of white supremacism and colonialism in which we are complicit.” That’s you and me. Also her.
O’Conor crams in all the invective she can into a college newspaper op-ed. She describes the “26-foot-high Apartheid Wall” built by Israel which is a “settler-colonial apartheid state whose modus operandi is and always was policies of ethnic cleansing, displacement and systematic racism.” And O’Conor thinks places like Penn and Bard and, indeed, all universities and the U.S. government itself should cut all ties to Israel.
So, rather than yawn about an undergraduate thinking and writing like an undergraduate, here’s the part that should…empower you readers.
It is not a surprise that an undergraduate from the middle of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania knows little to nothing about the history of the Middle East. But why is a school like Penn giving credit to a student to be spoon fed hatred?
Here is a more interesting question: why is it that someone who holds herself out as a defender of the oppressed has no problem aligning herself with the brutal, murderous history and affiliations of the university she so proudly attends? And again, why would Penn and schools like it countenance such an association?
Al Quds University is a place where terrorists are honored not only by the students, but officially, by the university administration, as heroes.
Let’s pick a few discrete moments through al Quds history, and see whether it is an institution worthy of Ms. O’Conor’s protection, and whether the many installments of her pleas on its behalf – her blog “From Palestine to Penn” appears every other Tuesday in the Daily Pennsylvanian – are trustworthy sources of information for the collegiate, as well as the wider, community. (No less an actively and acidly anti-Israel media source than Mondoweiss eagerly laps up her content.)
So we’ll start at the top. The current president of the school, Sari Nusseibeh, is generally considered to be a moderate, but there is certainly evidence to the contrary. This evidence includes his praise of homicide bombers; calling Israel a “racist, Zionist entity”; and helping Iraq direct scud missiles at Israel during the first Gulf War.
For those disinclined to count Nusseibeh as a promoter of violence, there’s much better evidence about where al Quds stands on the issue of the sanctity of human life.
For example, there’s the case of Sami Salim Hammad, an al Quds dropout who carried out a homicide bombing in Tel Aviv during Passover, on April 17, 2006. In this bombing, 11 innocent people were killed, including a 16 year old American, Daniel Wultz. While it is true that Hammad dropped out of al Quds, that didn’t stop the students there from claiming him as their own. Immediately after the bombing, once Hammad’s “martyr’s video” was released, they hung a huge poster of Hammad in one of the al Quds University buildings. They were so proud of their “shahid.”