Politics & Policy

Claremont McKenna’s Pro-Islamist Professor

Instead of censuring Bassam Frangieh for his support of terrorist organizations, the college administrators regard him as a major asset.

Claremont McKenna College is a nationally recognized leader in training Defense Department officials and State Department personnel (including numerous ambassadors). Professor Bassam Frangieh is head of Claremont McKenna’s Arabic Department and Middle East Studies program, where he teaches tomorrow’s diplomats about the Middle East, plans study-abroad programs — and supports recognized terrorist groups, namely, Hezbollah and Hamas. 

In the wake of Hamas’s election victory in 2006, Frangieh told an interviewer that he looks to Hamas with “great joy” and supports violence against Israel. Hamas’s control, he said, “might be able to produce the beginning of salvation. . . . I wonder what else would the Arabs have without Hamas and Hezbollah? Nothing. Except humiliation. I congratulate Hamas on its victory.” Meanwhile, in his academic work, he has written in favor of suicide bombing and martyrdom. In a speech at the University of Bridgeport in 2007, he said that Islam is “very democratic,” and he praised Saddam Hussein as a model leader who “wasn’t a thief” and who “really did something for his country.”

Frangieh has also made his views known through petitions, which, he says, “stem from the heart and are cast onto paper.” In 2006 he signed a pro-Hezbollah petition that was circulated along with a flyer encouraging its signatories to “Boycott Israel. . . . We are all Hizbullah now.” The petition, promoted by prominent anti-Israel, anti-American activists like Tariq Ali, Omar Barghouri, and Norman Finkelstein, demanded a boycott of Israel and encouraged Israeli academics to stop the “Zionist killing machine.” It called Hezbollah the “Lebanese Resistance” and a “legitimate” army, and praised its “heroic operations” against Israel. A 2007 petition blamed a “Zionist conspiracy” for then-senator Biden’s plan to divide Iraq into three separate autonomous regions. In 2009, Frangieh brought the Syrian ambassador, Imad Moustapha, to speak as an honored guest of the college; he had earlier instructed his students to warmly serenade Moustapha with singings from the Koran. (One student even asked, in all earnestness, what students could do to help Syria promote peace.) Syria, designated as a state sponsor of terrorism, has been governed for 40 years by a brutal dictatorial dynasty. Along with the Muslim Student Association (MSA), Frangieh also brought to campus Imam Zaid Shakir, who blamed the Fort Hood massacre on America’s easy access to guns. Yet another major guest was PLO member Sari Nusseinbeh, who during the first intifada helped terrorists avoid arrest and secure funding.

Frangieh’s radicalism is shared by his wife, Aleta Wenger. A former State Department official who worked on the Middle Eastern desk, Ms. Wenger is currently director of Claremont’s Center for Global Education and, as such, is the public face of the college overseas. Like her husband, she takes a conspiratorial view of Israel’s military, accusing it, without evidence, of bombing universities and hospitals. She also supports the Hamas-linked Gaza flotilla movement. In a posting on the New York Times website, she wrote,

I now have a good cause to support financially, and am very happy that my fellow Americans are interested in joining the blockade movement. Now to see if I can get on that boat. As a retired U.S. foreign service officer now unleashed, I can do and say what I want. Now let’s hear all of your readers tell me how naive I am . . . but I’m telling you, I’ve truly been there and seen it all . . . go Gaza flotilla ships go!!!

Repeated requests from alumni, students, parents, and faculty for comment from the college about the allegations against Bassam Frangieh have been consistently ignored. Worse, the college trots Frangieh out for fundraising; CMC Magazine Winter 2011 listed him as reason No. 33 to donate to Claremont McKenna. This was months after his views on Hamas and Hezbollah were established. The college’s PR chief, Richard Rodner, scrubbed all mention of Frangieh’s views from Wikipedia. Dean of Faculty Greg Hess e-mailed the faculty saying that it was only “a student writer’s opinion” that Hezbollah and Hamas are terrorist organizations — ignoring the fact that it was the State Department, where many of Frangieh’s students hope to work, that designated them as such.

In March 2010, Claremont McKenna President Pamela Gann traveled with Frangieh and Wenger to the Middle East, where she compared Frangieh’s advocacy for Hezbollah and Hamas to another professor’s testimony in the Proposition 8 case last year. Gann hopes to get funding for Frangieh’s Arabic program from the Kuwaiti royal family, several members of which attended Claremont McKenna College.

According to one member of the board of trustees, President Gann recently sent out a memo that essentially copied Dean Hess’s. The trustee noted that this was the first time Gann had sent all the trustees a memo since the famous Kerri Dunn incident in 2004, in which a professor of psychology faked a hate crime against herself.

The circumstances of Frangieh’s tenure hearing three years ago were rife with procedural misconduct. No one reviewing Frangieh’s work spoke Arabic or, according to one faculty source, even Googled his name. Nevertheless, President Gann moved to grant Frangieh automatic tenure — the first time ever that this was done at Claremont McKenna. By way of comparison, Dean Hess took an opposite tenure decision a year later and denied Professor Christopher Lynch a tenure-track position for “lacking substantive publications” — despite the enthusiastic support for him from the Government Department and a significant publication record. Hess refused to comment on this manifest double standard.

At Yale, Frangieh, as a language instructor, was denied consideration for tenure because, in the words of the provost, he lacked “substantive original research.” At Claremont, despite his lack of credentials, he has free range to create classes that teach his interpretation of the Middle East. He has a Ph.D. in Arabic literature — not history — and yet he teaches the required course for Middle East Studies majors, “Trends and Movements in the Middle East,” which promises to expose students to the “major themes in Arab society, culture, and tradition.” Islamist-motivated terrorism, anti-Semitism, and suicide-bombing are indeed major themes in modern Arab society — and Frangieh supports all of them.

Hezbollah has killed more Americans than any other terrorist organization except al-Qaeda. We wouldn’t tolerate a professor who supported al-Qaeda, so why do we tolerate one who supports Hezbollah?

— Charles C. Johnson is a senior at Claremont McKenna College. He can be reached at chuckwalla1022@gmail.com.


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