November 1, 2002

Letters to the Editor

Latin America's global role

To the Editor:

For most of the late 20th century, Latin America was justly considered an unstable region where democracy failed to prove itself as a stabilizing political force. Dictatorship, authoritarianism, and coercion seemed to go hand-in-hand with attempts towards democracy, fluctuating back in forth in unpredictable ways. Argentina's Peron, Chile's Pinochet, and Mexico's PRI party formed some of the strongest regimes on the continent, and although they created periods of economic affluence, they failed to adjust to a growing global trend that shifted towards civilian elected governments. Revolutions, coups, and turbulent political transitions perpetually upset the balance of power, ushering in looming fear and uncertainty in the region.

At the outset of the 21st century, the political future of Latin America is anything but certain. On the one hand, many Latin American countries seem to be moving towards democratic stability and economic progress. On the other hand, key countries like Argentina, Venezuela, and Colombia are in dire straits both economically and politically. One certainty, however, is that whatever hangs in the balance for Latin America's political, cultural, and economic future will have a significant effect on the unfolding global political outlook.

Chicago Society, a new RSO designed to bring students and faculty together to discuss the most pressing global issues, is hosting an interdisciplinary student-faculty conference this Saturday, November 2, on "The Shifting Role of Democracy in Latin America." We invite all members of the University of Chicago community to join us in the Ida Noyes first floor library from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. to discuss these critical changes within Latin America that will significantly impact global politics today. Professors Susan Stokes, Claudio Lomnitz, and Emilo Kouri will all offer their analyses of the topic and will then engage the audience in what promises to be a lively and informative discussion. Our goal is to put students and faculty side-by-side and allow active and meaningful deliberation and debate on the dramatic political challenges facing Latin America to unfold on our campus.

Ian Desai and Alonso Bustamante

Defending Prof. Shissler

To the Editor:

I studied Middle Eastern history in the College, and enrolled in numerous classes in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations during my four years of study, including the full "Introduction to Islamic History" sequence cited in the Maroon article concerning campus-watch.org. In fact, it was during the third quarter of this sequence that I first met professor Ada Holly Shissler and, due in large part to her teaching style, became fascinated with the Middle East and Ottoman history in particular. Soon after, I enrolled in several more of Professor Shissler's classes (including both quarters of the "Modernization of the Ottoman Empire" class, also cited in the Maroon article) Make no mistake: Holly Shissler is a wonderful teacher, a generous mentor, and an asset to the University. That she has suffered such grossly dishonest accusations is at once infuriating and disgraceful.

In many of Shissler's classes I sat at a table with Israelis who seemed quite close to her and were working one-on-one with her on their graduate research. To imply that Shissler harbors "anti-Semitic" sentiments is both ridiculous and quite simply untrue. Moreover, Israel was such an infrequent topic of conversation in Shissler's classes that I can barely comprehend the basis for such accusations in the first place. Shissler's classes and scholarship focus on entirely different fields and periods of history (Ottoman reform movements, intellectual history, etc.) and when prompted by other students to express her own views on Israel, I never once interpreted her remarks as "anti-Israel" in nature.

On a more general note, as a former student of Middle Eastern history, I can certainly appreciate that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a sensitive topic of conversation. Nevertheless I refuse to accept the principle that because I am Jewish, Israel can do no wrong. I fear too many Jews believe that by faulting Israel's policies (historically or otherwise) they will somehow render themselves less Jewish. Conversely, Jews need to accept that when the policies of the Israeli government are called into question, those remarks are not directed at Jews in general but at Israel: the state, the government.

To label a scholar of Middle Eastern history "anti-Semitic" or "anti-Israel" because he finds fault with Israel or its policies is analogous to labeling a scholar of Constitutional law a racist because he asserts that there was little legal merit to the Supreme Court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. One thing has nothing to do with the other. One can analyze and debate the legal merits of the case until the sun sets, but that discourse does not imply anti-African-American sentiment.

I am a firm believer that if you have not yet taken a class that causes you to seriously question your own views and beliefs, then you are not taking full advantage of your U of C education. If you simply wish to have your own views reaffirmed, your tuition dollars are almost certainly going to waste.

Political correctness is all-too-quickly destroying the free exchange of ideas on campuses nationwide, but I sincerely hope that the U of C will remain unaffected by the notion that if your remarks or ideas might possibly engender controversy than they are better left unspoken. I for one was outraged when David Horowitz came to the U of C to present his views on reparations for slavery and was effectively prevented from doing so by students who apparently believed his rhetoric to be intolerable. Whether or not one agrees with Horowitz's particular views is entirely unimportant. A campus (and specifically our campus) ought to be the one place in the world where even the most extreme views can be expressed, broken down, and evaluated amongst bright young minds. Any individual or organization that seeks to impede this process must be regarded as closed-minded, simple-minded, and nefarious.

Evan Trent, BA '02