The Most Surprising Thing

I asked my students to write about the most surprising thing they learned from our Hispanic Civilization course. Here is what they wrote about:

1. Columbus was not a hero. (37 out of 66 students).

2. Columbus didn’t “establish the US” (8 students).

3. Nationalism is not an ingrained instinct we are born with. (1 student)

4. Christians committed atrocities (12 students).

5. Even before Hitler, Jews were “persecuted and sometimes even killed” (2 students).

6. There was a Spanish Empire (4 students).

7. Even jerks (sic!) like Quevedo could
create beautiful literature (1 student).

8. Don Quijote is more than “just a book about this crazy guy with windmills and what not” (1 student).

Yes, my course is full of surprises.

Atheists and Jews

From a student’s essay: “In the 15th century, Jews suffered a lot of horrible persecution in Spain. But what I was shocked to learn the most was that it wasn’t the atheists who persecuted them for having a religion. It was Christians who tried to force them to convert and then expelled them!”

About Inside Higher Ed

I’m very happy and grateful that Inside Higher Ed promotes some of my posts. It’s really very nice of them to do so. However, I wonder why certain posts get selected when I don’t really even consider them to be any good.

This post, for example, is the one that was linked to most recently on Inside Higher Ed. I wrote it on the bus, in a hurry, and without thinking much about it. If I had known it was going to be featured, I would have made it at least somewhat insightful. I would have also taken greater care with the writing style. Now I feel kind of embarrassed about it. This is not the post I want to be known for throughout the ages. (Joke.)

My Intellectual Journey, Part III

After reading my last post in this series, you must have thought that something really dramatic had happened to jolt me out of my intellectual stupor. But that wasn’t what happened. I simply read a book that made me realize what had been missing from my life.

The book I’m talking about was John Fowles’s The Collector. This book has a very nasty reputation nowadays because two serial killers used it as an inspiration to abduct, rape, torture and kill their female victims. It is needless to say that this could have never been the author’s intention. A sick mind can read any kind of diseased nastiness even into the most wonderful work of fiction in the world. I reread Fowles’s novel recently and, of course, I have a very different response to it today as a scholar of literature and a feminist than I did in 1997 when I first read it.

Then, however, it was a revelation. Miranda, the novel’s protagonist, is a young woman of the same age I was when I read the book. But she was very different from how I was. She read good books, was an artist, was interested in politics, and cared very little about brand-name clothes and expensive hair-brushes. (She was also from a very well-off British family and could afford not to care about such things. That wasn’t something I was equipped to realize when I was 21, though.)

When I read the novel I felt completely stunned. I realized it was possible to care about something bigger than making money to buy stuff. In my diary, I recorded my shocking discovery and vowed to become like Miranda. I decided to find a completely new (to me) venue of intellectual development and excel in it. Hispanic Studies sounded exotic enough to serve as that new venue.

Truth be told, I am not sorry that I had this experience. I feel that it is a great thing to discover so early in life that a beautiful huge condo, a nice country house, an expensive car, the latest gadgets (which at that time were computers and CD-players), brand-name clothes, fur-coats and exotic hair-brushes (I have a little bit of a fixation on hair-brushes, as you might have noticed) do not and cannot make anybody happy. Some people arrive at this insight a lot later in life, or maybe don;t even arrive at it at all.

(To be continued. . .)

Immigration Medical

I’ve had to go to St. Louis twice for my immigration medical this week. I’m actually blogging from the doctor’s office right now.

What I found to be very curious (especially, because it didn’t happen when I emigrated to Canada and had to pass my medical at the Canadian consulate) was that we were asked whether we have any suicidal thoughts.
Are the immigration officials worried that they go through this long bureaucratic process only to have us kill ourselves, or something? And all this effort will be wasted?

Anti-Muslim Hatred in Southern Illinois

My colleague Kola sent me this piece of disturbing news:

A bomb scare inside a mosque north of Centralia, Illinois, yesterday is now being investigated as a hate crime.

Central Illinois’ WJBD radio reports that a church member found a box in the bushes outside the center and brought it inside thinking it was a donation for the food bank. Soon other church members grew suspicious of the package and called authorities who, in turn, called in the bomb squad.

Some 25 nearby residents were evacuated from the scene as the bomb squad used a water cannon to blast open the package. It’s contents? Burned Qurans, anti-Islamic propaganda and newspaper clippings.

The members of the mosque (which newspaper accounts keep referring to as a “church” for some strange reason) had organized a food bank to help needy people in an economically poor area to get through difficult times. And this was what they got in return from some bigots in the community.

This kind of hatred is disgusting and it pains me to live in an area where something like this is possible. Whenever I mention Islam or the Quran in my lectures, I have to answer endless and very ignorant questions from my audience. I’m not any sort of an authority on Islam but some things really need to be addressed.

No, Islam is not a religion of hatred and violence. No, terrorists are not praised in the Quran. No, the Quran is not calling for the destruction of all Christians and Jews. Quran is the word of God as revealed to Prophet Mohammad through Archangel Gabriel, and who’s to say it isn’t? (At this point, people often start scoffing and rolling their eyes, and I have to stare them down.)

I so hate this smug ignorance and stupid sense of superiority towards people of other religions that it makes me want to barf.

The F-Word

A student raises his hand.

“I’m sorry,” he says, “there is this word you keep repeating, and I have no idea what it is. It starts with an “f”.”

“Yes,” other students agree. “You keep saying it but we don’t get it!”

After a protracted struggle, I discover that the word they don’t get is “fascism.”

“Does anybody know what it is?” I ask.

Students stare.

“Or at least what area of life it belongs to?” I inquire, hoping against all hope to hear the word “politics”.

Students stare.

“Is it a flower? A book? A person?” I continue.

Students stare.

This will be a long semester.