December 20, 2014

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Muslim advocacy group calls for investigation by Oberlin College into lecturer’s ‘bigotry’

OBERLIN — The Cleveland chapter of the Council on America-Islamic Relations is asking Oberlin College to investigate a lecturer in the Arabic Language Department whom they say openly promotes “anti-Muslim bigotry and crude stereotypes of Muslims in his writings on campus.”

CAIR-Cleveland said lecturer Samir Amin Abdellatif is the publisher of a 290-page tract that “vilifies” Islam and Muslims. The organization said Abdellatif’s publication, entitled “The Unknown History of Islam,” promotes xenophobic views about Muslim immigration to the West, as well as supports “outlandish conspiracy theories.”

CAIR-Cleveland has requested that the college investigate Abdellatif’s teachings through a letter sent to Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov on March 11. In the letter, Shearson wrote, “We believe the reputation of Oberlin College is tarnished and students are done a disservice by having an Arabic language instructor who openly promotes anti-Muslim bigotry and who condones crude and ugly caricatures of Muslims.”

CAIR-Cleveland Executive Director Julia Shearson said CAIR has not heard back from the college.

“We’re very disappointed,” she said.

Oberlin College spokesman Scott Wargo declined to comment on the allegations against Abdellatif but he said, “The college is carefully considering the CAIR-Ohio letter and is in the process of determining how best to respond.”

Wargo would not say how long Abdellatif has worked at the college or if he has been the subject of any other complaints. The college’s website lists Abdellatif as a visiting assistant professor in the Arabic department.

A description of Abdellatif’s book “The Unknown History of Islam” on Amazon.com describes it as one that “exposes the radical extremists who tarnish the peaceful religion of Islam,” as well as exposes “the goals and plans of terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Taliban, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and The Muslim Brotherhood.

“The book also shows how peaceful Muslims who are the sweeping majority of Muslims become victims to those extremists and terrorists. … This book is a rational analysis of the past and present of Islam, the authenticity of the Quran, the life of Muslims under Sharia law, and the control of the clergy over the lives of Muslims, but it warns of the lurking danger of radical Islam that might jeopardize human civilization if it is not stopped immediately,” according to the description.

Shearson said she has read “The Unknown History of Islam,” and while she supports freedom of speech through the First Amendment, she does not support a person with anti-Islamic views in a teaching position.

Shearson said she believes Abdellatif is promoting his views as scholarly research.

“Our interest is really the credibility of this person,” she said.

CAIR has spoken out against numerous sections of the book, including portions that allegedly read, “Islam is an ideology of control, not for human and brotherly love,” and “Muslims would try to force their values and traditions on others callously. They would force their neighbors to cover their heads; otherwise they taunt them for not being modest; Muslim teachers would try to make their Christian students pray according to their Islamic religion.”

Shearson said those are portions of the book that promote incorrect stereotypes of the culture.
CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding, according to the organization.

Shearson, who said CAIR often becomes involved in civil rights issues, said the organization was alerted to the alleged anti-Muslim writing by Oberlin College professor Ali Yedes, who sued the college in 2011 for workplace discrimination. That case was later dismissed.

Yedes is at the center of another case through the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas. He was accused of harassing professor Eunjung An, who is suing the college for allegedly failing to address what An called a hostile work environment.

The lawsuit alleges that Yedes made several threats toward An beginning Jan. 18, 2006, when he accused An of “betraying him,” and he allegedly told her that in his culture, he could have the department’s chairwoman killed for postponing his tenure. The lawsuit said at the end of the “tirade,” Yedes “tightly hugged” An.

Shearson said that lawsuit is troubling because Oberlin College is reportedly using testimony from Abdellatif in its bid to remove Yedes, a Muslim professor who is chairman of the Arabic language program.

According to CAIR, Yedes is a long-time professor at Oberlin and has encouraged programs to increase dialogue on campus, including the promotion of an interfaith center in which the Torah and the Quran are both recited at the Jewish Sabbath services.

The organization said Yedes is known for his promotion of interreligious understanding on campus.
Yedes’ attorney, Alan Kraus, said he is fighting the college to make sure that Yedes maintains his job after what he called erroneous statements made toward Yedes by Abdellatif. He said Yedes has worked at the college for more than a decade, while Abdellatif has been there less than a year.

“Mr. Abdellatif has made several untrue and defamatory statements regarding professor Yedes, including that he is anti-Semitic and a misogynist. Perhaps the most-egregious claim by Mr. Addellatif is that he claims that Professor Yedes told him that he planned to have another faculty member killed,” he said. “This terrible false accusation, which has been repeated countless (times) in other newspapers and by others on the Internet, has ruined professor Yedes’ good name and has fanned the flame of religious hatred and intolerance. It is a grave injustice that these untrue accusations by Mr. Abdellatif may cause professor Yedes to lose his job.”

The reported move to remove Yedes comes at the heels of Yedes’ discrimination case in which a U.S. District Court judge dismissed several claims but noted that there was no evidence of an investigation into alleged discriminatory remarks that were made from a colleague in the French department to Yedes.

According to court documents, that professor allegedly called Yedes a “terrorist” and made other derogatory statements, which Yedes said were reported to Oberlin College.

Abdellatif also has reported threats after filing an internal complaint against another teacher. He called police after an unknown man knocked on his door at around 2 a.m. Nov. 20 and told him to drop the complaint against the other teacher, “or else he will have to file other things and make things difficult for him,” according to a police report.

Abdellatif said the unknown man spoke in Arabic and left immediately when asked to come inside. He believed the man was sent by the other professor, who was not identified in the police report, to deliver the message.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @ChelseaMillerCT.