BY CARISSA VANITIZIAN
Special to Asbarez BERKELEY–Calif.–Campus police at the University of California–Berkeley are investigating a reported spitting incident involving an Islamic Studies professor and an Armenian student–after earlier refusing two requests to file a hate-crime report.
The incident occurred during an April 24 campus exhibit on the Armenian genocide–sponsored by the Armenian Students Association. The exhibit featured large photographs of genocide victims and two banners with quotations about the crime.
Patrick Masihi–22–of Berkeley says he and several other ASA members had placed informational flyers on a table when a man approached the exhibit to read them. The man–who did not identify himself–loudly said–"It was not a genocide but I wish it was–you lying pigs!" according to Masihi–a senior with double majors in molecular and cell biology and English.
"Once he said that–I approached him and said–’Sir–you are full of bullshit,’" Masihi recounted. The man responded–"You are distorting the truth about history," and "You students are stupid Armenia’s," according to Masihi–who then asked if the man worked for the university.
"He did not respond," Masihi said. "Instead–he changed the subject by saying ‘Armenia’s deserve to be massacred!’ and then out of the blue he just spit at me. I said–’Why are you spitting at me? You are being paid by the Turkish government–aren’t you?’" The man answered–"I’ve been here for 30 years–you bastard," and then spit at Masihi a second time.
"I questioned him again: ‘Why are you spitting at me?’" Masihi said–but the man left without responding. "He was very angry and very loud. This was unprovoked. Nobody had said anything to him but he came by and just blasted us."
With the help of another ASA member–Masihi was able to positively identify his assailant as Hamid Algar–Ph.D.–a professor of Islamic & Persian Studies in the university’s Near Eastern Department. The UC Berkeley catalog lists Prof. Algar as a graduate of Cambridge University–London. His wife–Ayla–is a lecturer in Near Eastern Studies at Berkeley–teaching the Turkish language.
Masihi went to campus police on April 28 and again on April 30 to ask that a hate-crime report be filed on the spitting incident–but was told both times by the same officer that it was protected by the First Amendment. Then on May 2–he asked police to instead treat the incident as an assault–which they agreed to do and a report was made.
"We’re still looking into it," UC Berkeley Police Capt. Bill Cooper said today. "We’re trying to determine if it’s a criminal matter or a civil dispute," adding that his office has no record of the two previous hate-crime complaints.
Hate crimes are in violation of both California and federal law. The National Victim Center states that "violence motivated by a bias against the victims’ personal characteristics – including race–religion–ethnic background–national origin–gender–or sexual orientation–represents a serious threat to all communities."
"At this point we don’t have any evidence of an assault or anything. We have to re-interview the people involved–talk to Prof. Algar and see if any other witnesses have seen what actually happened," Cooper added.
Masihi has since sent a letter to Dr. Ann Kilmer–chair of the Near Eastern Dept.–with copies to Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl and Dr. Richard Buxbaum–Kilmer’s boss. The letter asks that Prof. Algar be disciplined for violating the code of conduct and Masihi’s civil rights.
The university’s Policy on Faculty Conduct states that "the Faculty Code deals only with professional conduct or misconduct. However–faculty members–in common with all other members of the University community–are subject to the general rules and regulations of the University–e.g.–those pertaining to parking–library privileges–health and safety–and use of University facilities–and are subject to appropriate sanctions for failure to comply with such rules and regulations."
The spitting incident did not surprise Serop Nenejian–director of the nonprofit Human Rights Injustice Foundation of Portland–Oregon. "Both Prof. Algar and his wife have a very close personal relationship with Heath Lowry and the Turkish embassy," he said Wednesday in a telephone interview from his office in Portland. "He is British but converted to Islam. He hates Christians but nothing matches his hatred of Armenia’s.
"This professor is one of the tools of the Turkish government. These two people–husband and wife–under the cover of academia–use the credibility of the university to promote the agenda of a foreign government–in this case Turkey" while teaching at UC Berkeley–he said. "We have to understand that teaching of language is the back door for Turkey to have their agents placed in universities," adding that each of Mrs. Algar’s four classes in the current quarter have fewer than five enrolled students.
The Turkish studies classes at UC Berkeley are funded by a $1.5 million endowment split by the Turkish government and the Andrew Mellon Foundation.
Nenejian has spent several years documenting the Turkish government’s attempted inroads in American academia–and says he is disgusted at the behavior of this country’s institutions of higher learning.
"Berkeley is following the pattern of Princeton–Harvard–Georgetown–University of Chicago–Indiana University–Portland State University–and other colleges of rewarding apologists for Turkey," he said.
As for Masihi–he has yet to receive a response to his letter asking for disciplinary action.