Academic Freedom and Islam at Boise State

Academic Freedom and Islam at Boise State

MARCY NEWMAN
Guest Opinion
Issue date: 10/18/07 Section: Opinion

There is a serious threat to education looming over American college campuses since September 11. This threat does not come from inside academic institutions themselves, but from right-wing fringe groups predominantly made up of Christian and Jewish Zionists who have made it their mission to censor speech on campus, in the classroom and in co-curricular activities – in addition to attempts made at intimidating faculty members who speak critically of U.S. foreign policy or who are critical of Israel. Such campaigns began with Daniel Pipes’ Campus Watch set up to monitor and censor what professors said in the classroom in relation to these subjects. Shortly thereafter came David Horowitz’s Students for Academic Freedom, which does similar work and attempts to legislate pedagogy demanding that professors are “balanced” in their teaching; Georgia and Colorado are the only two states that have so far acted upon this bill. Given a cursory glance the legislation seems rather innocuous as its language is shrouded, focused on protecting professors and students from political and religious discrimination regardless of their religious or political views. Ironically, as Horowitz pushes for a particular version of academic freedom both he and his campus cronies work to censor and silence those who see the world from a different perspective.

What remains unnamed in Horowitz’s work is the context for the viewpoints he seeks to legitimize in college classrooms. Specifically, he created this network of activists to ensure that professors would present an anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim perspective in class. His most recent and perhaps most sinister move yet, Islamo-Fascist Awareness Week, which will appear on 150 campuses this week, including Boise State, demonstrates clearly that his interests lie in distorting Islam and the Middle East in general under the ruse of “education.” For all his rhetoric about “neutrality” with respect to religion and politics, the Website mobilizes students to present Islamo-Fascist Awareness Week on their campuses feigning that there is an imbalance in the way that faculty educates students about Islam. Hiding behind the moniker of academic freedom, Horowitz argues that American leftist professors are indoctrinating students to “create sympathy for Islam and scaring students into thinking that those who disagree are named “Islamophobe.” In reality, Horowitz has made numerous statements about Islam and the Middle East that are not only bigoted but believe even the most basic facts about Islam. For Horowitz and students who fall into the trap of thinking his statements are anything but hate speech one needs only to do a cursory Google search and read his writings that profess such ideas that Islam “is cruel, anti-woman, anti-religious freedom and anti-personal freedom in general.”

Certainly there is a need for educating Americans about Islam, but that work must be done by people knowledgeable about Islam, by practitioners and scholars alike. What we need is understanding and knowledge, not propaganda that masquerades as education and does nothing to further insight and only inflames an already tense divide in the U.S. On a university campus, we need nuance and complexity in understanding a religion that is so woefully maligned in the U.S. media, not more propaganda and prejudice that reinforces misconceptions about Islam.

Marcy Newman is a professor in the English Department at Boise State University

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