The Dartmouth Observer
Tuesday, August 13, 2002
Here's one that should make for interesting discussion. The University of North Carolina assigned a book for incoming freshmen to read during the summer before they enroll (Dartmouth has a similar program). The book assigned this year is a translation of the Koran by Haverford Professor Michael Sells called "Approaching the Qur'an." The students are asked to write a one page response to the book and an accompanying CD which has tracks of Koranic chants in Arabic. They will then discuss their reactions to the book and CD in groups moderated by a Professor. Students who chose not to read the book can instead discuss why they made that choice (I have not read the book myself). The University assigned the Koran to help students better understand Islam in the wake of September 11.
As expected, there are people who are unhappy with the program. The American Family Association's Center for Law and Policy has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a few students and alumni asserting that the requirement violates the First Amendment's establishment and free exercise clauses. Supporters of the assigned reading claim that the University's "academic freedom" is being trampled upon. It is perfectly legitimate, they argue, to assign such a book to incoming students since it is for academic purposes; the University is not advocating Islam over Christianity or any other religion. However, it seems a little disturbing that a public institution like UNC should make the Koran required reading. One can quite easily imagine the reaction if the University had decided to assign the New Testament instead of the Koran. Furthermore, there are problems with their choice of translation. Sells' translation omits suras that refer to the "slaying of infidels" and other passages used by Islamic terrorists to justify violence against civillians.
This seems to be part of a larger national debate that has been going on for close to a year now about how we apporach Islam. It is clear that there are many people out there who are using Islamic values and scripture to justify the mass murder of Americans. It seems important then for us to study this phenomenon. However, as I've discussed before on this site, Academia tends to do a poor job of it. Instead of studying fanaticism and the ideology of people like bin Laden, Professors and University administrators are trying their hardest to ensure that a politically correct version of Islam is proliferated. Increasigly, these multiculturalists are worried about negative reactions to Islam, as opposed to negative interpretations of Islam. So, is Islam to blame for September 11? I don't know, but Academia is certainly not helping us figure it out.