From: Mark Tunick
Sent: Monday, October 20, 2003 6:00 PM
Subject: Mustafa, Fulbright scholar
In light of the NY Post editorial and the recent suggestion of a faculty response, I felt the need to share my thoughts too.
One goal of bringing a visiting Fulbright Scholar in Islamic Studies is to offer our students and community a better understanding of Islamic culture, to help shed prejudices and stereotypes and better appreciate the complex roots of recent international conflicts. With this goal in mind, we prepared a proposal to the Fulbright program, which was favorably received. Fulbright presented us with portfolios of prospective scholars they had screened, and after a careful review of the academic background, proficiency in English, and areas of interest of the andidates, we selected Mustafa Abu-Sway. Dr. Abu Sway received his Ph.D. from Boston College and has spoken frequently in the United States, and this indicated to us that he could communicate effectively with our students. His ublications on an important Islamic philosopher and conference talks on a wide range of topics such as Women in Islamic society, religion and politics, and Islamic theories of knowledge indicated that he would be able to contribute to courses in areas such as philosophy, anthropology, political science, and womens' studies. Our choice of a scholar in Islamic studies reflects not a disdain for other points of view, but rather a considered judgment of where the gaps in our offerings are. We are committed, as a liberal arts college, to encourage our students to think critically and form their own judgments, and to do this one must confront views from a number of perspectives, even views one doesn't like. As John Stuart Mill wrote in his classic defense of liberty, the only way we can know a subject is "by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind." No doubt Dr. Abu-Sway's views on middle eastern politics are unpopular to some people. An American Jew myself, I may not agree with some of Dr. Abu Sway's political views, yet I feel a deep sense of accomplishment at having helped bring to our students an outstanding and humane scholar with personal and academic experience of a culture and part of the world that many of our students and faculty know little about. How else can we make informed judgments about Islamic society, philosophy, and religion other than by learning about them? An essential step towards peace is understanding.
Daniel Pipes now indicates that the Israeli government informed him that Dr. Abu Sway has ties to Hamas. He doesn't clarify the nature of these alleged ties nor does he provide any evidence of them. Instead he equates a view Dr. Abu Sway expressed, that Palestinians need to return to their homes from which they were uprooted, with Hamas's extreme view that we should do away with Israel. If there is proof that Dr. Abu Sway has committed criminal acts (which is different than expressing beliefs that Dr. Pipes doesn't like), we would of course want to know this and act accordingly. But McCarthyist accusations resting on guilt by association won't do. We have relied on the State Department and the Fulbright program's screening of candidates and recommendation as to Dr. Abu-Sway's suitability as a visiting scholar. And we have not been disappointed. Dr. Abu Sway has been a passionate defender of peace, a great source of knowledge about life in Islamic societies, and an ardent critic of radical fundamentalists who resort to violence. As one of my colleagues, Kevin Lanning, has noted, "Mustafa has taught courses on Islam and is assisting in the supervision of one of our student's undergraduate thesis on civil rights and civil liberties, work that is infact supported by a scholarship from the Department of Homeland Security.. .. Mustafa's greatest contribution may be more abstract, as he has brought West Bank life home, on a personal scale, to the college community (describing, for example, the experience of waiting for hours at a checkpoint while one's kids are fighting in the back seat of the car)."
Daniel Pipes may think he will have an easier time convincing the world of his views by making unsubstantiated, alarmist accusations aimed at silencing those he opposes, but if his views truly are right, what better way to establish that than to let us learn about opposing views and judge for ourselves?
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