Trump Admin Challenges University Program Promoting Islam

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Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is challenging a government-funded program promoting Islam (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Left-wing academics are up in arms about the threat by the Trump Administration threat to cut federal funds for a program promoting Islam that may violate the Constitution, promote anti-Semitism and advance “ideological priorities” that have nothing to do with the purpose of the program.

As reported by AP, the program in question is run by University of North Carolina and Duke University. The Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies received $235,000 last year from the government for the program which was to promote foreign language instruction for the purpose of preparing students for careers in diplomacy and national security.

Yet, an investigation showed that the program unfairly promoted “the positive aspects of Islam” but not Christianity or Judaism. Moreover, a conference put on by the program titled “Conflict Over Gaza: People, Politics and Possibilities,” featured a rapper who performed a “brazenly anti-Semitic song.”

The investigation into the program was ordered by Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos after North Carolina Rep. George Holding exposed the conference for its “severe anti-Israeli bias and anti-Semitic rhetoric.”

In a letter to the program, the government noted “a considerable emphasis [on] understanding the positive aspects of Islam, while there is an absolute absence of any similar focus on the positive aspects of Christianity, Judaism or any other religion or belief system in the Middle East.”

Further, the program hardly addressed the discrimination faced by religious minorities in the Middle East, “including Christians, Jews, Baha’is, Yadizis, Kurds, Druze and others.”

To qualify for government funds, programs must offer a “full understanding” of the region.

The government’s investigation also showed that many of the conferences and academic papers put out by the consortium’s scholars had nothing to do with the goals of the program. In fact, only 11 percent of the program’s graduates pursue careers in government.

Instead, the program put on a conference titled “Love and Desire in Modern Iran” and papers addressing “Performance, Gender-Bending and Subversion in the Early Modern Ottoman Intellectual History” and “Radical Love: Teachings from Islamic Mystical Tradition.”

The government called out the program in a letter stating, “We do not see how these activities support the development of foreign language and international expertise for the benefit of U.S. national security and economic stability.”

Department of Education officials gave the program until September 22, 2019 to come up with a revived schedule of activities and to explain how each of these activities line up with promoting foreign language learning and national security.

In response, Henry Reichman, chairman of a committee on academic freedom for the American Association of University Professors, bristled, “Is the government now going to judge funding programs based on the opinions of instructors or the approach of each course? The odor of right-wing political correctness that comes through this definitely could have a chilling effect.”

Similarly, Jay Smith, a history professor at UNC and vice president of the university’s chapter of the association, said the government’s letter written by Robert King constituted “ideologically driven harassment.”

Smith further added that King, “should stay in his lane and allow the experts to determine what constitutes a ‘full understanding’ of the Middle East.”

The statements by these academics are outrageous in their blatant dismissal of nothing short of the Constitution of the United States, which states, according to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, that the government may not favor one religion over another.

Further, far from “right-wing political correctness” (an interesting twisting of a Left-wing concept conceived to harass Conservatives and promote Left-wing ideology), academics should be held to the same standards of accountability as everyone else when receiving government funds.

Far from being an issue of “academic freedom,” when a university accepts funds for a program based on specific goals, it is not unreasonable that they should not only have to design a program to meet those goals but that they should also have to submit to a review by their benefactors to see how well they are doing.

It is supremely ironic that these academics want the government to stay in their “lane,” but at the same time, have no compunction about coming into that “lane” when it comes to grabbing money.



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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org

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