Friday, December 05, 2003

Pakistani academic warns of implications of proposed research restrictions

Pakistani academic warns of implications of proposed research restrictions

By Khalid Hasan

WASHINGTON: If a bill passed by the US House of Representatives on October 21 becomes law, it will discourage American universities from undertaking research and sponsoring studies that pro-Israeli interests disapprove of, according to Prof Fawzia Afzal Khan, a Pakistani-American academic from Montclair State University, New Jersey.

In an analysis published this week in the online journal Counterpunch, Prof Khan points out that if the bill passed unanimously becomes law, it could require international studies departments to show more support for American foreign policy or risk their federal funding. Its approval followed hearings this summer in which members of Congress listened to testimony about the pernicious influence of the late Edward Said in Middle Eastern studies departments, described as “enclaves of debased anti-Americanism.” Those who testified included known supporters of Israel and all its policies.

Prof Khan writes, “Clearly, if this bill passes into law, it will curtail federal grants to Middle Eastern studies departments and programs across US universities unless they can prove that their faculty are not inspiring ‘terrorist’ thinking in their students simply by teaching them to critically examine US foreign policy in the Middle East and elsewhere. The bill, sponsored by pro-Israel lawmakers and inspired by American-born Israeli citizen, Martin Kramer, wants to tie federal funding to an explicit mandate to heads of these programs to hire pro-Israeli professors in their programmes, on the grounds that these programmes are overstuffed with left-wing pro-Arab, pro-Islamic radicals, who constitute an intellectual fifth-column in the country. That such a “deranged fantasy”... could be taken seriously as a basis for a Congressional bill, is a scary thought.”

She finds it disturbing that the “fast-approaching obsolescence of academic freedom” is being promoted by Zionist academics who have tremendous power in this government and within academia, and who are determined to prevent any criticism of US foreign-policy regarding Israel and the Middle East from affecting the minds of the American people, who might then reconsider the “war on terror” from quite a different analytic angle, one in which Zionism, Islamophobia as well as fanatical Islamicism and capitalist oppression of “others” all conspire together to preserve a status quo that is “literally driving the world into the abyss of annihilation.”

Prof Khan then examines how certain Muslim groups are helping to further this “conservative, capitalist agenda which supports injustice and oppression in the world as a fundamental precondition of its own power.” The Muslim groups she picks out are the various chapters of the Muslim Students Association (MSA) across the country. Most of these, she points out, attract young immigrant or first-generation Muslims looking for an identity to hold on to in the midst of confusing times. “Unfortunately, it is the most regressive variety of Islam that holds sway in these organisations, and so, for instance, the students who are office bearers of the MSA ...are men who sport beards and name themselves in Saudi/Arab fashion (since Arab Islam, particularly of the Saudi variety is seen as the ‘authentic’ version by conservatives), even when they happen to be of different ethnicities and backgrounds.

The Pakistani-American academic who teaches English literature, notes that women similarly present themselves in the most conservative way possible, heads covered in Arab-style hijabs, often wearing long coat-like garments to conceal their body shapes. To these young men and women, Islam is essentially a conservative ideology of life which can help resolve the contradictions of life in a consumerist, inegalitarian, capitalist society where everything, including the female body, is a commodity in the marketplace - by ‘restoring’ the balance between men and women that has been disrupted by modernity, delinked from a class analysis. According to this logic, if women stay home and defer to their men, in a gesture mimicking subservience to God, all will be well, an important part of that subservience has to be in the form of dress, since to expose the body is tantamount to disruption - creating ‘fitna’ or chaos which is misogynistically linked to women’s bodies.

Prof Khan argues that it is import to deconstruct the links between Islam as a religion that has been hijacked to serve the ends of western imperialism and Muslim patriarchal control. She find Islam to be a political rallying cry for the oppressed and the disenfranchised of the world, who are fed up with being subjected to new forms of colonialism through the globalisation-from-above being forced down their throats. She writes that because of these attempts at “delinking,” she has become a persona-non-grata with the Zionists on her campus as well as with the religious Muslims. The unaffiliated ones are afraid to take sides. She concludes that there is a dangerous convergence, not just of right-wing forces representing all religious ideologies, but what is perhaps worse, of scared intellectuals in various disciplines that are supposed to be committed to speaking truth to power “Such a convergence contributing to a pervasive culture of fear must be challenged if we are to reclaim our integrity not just as academics and scholars, but as human beings committed to finding just solutions to the problems and inequities of the world we live in.,” she adds.

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