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Sunday, July 08, 2012

Bir Zeit U essentially punishes professor for "insulting Islam"

From Inside Higher Education:
Birzeit University occupies an important place in Palestinian history. The oldest Palestinian university, it grew out of an elementary school for girls created in 1924, when schooling was rare for Palestinian children. It became a college in 1942 and a university in 1975. Birzeit has been the site of numerous protests and clashes with Israeli authorities, who shut down the university frequently and for lengthy periods in the 1980s. "The university is guided by the principle of academic freedom and upholds independence of thought, freedom of discussion, and unimpeded circulation of ideas. Ironically, these principles made the Birzeit University community a target of harassment under the Israeli military occupation," says a history of Birzeit on its website.

Now the university is facing questions about whether it has abandoned those principles in failing to defend a professor who is a target not of Israelis, but of the university's Islamist students.

Musa Budeiri might seem an unlikely target. He has taught at Birzeit for 19 years, published extensively on Palestinian nationalism, and devoted his career to the university through periods when it was very difficult to work there. But he got into trouble with campus Islamists because of a habit he shares with academics in many countries: He posts political cartoons on his office door.

In an e-mail interview, Budeiri said that "since the outbreak of the Arab revolutions I have been in the habit of picking out cartoons from newspapers or the Internet illustrating and commenting on what is happening, and sticking them on my office door." Budeiri has taught cultural studies at the university, so he said he wants students thinking about a range of ideas that are in play online and in print. "I thought this would help provoke and stimulate discussion among students," he said.

He said that the controversy started at the end of the academic year, when he had five cartoons on his door, some of which offended Islamist students.

"The cartoons in question are a couple of pages from Superman comics," he explained. "A blogger from the Emirates had taken a few pages from the comics, added a beard to Superman and declared him Islamic Superman, and posted on the Internet. He also erased the English blurb and inserted words of his own in Arabic. In the first, Superman is lying in bed with a woman and she asks him if he is going to marry her, he responds by saying that on the planet Krypton, they are 'not allowed to take a fifth wife.'

"The second is a scene with Superman and Batman. Superman is reading a fatwa condemning Batman to death for being dressed in women's garb, which according to Superman is not allowed in Islam according to the ruling of some ancient authority; Batman is protesting that he is a Shiite and that the ruling only applies to Sunnis.

...The turmoil started when a group of students distributed a leaflet on campus saying that the cartoons were "an insult to Islam," and that he should be punished and should apologize for posting them, Budeiri said. A Facebook page denouncing him (which was recently removed from Facebook) followed, as did protests. According to Budeiri, the university then removed the cartoons from his door, and sent three vice presidents to ask him to issue an apology. He agreed to issue an explanation, but not to apologize.

At that point, the university issued a statement that said Budeiri did not intend to offend Muslims. While the university criticized attacks on anyone for expressing their views, Budeiri said that no action was taken against the students who threatened him. Student protesters also reported having been told that Budeiri would not be returning to the university, he said, and so considered that a victory. He said that various university officials have continued to ask him to apologize and/or take a leave and go abroad for a semester.

While Budeiri said that the university never informed him that he wouldn't be teaching again, he said that even though he has asked for a contract for the next academic year, he has had "no response." The academic year at Birzeit starts next month.
There's lots more, but the upshot is that the university is trampling over the professor's rights while coddling Islamists who are threatening him.

By the way, the article misunderstands Bir Zeit's history. Even though it links to the history page of the university, it did not become a "college" in 1942, as IHE says, but it became a high school which were often called colleges then. It only became a four year college in 1975 - under Israeli rule.

There were, in fact, no universities in the West Bank under Jordanian rule.

(h/t D)