20 August 2002

The religious right strikes again...this time in North Carolina.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill assigns one book to all incoming freshmen, which is then discussed during orientation. This year, the university selected as its text Michael Sells's book Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations. Sells is Professor of Comparative Religion at Haverford College, PA, and this book presents the early parts of the Qur'an, along with analysis and commentary to readers with no background in Arabic or Islamic cultures. Officials at UNC-Chapel Hill apparently felt that this would be a way for students to begin to conprehend the rich and varied Islamiccultures of North Africa, the Near and MIddle East, and parts of Asia as more than a killing machine (which has been the American media's vision of Islam since 9/11).

Enter an organization called the Family Policy Network, which sued (and luckily, lost) to prevent the book from being taught at UNC, because it would amount to a "forced conversion" of Christians to Islam, and because the book supposedly does not tell the "whole truth" about Islam. According to this country's conservative elements, it is now OK to attempt to forbid the teaching of any other religion besides Christianity at the university level (which I suppose should lead to the end of the academic study of religion entirely), to engage in university-level book banning, to trespass on academic freedoms at will, and to push for the presentation of Muslims as completely evil--when they are to be mentioned at all.

As a budding academic myself, I wish to be free to require whatever reading I deem appropriate in a class I teach, whether at a public or a private university. UNC's policy to require this reading is a great way to introduce freshmen to academic life, to share opinions and insights, and to learn what going to college is all about--chiefly the exploration of new ideas and the reevaluation of old ones. It disturbs me that the religious right is now pushing its agenda not only in the nation's public secondary schools but also at the university level. Book banning is alive and well.

The Family Policy Network is continuing its legal fight, and is also involved in an effort to incorporate into state law in North Carolina the requirement that undergrad curriculums give equal time to all religions. Although this provision is not fully fleshed out yet, I can't see how such a thing would be possible, let alone desirable. (It is worth noting here that the FPN is also fiercely anti-homosexual--an indication of its intolerant views of the world).

You can see an article on this controversy here.


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