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Fanatics in the making

Youseef Sidhom | 27 June 2010

 Assiut University is among the oldest in Egypt. In a move to align itself with progressive concepts, the university has established a centre for research and studies on human rights. The centre, which is directly under the charge of the university president, aims at promoting academic research in the field of human rights; propagating awareness of international, regional, and national standards of these rights; and spreading a culture of human rights on campus.    It is also the responsibility of the centre to design and conduct courses on human rights for all university staff, students, and workers. More importantly, it is in charge of changing university curricula to ensure they conform with concepts of human rights, and to write periodical reports to the university president on that issue. So it does appear as though Assiut University is exerting exemplary efforts in the direction of upholding human rights. The facts on the ground, however, lead into a diametrically opposite direction. A significant portion of students are questioning the role of the centre, as well as that of a kindred society that was founded at the universty’s Law School. They cannot see what the centre or the society have done to achieve their declared objectives, nor what policies or activities they implement to ameliorate the rampant fanaticism and widespread religious discrimination in the university.   On the ground, a sizeable portion of the courses offered by the university and the textbooks assigned—especially in case of liberal arts—belong more to an Islamic seminary such as al-Azhar than to a secular university such as Assiut’s. Islamic thought is so predominant that it appears to be the major, if not the only, valid reference point in any philosophy or intellectual activity. This probably owes to the fact that the faculty members, whose responsibility it is to design the course and assign the textbooks and reference books, are themselves seasoned Islamists. The faculty members are the firstfruits of the fundamentalist, extremist, jihadi tide of thought that invaded our universities some three decades ago. Those who were students back then are today’s instructors and professors. It should come as no surprise then that, even under the watchful eye of a centre and society charged with guarding human rights, these faculty members are the greatest propagators of fanatic thought. Anyone in doubt may have a good look into the textbooks, packed full of fanatic Islamic and anti-Christian notions, assigned to students of the first and second years of university, in addition to the books Philosphy of Religion and Islamic Sufism assigned to first and final year students in the Philosophy Department. It is an open question whether anyone from the centre or the society saw them.   I seriously doubt if any representative of the centre ever attended, at random, a lecture given at the university. Because if so, he or she would have discovered first hand the scope of flagrant fanaticism, a violation of the most basic human rights, involved in any common discussion during the lecture.   It stands to reason that undergraduate university education should be comprehensive, and should qualify the student to look into various schools of thought. Students ought not to be intellectually or critically entrapped into any single conceptual theory to the exclusion of all others. They may focus on a single school of thought once they go on to graduate studies but, as undergraduates, they should be made aware of the full diversity of human thought.    It does not help at all that the majority of university faculty are dictatorial in that they tolerate no thought different from their own. Students who dare differ in thought with their professors do so at their own peril. The end result is that, instead of producing a graduate with comprehensive, multi-dimensional knowledge with the ability of critical assessment, the university instils shallow, mono-dimensional mind-frames in their graduates.  The best-ever making of a future fanatic.   Is it any surprise then that Assiut University has managed to produce generations of Christian graduates who remember their college years with the acute bitterness that comes out of having had to endure flagrant, predominant religious discrimination?        

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