Monday, April 25, 2016

My university and Europe

The university where I work invited interested faculty members to self-nominate themselves to serve on the Strategic Planning Committee.  Given my interests in higher education, and given that the directions that the university sets through this committee will be in place until I retire or am fired, I nominated myself and provided evidence of my track record in thinking above and beyond mere courses and the small little bubbles in which most discussions are trapped.

Of course, I was not selected to be on that committee.  What do I know about higher education!

In a brief thank-you email after receiving the notification that also included the list of faculty named to serve on the committee, I added a sentence that I hoped would make them all think about the committee's composition:
BTW, it seems kind of odd that faculty membership does not include any "people of color" as they say ;)
It was not diversity for the sake of diversity that I pointing out, but was instead about the need to think of the demographic reality.  Strategic Planning is about consciously developing specific action items for the future.  The demographic future of the country is in beige, the 2042 that even comedians joke about.  Oregon is notorious for not knowing how to deal with diversity, whether based on the superficial skin or on religion.   Especially Islam.

Everybody is talking and writing about Islam and the Arab world and Muslims.  The more one delves into the news, the more we realize we don't know anything about Islam, the Arab world, and Muslims.  Robert Kaplan writes that "Europe was essentially defined by Islam. And Islam is redefining it now."
The cultural purity that Europe craves in the face of the Muslim-refugee influx is simply impossible in a world of increasing human interactions.
“The West,” if it does have a meaning beyond geography, manifests a spirit of ever more inclusive liberalism. Just as in the 19th century there was no going back to feudalism, there is no going back now to nationalism, not without courting disaster.
In his short essay, Kaplan makes extensive reference to Edward Said's Orientalism.  Naturally.  Said had plenty of profound observations on the distorted--and intentional at that--understanding that the "West" has about Islam and the Arabs.
The scholar Edward Said took this point further, writing in his book Orientalism in 1978 that Islam had defined Europe culturally, by showing Europe what it was against. Europe’s very identity, in other words, was built in significant measure on a sense of superiority to the Muslim Arab world on its periphery. Imperialism proved the ultimate expression of this evolution
In a lengthy essay after his book was published, Said wrote--keep in mind that this was in 1980:
 If you were to ask an average literate Westerner to name an Arab or Islamic writer, or a musician, or an intellectual, you might get a name like Kahlil Gibran in response, but nothing else. In other words, whole swatches of Islamic history, culture and society simply do not exist except in the truncated, tightly packaged forms made current by the media. As Herbert Schiller has said, TV’s images tend to present reality in too immediate and fragmentary a form for either historical or human continuity to appear. Islam therefore is equivalent to an undifferentiated mob of scimitar-waving oil suppliers, or it is reduced to the utterances of one or another Islamic leader who at the moment happens to be a convenient foreign scapegoat.        
If that is the case with the average literate Westerner then do we need to even wonder why there are plenty of Americans today who eagerly embrace the anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric from Donald Trump and Ted Cruz!

Even at the university, the numbers of students from Saudi Arabia and their families have not been strategically used as opportunities to truly understand "them."  Instead, it seems that my university, like many others, merely continues to treat the foreigners as revenue sources, which is not that different from the "scimitar-waving oil suppliers" caricature that Said was upset about.

At this rate, it seems like it will be a close race between my exit from the university and the ultimate exit itself ;)


Ramesh said...

Coming at it from another angle, it is also the mission of Islamic and Arab leaders (of course the two are far from being synonymous) to portray the religion and community in proper light. Moderate leaders have abdicated their role to firebrand nutcases and must regain their rightful place. Equally so political leaders. Where is the Saladdin of today ?

Neal Degrasse Tyson once compared the Islamic scientific achievements of ancient times, with that of today and bemoaned how scientific achievements have more or less disappeared from the Islamic world. That is true in many walks of life. The giant leaders of the Islamic world in every field are no longer there. Where is the Ibn Sina, Ibn Battuta, Omar Khayyam, Abu Nasr, etc etc of today.

It is also the job of a community to earn the respect of others through the power of their ideas and achievement.

Sriram Khé said...

Ahem ... the issues you bring up fit straight into what is referred to as "post-colonial studies" ... When life--including various intellectual and artistic pursuits--were rudely interrupted and overthrown and controlled by colonial overlords who also went about redrawing boundaries and rewriting histories, then it is not easy to produce the kinds of scientific and artistic works as the people once did. It was the case in the Subcontinent too. Thankfully, the white supremacists did not fight over the territory, unlike the stories elsewhere, and thankfully it was the White supremacists from Britain. But, the arc, the trajectory, was shifted forever.

Now, that does not mean that a society can forever be pointing at the past sins committed by the white supremacists. After all, time moves only in one direction. Which means that contemporary governments ought to be work to regain their rightful places. However, there is also the reality of unholy alliances in the post-colonial scene. The case of Saudi Arabia is a classic example of the royalty screwing up their people and the rest of the world as well with overt and covert support from their erstwhile colonial masters ... :(

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