Islamic centre mocks ANU claim to academic authority

Islamic centre mocks ANU claim to academic authority, by Michael Rubin.

Defenders of the Australian National University’s decision to rebuff establishment of the Ramsay centre, a dedicated institute to study Western civilisation, say they did so to preserve academic independence.

In a June 5 statement, ANU vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt explained that the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation’s vision was inconsistent with that of the university and implied that the Ramsay Centre board’s unapologetic embrace of Western civilisation would compromise the university’s “academic integrity, autonomy and freedom”.

He then lamented that critics juxtaposed the ANU’s rejection of the Ramsay Centre with its indulgence of its Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies which he said “does great work on behalf of Australia that should make us all proud”.

Alas, on several fronts, Schmidt and those celebrating the ANU’s Ramsay rejection miss the point.

Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University good, Western Civ bad.

First, consider Schmidt’s lionisation of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies. In reality, that centre has made the ANU an academic laughing stock. What its conferences and events ordinarily lack in intellectual diversity, they make up for in political polemic.

Just five years ago, for example, the centre hosted Richard Falk, a disgraced 9/11 conspiracy theorist who dismissed concerns about Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s summary executions, repression of women and general human rights abuses as “happily false”. While centre supporters can defend Falk’s invitation on the ground of academic freedom, that lofty principle was never meant to substitute for research, integrity and honesty.

The problems with the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies start at the top. Its director Amin Saikal argued in a 2003 op-ed that the ­Islamic Republic of Iran “provides for a degree of mass participation, political pluralism and assurance of certain human rights and freedoms which do not exist in most of the Middle East”.

The Iranian people, who rose up en masse in 2009 and again this past winter, beg to differ. So too do the women imprisoned for removing their headscarfs and the gays slowly strangled from cranes. …

Why the ANU urgently needs Western Civ:

Universities should be home to a competition of ideas. Intellectuals imbued with the latest postmodern theories and cultural relativism so trendy in the academy today may find anathema old-school study of Western civilisation.

This is exactly why the ANU needs the Ramsay centre: challenging groupthink, breaking consensus and forcing professors to engage in a battle of ideas rather than “no platform” those with whom they disagree is the backbone of a great university.

hat-tip Stephen Neil