"Another Attack on academic freedom"

(From ARABIC-L Without permission)

Sender: owner-arabic-l@listserv.byu.edu

To: arabic-l@listserv.byu.edu

Date: 25 Jan 1999

From: Taoufik Ben-Amor

Subject: Another Attack on academic freedom

Dear Colleagues,

Recently, Samia Mehrez, Professor of Modern Arabic Literature at the American University in Cairo came under attack for assigning to her class the fictional autobiography of the Moroccan writer Muhammad Choukri, AL-KUBZ AL-HAFI. This work is probably known to many of you as an important and powerful text that has been translated into many languages (into English by Paul Bowles under the title FOR BREAD ALONE). Several students presumably complained to their parents about the "pornographic" content of the novel. The parents brought the matter to the attention of a family friend, who is the university physician and who, in turn, brought it to the attention of the President of AUC, presumably to hush up the matter discreetly and spare AUC adverse publicity. On December 17, while teaching her class, Professor Mehrez was whisked to the office of the President for an impromptu meeting with the President, the Provost, the Dean, and the said physician. In this meeting she was informed of the nature of the charge against her and of the desire of the University to hush up the matter by having her withdraw the book and apologize to the class for assigning it. Professor Mehrez, a tenured professor and a highly respected scholar of Modern Arabic Literature, declined to do either but expressed willingness to exclude the novel, which she had already taught, from the examination.

In the wake of this incident a public campaign was launched by some Egyptian newspapers to discredit Professor Mehrez and to embarrass the American University. One immediate consequence has been the removal from the shelves of the AUC Bookstore of works that are deemed by self-appointed custodians of public morality as injurious to good taste. Among these are Sonallah Ibrahim's THE SMELL OF IT and ALifa Rifaat's Distant View of a Minaret. In addition, the committee for the core curriculum at AUC is now seriousely considering removing al-Tayyib Salih's novel Season of Migration to the North from its reading list for this coming semester. Meantime, the campaign against Professor Mehrez has grown steadily more vicious in the last few weeks, as she is being charged now with sexual harassment for assigning "pornographic material" to minors and forcing them to discuss it.

From all appearances, this is not merely a gross violation and infringement of the academic rights of one professor of Arabic literature, grave and unconscionable as that is, but a wholesale attack on the literary imagination and on the very foundations of modern Arabic literature. If it is allowed to go unchecked, this eager censorship will ultimately consign imaginative literature to the role of beautifying and consecrating the ugly reality of violence, oppression, and injustice that prevail, alas, in much of the contemporary Arab world.

We strongly urge all concerned colleagues to write directly to the President of AUC to protest the campaign of terror and intimidation against Professor Mehrez and to support the principles of academic freedom and a liberal-arts education on which American universities stand, at home and abroad.

To: Arabic-Info@Dartmouth.EDU

Subject: RE: Another Attack on Academic Freedom

Date: Thu, 28 Jan 1999

Sender: owner-arabic-info@Dartmouth.EDU

I couldn't resist to make a comment related to Dr. Mehrez's ongoing struggle with the media and maybe the authorities for her academic preferences. I have almost the same type of respectfully conservative audience of students and I understand the cultural dilemma the teaching of that novel has caused.

Although I am personally against censorship, but I still believe that values of any society must be respected and observed by academic institutions. Attitudes toward censorship should remain personal and should not be imposed on societies. If an educator favors freedom of thought and choice of teaching material, this does not necessarily mean s/he is free to impose that view on an educational institution in a society that favors censorship. Any society is free to choose to live as conservative as they wish. AUC is a foreign school coming from a foreign culture. The mastery of the art of crossing cultures is what can make this school successful in achieving its goals.

The American University, just like most American schools, adopts a policy that respects the students' cultural background and religious preferences. As a grad student at an American school, I have the right to object to any academic material my instructors choose to teach in case I find the material offensive to my religious or cultural values. I don't see how an American University's faculty member at AUC fails to realize/consider that teaching rule of thumb. Considering the issue at hand, the novel is not only offensive to the Egyptian society but is almost a universally objectionable material.

In more than one incident, the world has witnessed cultural and religious clashes between some academicians and the conservatives of the Egyptian society. I, however, do not believe that what has, so far, happened to Dr. Mehrez has involved any terrorist reactions, violence, oppression, or injustice as Ms. Al-Nowaihi has implied in her posting. At least, the message does not reflect any evidence of that. Since the message involves a call upon the list members to react favorably in support of Dr. Mehrez, the facts have to be reported to the list members, not sidestepped. It is known for a fact that the Egyptian society is conservative and does not allow pornographic material to its media or educational system. As the message has explained, the novel is liberal in nature and, thus, contradicts with the very foundations of the morals of society in Egypt.

Unfortunately, some educators fail to balance between the cultural maxims students observe and the cultural background of the material they teach. There needs to be balance between the two and educators are advised to lean toward observing the students' culture more because they matter most. If an educator loses a certain novel or so, there is still an endless material available to teach to those students. However, if the educator loses the students, what could the alternative/result be?

I believe part of what makes an educator successful is the sensitivity to the cultural values of students and society.

Khalid Abalhassan

Ph.D. Prog. in Rhetoric & Linguistics, Eng.Dept, Indiana University of Pennsylvania "IUP"


Subject: Letter to President Gerhart

Dear President Gerhart I am writing to express my deep concern over the events unfolding around Prof. Samia Mehrez's teaching of Muhammad Choukri's AL-Khubz al-Hafi at AUC. I write as a Professor of Arabic Literature, a former AUCian, and, on a more personal level, as the daughter of a long-time Professor and Chair of the Arabic Studies Department at AUC. I strongly urge the AUC to fully support and protect Prof. Mehrez for the following reasons:

1. Professor Mehrez is without any doubt a first-rate scholar and teacher of modern Arabic Literature, highly respected and admired world-wide. When our students here at Columbia University contemplate doing a semester or year abroad at AUC, or are about to join the CASA program, one of the first pieces of advice I give them is to be sure and get in touch with Prof. Mehrez and to try and take a course with her. The reports from the returning students are always glowing.

2. Choukri's novelistic autobiography is neither an obscure nor a pornographic text, but rather a well-established classic of contemporary Arabic literature, translated into many languages, taught by many universities in classes on Arabic and world literature, and researched and analyzed by various critics of Arabic literature, including myself. It is true that the text includes unsavory details, and this brings me to my next point.

3. It is in the nature of serious literature, Arabic literature being no exception, to deal with sensitive and controversial subjects. Indeed, that is the source of its power. We all know that the Nobel prize winner Naguib Mahfuz regularly populates his fiction with characters who question the existence of God and the value of religion. And a vast majority of serious Arabic literature deals with human sexuality with brutal honesty. To mention just a couple of examples from works by writers whose stature no one can doubt : Yusuf Idris routinely describes, in quite graphic detail, incidents such as that of a child sleeping under his mother's bed and listening to the sounds ensuing from her sexual activities with her customers (lianna al-qiyamata la taqum), or a mother and three daughters all knowingly having sexual relations with the mother's husband and their step-father because of the unavailability of another man (Bayt min lahm). Yahya al-Taher Abdallah begins his masterpiece Al-Tawq wa-al-Iswira by describing the incestuous desire of a sister for her brother, and her sniffing of his underpants and the sweaty arm-pits of his undershirts before washing them. He later describes how that incestuous desire gets played out in a sado-masochistic relationship between brother and sister. I can fill pages and pages with more examples of the explicit sexual details of many works of Arabic literature, but the point I want to make is this: these writers are not including these horrifying sexual details in their works to corrupt their readers or tempt them to do likewise, quite the contrary. They believe, and they ARE right, that literature does not affect positive change in society, does not contribute to the making of more moral human beings, by restricting itself to the portrayal of decent, law-abiding citizens doing good deeds. Rather, the role of a writer can be compared to that of a physician. Just as a physician, to heal the human body, needs to expose it and examine it in all its nudity and deal with its guts, blood, urine, etc., a writer must fully expose human society in all its ugliness and oppressivness in order to move his/her readers enough for them to join the struggle to create a better world. Just as we cannot afford to deny students of medicine the right, in fact the duty, to dissect the human body, we cannot afford to allow students in the humanities to avert their eyes from dissecting human nature and human society in all its aspects and manifestations. The phrase "la-haya'a fi al-din" (there is no shame in religious matters) is routinely applied to the sciences by educators explaining to parents why their daughters, for example, need to touch male genitalia, and must likewise be applied to the study of the humanities.

4. My final point has to do with the AUC as an institution. I have always been extremely proud of my AUC education, and have been brought up on memories of my father's pride in belonging to that institution. I hope I will be able to continue to do so. Above all, what makes AUC occupy an important and special place in Egypt has been its commitment to academic freedom and the principles of a liberal-arts education, which allows it to train young men and women not just to parrot information but to develop the capacity to analyze, to question, to examine critically- in short, to be thinking human beings. AUC , over the past few months and starting with the incident involving the teaching of Rodinson's book, has begun to renege on this commitment, and that is terrifying. Instead of adopting an apologetic tone and retracting, which will not, I assure you, appease its enemies, and may very well cause it to lose its friends, AUC must emphasize its strengths, of which there are many. It has graduated, both through the college and CASA, a large number of academicians and professionals who have, for one thing, served to improve the view of Egyptians, Arabs, and Muslims in the West. Its students are not, as some critics seem to think, a bunch of kids being brain-washed by Americans into abandoning their national identity, quite the contrary, as is evidenced by the recent demonstrations of the students against America's bombing of Iraq. Young men and women come from universities all over Egypt (Tanta, Asyut, etc.) to use the AUC library and bookstore, which they consider havens for seekers of knowledge. Many AUC students volunteer in hospitals, orphanages, schools, etc., and are fully committed to working with Egypt's poor and oppressed. The ironic part is that it is through their exposure to works like Choukri's that they gain a knowledge and understanding of those less privileged than they, and this must be made clear to the public. I urge you to support Prof. Mehrez and the values on which AUC stands- for her sake, for AUC's sake, for Egypt's sake, and for all our sakes. Thank you.

Prof. Magda Al-Nowaihi

Columbia University 605 Kent Hall New York, NY 10027

Subject: President Gerhart's response

Dear Professor Al-Nowaihi,

Thank you for your extremely thoughtful letter, the most eloquent by far of the dozen I have so far received. I assure you that AUC is not reneging on its commitment to intellectual freedom. Nor are we failing to protect Professor Mehrez. Nor is her excellence at issue. We have tried with partial success to keep her name out of the papers and have insisted on responding as an institution to both the parents' and the newspapers' complaints. Unfortunately, so-called "pornography" is something that all parents feel qualified to decide for themselves and few, if any, would take the broad and deep perspective that you have stated so well.

Although the Rodenson case occurred the year before I came here, I think the University had little choice in the matter. The President of the Republic demanded that the book be removed. I am convinced by the sequence of events that this was intended to protect the university from reprisals, but of course the longer term consequences were harmful. While the censors are reviewing far more books than they did previously, the number banned has not increased significantly. Reports that the University is itself banning books are completely untrue. The only case in point is when the censor has requested books from the library for review and then later returned them.

I hope that you can make your arguments about sexually explicit writing in a literary venue where they can be heard by a larger audience. Some faculty believe that the controversy itself will help educate the public. I find the press not very helpful. They take each response as an opportunity to denounce the university afresh. (They can't seem to decide whether this is a French, an American, or a Moroccan plot against the youth of Egypt, all 18 million of them!) It is curious to me that people believe reading a single page can undo the moral training of a lifetime. Perhaps this is a backhanded compliment to the power of the written word. Of course, AUC of all places should not give in to self-appointed guardians of public morality.

I am grateful to you for taking the time and effort to write such a thoughtful letter and I hope that we can live up to your expectations.

Sincerely, John Gerhart

To: Arabic-Info@Dartmouth.EDU

From: siddiq@socrates.berkeley.edu (Muhammad Siddiq)

Subject: On Academic Freedom

Sender: owner-arabic-info@Dartmouth.EDU

Dear Colleagues,

I recently wrote President Gerhart the enclosed letter concerning the case of Professor Samia Mehrez at AUC. His gracious reply contained a mildly worded complaint about our original posting. In fairness to him and to AUC, I have decided to put the entire correspondence before you. Meantime, the response of many concerned colleagues to our initial posting was gratifying beyond measure. In addition to the relief it brought Professor Mehrez personally, it demonstrated the presence of an articulate and highly dedicated constituency of scholars of Arabic and Middle Eastern studies who care deeply about academic freedom. Since it is unlikely that this is the last we will hear from those who would police thought and speech in the name of one supreme imperative or another, it is reassuring to know that this valiant constituency is there and will come to the rescue, should the need arise.

Thank you all.

Muhammad Siddiq UC Berkeley

January 28, 1999

Dear Professor Gerhart:

I have been meaning to write to you for some time but was detained by a number of pressing academic and personal issues that claimed my undivided attention. This inadvertent delay was not entirely untoward as it gave me time to reflect further on the issues surrounding the subject of my intention, namely the case of Professor Samia Mehrez and For Bread Alone. To spare you all undue length, I will be brief and to the point. When Professor al-Nowaihi and I carried our concern for the well-being and academic freedom of our colleague, Professor Mehrez, to the public arena we were neither indifferent to nor unmindful of the delicate position of AUC. Quite to the contrary: upper most on our minds was the valiant effort of AUC faculty and administrators to hold steadfast to the agenda of a liberal-arts education in the face of great odds in an increasingly hostile environment. Moreover, inasmuch as AUC was in compliance with its own commitment to academic freedom, we sincerely viewed our solidarity with Professor Mehrez's right to partake of that institutional freedom as an expression of solidarity with and support for AUC itself. I can think of no greater praise of either individuals or institutions than to hold them accountable to the ideals they profess. But there is also a practical aspect to these considerations. Many of us who teach Arabic language and literature at major American universities regularly send scores of our students to AUC and fully accept credit units garnered from taking courses there. The mere suspicion that unscholarly and unacademic criteria interfere in shaping the curricula and syllabi of such courses is enough to give us pause. Will we not be amiss in our ethical and professional responsibility to our students in such a case if we pretend that a curriculum edited by whimsical censorship in another country is comparable to, and therefore interchangeable with, what their home universities offer? Finally, as a student of literature it would be disingenuous on my part to feign indifference to the larger consequences of the corrosive encroachment of bigoted moral posturing on intellectual, scholarly, and especially perhaps academic domains. Nor will I pretend that Shukri's work is completely innocent of the charge of obscenity that is sometimes levelled against it by readers of "puritanical" bent of mind. But this kind of reading inverts the order of artistic creation and stands the novel on its head. The prevalence of foul language and violence in the text is a reflection of their prevalence in society, at least in the society of Shukri's youth. A literary work that predicates its artistic truth and value on the accumulative effect of circumstantial details, as Shukri's text certainly does, has little choice but to represent lived experience graphically. One can legitimately dislike the work but not question its artistic merit, the veracity of the experience it depicts, or the suitability of its narrative technique to its subject-matter. Be that as it may, those who would ban this book on grounds of "obscenity" would just as readily ban other texts on other grounds: heresy, atheism, Marxism, secularism, Sufism, Shi'ism, as indeed they have been doing for years. It is precisely this alarming prospect that stirs us so deeply as we watch with consternation the systematic dismantling of all the projects, hopes, and dreams of the makers of the Arab Nahda for an enlightened, tolerant, pluralistic Arab culture. We may, I hope, be forgiven the minor indulgence of wishing to preserve the few remaining corners in the vast Arab world where the Arab mind and imagination can crawl for shelter in these terrible times: (Under less disabling circumstances, an aerial metaphor would have been more apt for the occasion). But since Arab society is no less subject to historical change than other societies, the present Arab dark-ages will also come to an end, no matter how remote that prospect may appear to us. Friends of AUC would want it firmly on the side of enlightenment, rationality, and freedom when that dawn finally breaks through. Small as it may be, the preservation and strengthening of academic freedom, at AUC and other respectable academic institutions in the Arab world, is a crucial step in that direction. I trust that under your wise leadership AUC will spare no effort in safeguarding this cherished hope, and wish you a pleasant and productive tenure as President of this great university.

Sincerely, Muhammad Siddiq

Dear Dr. Siddiq,

Thanks for the lovely letter. I subscribe to everything you have said. I wish you had sent this out instead of your original appeal which, among other things, implied that the university was leading the attack on Dr. Mehrez as well as spreading various rumors about other books that were untrue. (Incidentally, after much discussion with her, we decided unanimously and explicitly NOT to ask Samia to apologize to her class, yet the appeal says we did.) I was perhaps naive in thinking we could forstall the parents, but in fact it was Samia's own memo that put the issue in the hands of the newspapers. Given the irresponsibility of the opportunistic press here, the matter got worse and worse with open letters to me and then the Minister of Education. So far the government has stayed out of it, and no books have been banned, which is an improvement over last year. (I think that they draw a distinction between this type of literary issue and religion.) Please be assured that we also are concerned about keeping AUC a bastion of free thought. It is easier to do that from the U.S. than from here.


John Gerhart

Date: 18 Feb 1999

From: Abbas Al-Tonsi

Subject: Plain bread

The pendulum of opinions in the debate concerning teaching"plain Bread" in an undergraduate survey course of Arabic literature at the American University in Cairo seems to swing wildly from one extreme to another. Egyptian newspapers, regardless of their political orientation, share one extreme position that such a book should be banned to guard morals and prevent the defamation of Arabic literature; the mere inclusion of the book in an academic course, they claim, can only be construed as a deliberate attempt to corrupt students' morality. On the other extreme, in the February 2nd issue of Al-Hayat, Mr. Hasan Dawud not only endorses including "Plain Bread" in such an undergraduate survey course, but also goes the extra mile to stigmatize its exclusion from any such required course as an act of acquiescence and capitulation to the long arm of "militant" groups. An act, he holds, which reduces a university into a mere high school. Previously, I have written arguing against the prevalent "conservative"position in the Egyptian press (cf. my article "A Special Type of Liberals" in Akhbaar Al-Adab on 1/24/99). Today, I find myself compelled to take issue with the extremists on both extreme ends. 1. The two opposing groups unjustifiably ascribe to themselves the role of guardian and shepherd. The students who complained about the pornographic language of the text are labeled as tattletales by one group and immature brats by the other. No attention is paid to the true nature of liberal education nor to the importance of student input if such a process is to be meaningful. 2. In advocating extremism, the two opposing groups are surprisingly so narrow minded that they can only see things as either black or white. No dialogue permitted. Agree with me or pay the dear price. One group sees the attempt not to ban this third rate work as an invitation to promiscuity and lewdness. The other regards any restraint as a sign of reactionarism and backwardness or, at best, an attack on the freedom of speech: A view which fits with the misinformed, albeit commonly held, stereotypical image of an east that represses freedom, oppresses women, and persecutes minorities. How so conveniently juicy and provocative a thought to two stooping Arab professors at Columbia and Berkeley! 3. Both groups presume that AUC, faculty and administration, are of one opinion and incapable of having individual thoughts. How arrogant and ignorant indeed! Conveniently, these stout, fierce defenders of the freedom of speech have been too busy to express their thoughts about the continued American Rambo adventurism against Iraq. Have I been so out of touch that I missed the shouts of them protesting Zionist expansionism and the hundreds of articles produced by these strugglers denouncing American Imperialism? Is it unfair to perceive their position for what it is: an orientalist perspective that caters to what orientalists wish to see in our literature or our culture. Is it a coincidence that they choose not to teach Mahmud Darwish's poem "Aberoun fi kalaam Abir"?! Or Habibi's "Ikhtifaa Said "(even after he accepted an Israeli award)?! Is it a random event that "al-lajna" or &"Beirut..Beirut" by S. Ibrahim?! Were they worried about being labeled as anti zionist or anti imperialist?! Or have they simply towed the line of defining liberalism only in terms of sexual freedom?! Dare they discuss Holocaust ? Dare they discuss even the Israeli Violations whether in south Lebanon or in West bank? How I wish to support these "liberals"! But, alas! their case is hopeless this time. Convince me, if you can, that introducing a novel which was not written in Arabic but written by a "khawaga" based on the story told in poor Spanish and then translated into Arabic falls in the realm of Arabic novel! How can one possibly separate the story from the discourse and consider language as a mere vehicle? Let them teach, if they dare, Y.T. Abdullah"Al-Touq wal-Iswera" which they either implicitly or explicitly advocated not publishing its English translation simply because it portrays the folkloric stereotype of a Jew in the Middle East. Neither the novel's talented narrative movement (not mentioned by Genette) nor its other folkloric feature, typically of great appeal to the west, could save it from being banned by these "liberals" Why do you consider respecting the students' culture and code of ethics and morality an infringement on the Academic freedom ? Finally The question here is, simply put, why include the novel or the autobiography "Plain Bread" in an Arabic Literature curriculum when it was not written in Arabic in the first place? can any professor consider a novel written originally in French then translated into English as English literature ?! And why use a secondary source like Rodinson's Mohammed when not jointly balanced with a primary source, a violation of the ABC of scientific thinking? In any University in USA can a professor teach a book about Jesus writen by an Arab Muslim who has a critical point of view as the only source ?!) Abbas Al-Tonsi Arabic Language Institute American University in Cairo

Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1999

X-PH: V4.1@cornell.edu (Cornell Modified)

To: Arabic-info@Dartmouth.EDU

From: siddiq@socrates.berkeley.edu (Muhammad Siddiq)

Subject: Response: AUC & Academic Freedom

Sender: owner-arabic-info@Dartmouth.EDU

Mr. Abbas Al-Tonsi's February 20, 1999 piece on Arabic-info alludes to Professor al-Nowaihi and myself in a sardonic remark and, I assume, includes us both in its free-wheeling denunciation of those who support academic freedom, many of whom have written specifically in support of our colleague, Professor Samia Mehrez at AUC. To the extent that I am able to follow its rambling style, the statement seems to make a mockery of intelligent scholarly debate and to flout the very principles of liberal arts education of which, I believe, academic freedom is a corner stone. It is out of respect to our serious colleagues on this and other lists who showed remarkable selflessness in putting principle before personal comfort in connection with this case, that I feel compelled to respond at some length to Mr. Al-Tonsi's statement. I shall do so by addressing the main points as they appear in that statement, preceded by Arabic numerals and enclosed within quotation marks in the following. 1. "The two opposing groups unjustifiably ascribe to themselves the role of guardian and shepherd. The students who complained about the pornographic language of the text are labeled as tattletales by one group and immature brats by the other. No attention is paid to the true nature of liberal education nor to the importance of student input if such a process is to be meaningful. In advocating extremism, the two opposing groups are surprisingly so narrow-minded that they can only see things as either black or white. No dialogue permitted. Agree with me or pay the dear price." Notwithstanding its external gesture towards even-handedness, the lumping together of advocates and opponents of censorship as equally "extremist" in the above passages betrays either a fundamental confusion or a willful distortion of categories. For whereas the opponents of censorship advocate inclusiveness and representation of the entire range of discourses, the proponents of censorship advocate exclusion and thus, implicitly, arrogate to themselves the right to decide what is or is not permissible, not only for themselves, but also for others. Unless Mr. Al-Tonsi can show us how academic freedom can coexist with arbitrary censorship, his attempt to smear the defense of academic freedom as a form of "extremism" will, at best, ring hollow. I, for one, fail to see how the posting of a statement in support of academic freedom on a public list qualifies as a "extremist" or "narrow-minded" position that sees "things in either black or white" and disallows "dialogue." How else, if not by the open and free exchange of ideas in a public forum, can a meaningful dialogue about such crucial issues take place, especially among people who are literally worlds apart? And where precisely in the discourse of advocates of academic freedom does Mr. Al-Tonsi find an ultimatum that says: "agree with me or pay the dear price?" What power, other than the cogent force of reason, perhaps, do advocates of academic freedom have to enforce such an alleged ultimatum? 2. "One group sees the attempt not to ban this third rate work as an invitation to promiscuity and lewdness. The other regards any restraint as a sign of reactionarism and backwardness or, at best, an attack on the freedom of speech: A view which fits with the misinformed, albeit commonly held, stereotypical image of an East that represses freedom, oppresses women, and persecutes minorities." Whether al-Khubz al-Hafi is a third or a first rate work is not the issue. Difference of opinion on this matter is perfectly legitimate; but not so the banning of the book, or any book, on grounds of "obscenity" or "profanity." The leap, however, from the specific issue of censorship and academic freedom to the other generalizations in the above passage boggles the mind. Particularly disconcerting is the cavalier interjection in this debate of emotionally charged but by now largely useless terms such as "reactionarism, " "backwardness, " and "the East". This practice may score points with "the converted," but it does little to advance the search for a viable solution to acutely felt problems in our contemporary Arab culture. That such basic problems exist and constantly test our individual and collective sense of identity can hardly be gainsaid; indeed the very question of freedom of thought and expression in all walks of Arab life is just one such issue. Even a rudimentary knowledge of Arab/Islamic history is sufficient to show that this problem is as innate in our culture as it has been in all other cultures at one phase or another in their historical development. The representation of the human body has in recent centuries emerged as a litmus test for the limits of freedom in Arab culture. But, as a brief glance at both classical Arabic literature and popular literature would show, this wasn't always so. In fact, neither Abd Allah al-Nadim, the speaker of the Urabi uprising, nor the Palestinian poet Ibrahim Tuqan, nor the contemporary Iraqi poet Muzaffar al-Nawwab, nor the late Egyptian 'Amiyya poet Najib Surur, had any qualms about using "profane" language for artistic ends. Were they any different in this regard from, say, D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, or James Joyce? 3. "How so conveniently juicy and provocative a thought to two stooping Arab professors at Columbia and Berkeley!" This frivolous attempt at cuteness is only partially successful: it is frivolous. Its abstruse syntax aside, it does little, in my humble opinion, to enhance Mr. Al-Tonsi's claim to intellectual seriousness. 4. "Both groups presume that AUC, faculty and administration, are of one opinion and incapable of having individual thoughts. How arrogant and ignorant indeed!" Who in his or her right mind, at least among the advocates of academic freedom, would have written a word to urge steadfast support of this cherished principle if they had assumed that AUC is such a monolith? It should give us all pause that Mr. Al-Tonsi, an instructor at a prestigious University, fails to grasp the paramount significance of an open public debate where divergent opinions are expressed freely to inform the democratic process of decision making. Personal insults demean without informing; please, spare us all! 5. "Conveniently, these stout, fierce defenders of the freedom of speech have been too busy to express their thoughts about the continued American Rambo adventurism against Iraq. Have I been so out of touch that I missed the shouts of them protesting Zionist expansionism and the hundreds of articles produced by these strugglers denouncing American Imperialism? Is it unfair to perceive their position for what it is: an orientalist perspective that caters to what Orientalists wish to see in our literature or our culture." This is yet another example of Mr. Al-Tonsi's free-wheeling charge against an ad-hominem adversary of his own creation. To the best of my knowledge, most members of the scholarly community who expressed their outrage at the attempt to censor books at AUC have also expressed on different occasions, each in his or her own way, their outrage at the barbaric assault on the people of Iraq and against Israeli racism and expansionism. Mr. Al-Tonsi's diversionary tactic of slinging mud --"orientalist" or otherwise-- at reputable scholars is too transparent to pass muster: as we say in Arabic: "il'ab gherha." As to the case of unhappy Iraq, why do you, Mr. Al-Tonsi, choose to forget that it is Saudi and Gulf States money that paid, and still pays for the mercenary American and British military presence in the Gulf which is bleeding Iraq to death? The enlightened discourse of Arab nationalism had taught us to consider Imperialism, Zionism, and Arab reactionary regimes as partners in the unholy alliance against the interests of the Arab nation. Nothing in what I have seen or heard since the purported demise of Arab nationalism causes me to reconsider the validity of this fundamental truth. Nor will blaming others endlessly for our problems, facile though it is, get us anywhere near a viable solution to the real problems that beset our contemporary Arab life. (To the best of my knowledge, neither imperialism, nor Zionism, let alone orientalism, were responsible for the crucifixion of al-Hallaj or the public humiliation of Ibn Rushd!) Were "meddling others" responsible for the tragic fate of Shaykh al-Biqa'i in the Tenth Islamic century, whom Ibn Hijr describes as a great and prolific scholar? Here is a rough translation of that painful scene as described by the eminent Egyptian scholar of Islam, Ahmad Amin, largely paraphrasing Ibn Hijr: "al-Biqa'i used to take issue with Ibn Arabi and to refute some of his views. He considered Ibn al-Farid a better poet than a Sufi. He also took issue with al-Ghazali's statement that "this is the best of all possible worlds." The public rose up against him. He was declared an apostate and condemned to death, and was almost killed, were it not for the timely intervention of some men of power on his behalf. He was made to repent and his Islam was renewed. (One day) some religious scholars entered his house and found him alone. They took to beating him on the head with their shoes until he almost died. Then scholars took to writing books against him and in defense of al-Ghazali. When he finally developed dyspnea they ascribed it to the curse of Ibn al-Farid (on him)." (Fayd al-Khatir, Maktabat al-Nahda al-Misriyya, 6th printing, 1965, p. 93.) Was the late Ahmad Amin acting on the behest of the perennial enemies of Arabs and Muslims or in the best interest of both when he, in the best tradition of Arab and Muslim historians, put truth, accuracy, and above all self-criticism, ahead of all other considerations? I confess that I prefer Ahmad Amin's alternative to Mr. Al-Tonsi's manichean rhetoric of either/or. For I can imagine an ardent, but not uncritical, love of Arab/Islamic culture that inspires thinking and creative contemporary Arabs to rise above our dismal present to a future worthy of the best in our great heritage. In that light, the struggle for a free, open, democratic, and progressive Arab world appears to me indivisible, and hence, progress on any front is progress on all fronts. As academics, we are within our right to consider the safeguarding of academic freedom anywhere in the Arab world a worthy cause and to act in good faith to promote it each according to his or her personal ability. 6. "Is it a coincidence that they choose not to teach Mahmud Darwish's poem "Aberoun fi kalaam Abir"? Or Habibi's "Ikhtifaa Said "(even after he accepted an Israeli award)? Is it a random event that "al-Lajna" or &"Beirut..Beirut" by S. Ibrahim?! Were they worried about being labeled as anti-Zionist or anti-Imperialist?! Or have they simply towed the line of defining liberalism only in terms of sexual freedom?! Dare they discuss the Holocaust? Dare they discuss even the Israeli violations whether in south Lebanon or in West bank? How I wish to support these "liberals"! Alas their case is hopeless this time. " The syntactic incoherence of the preceding passage may be the result of the loss of part of the text; but the shrill tone has survived intact. Again, I am at a loss to identify the intended villains of the piece. Since I assume that the sweeping charge includes me, please allow me to mention a few personal facts. I do so with distinct displeasure and unease not to brag or to defend my personal and professional integrity, neither stands in need of Mr. Al-Tonsi's approval, but only to juxtapose facts to innuendo. As a matter of fact, Mr. Al-Tonsi, I do regularly teach and write on Darwish's poetry, Habibi's prose, as well as the prose of Kanafani, Khalifa, Jabra, and other Palestinian and Arab writers. It so happens that the first item on the reading list of a course I taught last semester at Berkeley "Styles of Arabic" was none other than Darwish's famous nationalist poem, "Identity Card." If Mr. Al-Tonsi, or anyone else for that matter, provides a fax number, I will gladly fax them a copy of the class syllabus. Also apropos this matter, my monograph on the works of the late Ghassan Kanafani was, to the best of my knowledge, the first work on a Palestinian writer in a foreign language. All this, of course, is public knowledge and, as such, is available to Mr. Al-Tonsi for the asking. On this subject, however, I have an unpleasant surprise for you, Mr. Al-Tonsi. In the process of discussing Darwish's famous poem, Madih al-Zill al-'Ali (In Praise of the Tall Shadow, 1983) in class here at Berkeley one day, a fellow Palestinian student asked whether Darwish was a Muslim. I instantly answered in the affirmative, drawing the student's attention to the poet's Islamic first name. He retorted: "but that makes him a kafir (an unbeliever)." I asked: "how so?" In answer, he pointed to a powerful image in which Darwish, addressing the Palestinian people, says: "The cross is your vital space, your only path from one siege to another." As we all listened politely, the student went on to elaborate: "This verse clearly shows that Darwish believes that Christ was crucified, which is contrary to the Islamic view. Ergo, Darwish questions the validity of Qu'anic revelation, and that makes him a kafir" All my attempts to explain the difference between the recourse to poetic imagery for emotive effect and the shape of religious belief were of no avail. For this student, Darwish is kafir, and that is that. In a similar vein, other students have on occasion objected strenuously to Kanafani's deployment of the Islamic trope of martyrdom in the secular discourse of nationalism and patriotism, to Al-Tayyib Salih's depiction of sexuality, and to Abd al-Hakim Qasim's treatment of religious matters (not to mention Mahfuz's tabooed novel Awlad Haratina). I could go on, but you get the point. For those of us who take imaginative literature and intellectual matters seriously sloganeering and warn out cliches unfortunately provide no adequate answer to such real and recurrent challenges. Perhaps because the syntax is garbled, I cannot make out the intent of the reference to Sonalla Ibrahim's works al-Lajna and Beirut, Beirut. Mr. Al-Tonsi may not know that Sonalla Ibrahim's novella al-Lajna was translated into English by two graduate students under my direct supervision at the University of Washington. The translation was even accepted for publication but was ultimately scuttled by differences over technical matters between the writer and the publishing house. Also, if it is any consolation for Mr. Al-Tonsi to know, Sonalla Ibrahim has just concluded a semester-long stay as a guest of our Department at Berkeley. 7. "Convince me, if you can, that introducing a novel which was not written in Arabic but written by a "khawaga" based on the story told in poor Spanish and then translated into Arabic falls in the realm of the Arabic novel! How can one possibly separate the story from the discourse and consider language as a mere vehicle?" The strident rhetoric takes an ugly turn here. To begin with, as Taher Ben Jelloun writes in the blurb to the novel, the reason why al-Khubz al-Hafi appeared in several European languages before it appeared in Arabic is the very taboo against such writing in modern Arabic literature. It is possible that Mr. Al-Tonsi adopts the version of Paul Bowles on this matter, which would be instructive under the circumstances, since Muhammad Shukri and the facts strenuously refute it. Be that as it may, how does this linguistic fact make the work itself that of a "khawaga" i.e. foreigner, when its source, autobiographical subject, and Arabic version are unmistakably Shukri's? What rationale informs such an exclusionary rhetoric that would make membership in Arab identity and culture a contingent dispensation wielded at will by Arab against Arab? At the bottom of this treacherous slope lurks a danger of endless civil strife and fratricide. Still on the language factor, Mr. Al-Tonsi, out of all people, should know that for centuries all belletrist texts were viewed with disfavor in official Islamic culture; but especially so works of popular literature, such as The Thousand and One Nights and the folk epics, because they did not conform to linguistic standards of the official canon. Isn't Mr. Al-Tonsi's "linguistic consideration" a regressive, anachronistic, and embarrassingly parochial throw-back to these unspeakable practices? And, incidentally, would Mr. Al-Tonsi ban from Arabic literature and Arab culture all texts that were not written in Arabic? Would his list include the works of such prominent writers as Walid Khalidi, Edward Said, Hisham Sharabi, Charles Issawi, Amin Maalouf, Philip Hitti, Albert Hourani, Kateb Yecin, and numerous other Arab writers who happened to write on Arab affairs in foreign languages, or would he just brand as "non-Arabic" works that he dislikes? 7. "Let them teach, if they dare, Y.T. Abdullah "Al-Touq wal-Iswera" which they either implicitly or explicitly advocated not publishing its English translation simply because it portrays the folkloric stereotype of a Jew in the Middle East. Neither the novel's talented narrative movement (not mentioned by Genette) nor its other folkloric feature, typically of great appeal to the West, could save it from being banned by these "liberals." Again, I cannot make much sense of this. We both, Professor al-Nowaihi and I, love al-Tawq wa al-Iswera and admire the talent of the late Yahya al-Tahir Abd-Allah. And we both have taught this great novel in our courses. The recondite referents of the rest of the passage, if any such exist, completely escape me. 8. "Finally the question here is, simply put: Why include the novel or the autobiography "Plain Bread" in an Arabic Literature curriculum when it was not written in Arabic in the first place? Can any professor consider a novel written originally in French then translated into English as English literature ?! And why use a secondary source like Rodinson's Mohammed when not jointly balanced with a primary source, a violation of the ABC of scientific thinking? In any University in USA can a professor teach a book about Jesus written by an Arab Muslim who has a critical point of view as the only source?!" This is an apt finale for an extraordinary piece of writing. For your knowledge, Mr. Al-Tonsi, works written originally in different languages and translated into English are often taught in English courses at many American universities. The Arabian Nights is just one outstanding example. Again, to cite an example from my own university, I often teach Arabic novels in courses which are cross-listed with English and, for all practical purposes, count as English literature courses. I will be happy to provide Mr. Al-Tonsi with a copy of the reading lists of such courses, or, if he prefers, he can request these directly from the secretary of the English Department at UC Berkeley. Simply ask for the reading list, say, of my course "Cultural Encounters in the Novel" which is listed under English 165. Let me conclude this inordinately long and excruciatingly unpleasant rejoinder by thanking you all for your kind patience. If the exchange succeeds in promoting, however minimally, our common interest in academic freedom, or indeed freedom in general, it will not have been in vain. In the meantime, as I am about to go on a sabbatical for a semester, I will be signing off soon by unsubscribing to this and all other lists until I return to Berkeley next August. Let's hope for a reunion in happier times. All the best, Muhammad Siddiq

To: Arabic-Info@Dartmouth.EDU

Subject: Response to Mr. Al-Tonsi

Sender: owner-arabic-info@Dartmouth.EDU

Response to Mr. Al-Tonsi

In his posting of Feb. 20 on Arabic-Info, Mr. Al-Tonsi (and I will not play coy like him and call him the Arab instructor from AUC) decides to adjudicate between two camps and set us all straight, since we are all so incapable of having a dialogue with one another. In setting us all straight, Mr. Al-Tonsi describes Prof. Siddiq and myself, and foolish others like us perhaps, by using , among many others, such insults as "arrogant" "ignorant" "orientalist" "narrow-minded" and "stooping" to "juicy" and "provocative" stereotypes of Arab culture. Mr. Al-Tonsi also makes the accusation that we are cowards, who would not and could not take positions critical of imperialism or Zionism, and instead direct our hostility at our own Arab culture -- self-hating Arabs par excellence. In my attempts to respond to Mr. Al-Tonsi's plentiful accusations, and to disagree with some of his positions, I will try hard to reintroduce a level of courtesy into the debate that is most unfortunately missing from his rebuttal. 1. I must first and foremost express my astonishment at Mr. Al-Tonsi's characterization of my positions and politics, which indicate that he does not really know very much at all about me. I am in fact, and without any doubt, anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist. I do indeed assign and teach almost all the works which he mentions and which be believes I would not dare to. To give just a few examples, last semester I taught Abdallah's al-Tawq wa-al-Iswar in my graduate seminar on the Arabic novel at Columbia University in New York city, and assigned al-Mutashail for a class presentation. This semester, in an undergraduate class of Arabic literature in English translation, we are reading Fadwa Tuqan (talking about the English selling her people in the slave market) Mahmud Darwish, depicting the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and Ghassan Kanafani's Men in the Sun. In our department's largest introductory class , with over 150 students, I teach Amin Maaluf's The Crusades through Arab Eyes, and Assia Djebar's Fantasia , focusing on depictions of horrifying European brutality against Arabs through the centuries. In my current class on gender issues in middle eastern studies, we read strong critiques of the economic conditions of Palestinian women under Israeli occupation, and harsh criticism of even so called "liberal" and "dovish" Israeli leaders like the late Rabin. I am fortunate to count both Edward Said, author of Orientalism, and Sonallah Ibrahim as dear friends. I have in fact written and delivered several conference talks about the works of Ibrahim mentioned by Prof. Al-Tonsi, and currently my former student, Prof. Samah Selim, is translating his novel Dhat into English and I am contacting publishers in the USA to try and get it published here. We know that will not be easy because of the novel's critical stance on western interventions in the region, but we intend to fight hard for its publication. I do not hide my opposition to America's bombing of and sanctions against Iraq. I will refer Mr. Al-Tonsi to one forthcoming paper of mine, which clearly states my position on Zionism, colonialism, and so-called global culture as a form of neo-colonialism, entitled "Arabic Literature and the Postcolonial Predicament," in A Guide to Postcolonial Studies, eds. Henry Schwarz and Sangheeta Ray, Blackwell Press. I must say I feel rather silly having to say these things about myself, and am not grateful to Mr. Al-Tonsi for putting me in a position where I have to defend my ethics and politics. 2. Mr. Al-Tonsi assumes that I believe "AUC, faculty and administration, are of one opinion and incapable of having individual thoughts." Nothing can be further from the truth. It is because of my knowledge, from MANY DIFFERENT faculty members at AUC whom I count as my friends, that the vast majority of the faculty are in fact supportive of academic freedom and feel an urgent need for a clear institutional policy regarding complaints from students and parents, and attacks from the press, that I launched this campaign. It was in support of AUC faculty who feel increasingly pressured to censor themselves in their teaching and their writing, and who get little to no support from their administration, that we urged colleagues to write letters of support for Prof. Mehrez and others like her who have the courage and integrity to raise their voices in protest and find their position and reputation tarnished as a result. It is because I feel it is disgraceful that I can read with my American students here in New York works of literature which my colleagues in Egypt dare not read with their students that I felt impelled to move. AUC is in fact my alma mater, and it will always have a warm spot in my heart. I choose to excercise that love , however, not by flattering its administration and accepting its official positions, but rather by supporting its more vulnerable members and the principles which make it a great university. 3. I disagree with Mr. Al-Tonsi that al-khubz al-Hafi is a third rate work , as would many critics of Arabic literature, and most importantly, I think that characterizing it as a work that advocates sexual liberation is totally missing the point. The book is about hunger: for food, for love, for physical closeness, for respect, and for freedom. These multiple hungers are caused by various structures of oppression which result in deviant behavior which the author exposes movingly and courageously. Regarding the issue of whether works written in languages other than Arabic can be considered Arabic literature, I do not think I am alone in arguing that they should be. I mentioned Assia Djebar and Amin Maaluf above, and although they both write in French, to my mind their works are eloquent depictions of what it means to be an Arab brutalized and colonized by the French, and by the French language and culture. I can also mention Khatibi, Ben Jalloun, and many others who are turning the very language of the colonizers against them , and addressing issues that are extremely relevant to the Arab nation. At any rate it is neither up to Mr. Al-Tonsi, nor to me, to determine the canon of Arabic literature, which, like all canons, must continually be revised and expanded through open and public debate. 4. Finally, the issue of respect for cultural traditions is a complex one. What does it mean precisely to respect a culture? Is it equivalent to accepting it unquestioningly, refusing to criticize it or advocate any changes? Are most of us --Arabs who really love our homelands and peoples, totally satisfied with the conditions prevailing there now? And if not, what is our duty as teachers and writers? Specifically for AUC professors, whose students come from extremely privileged backgrounds and who will end up holding important and influential positions in our Arab nation, is it not necessary to expose them to all aspects of society: good and bad, beautiful and ugly, clean and filthy, under the guidance of their professors? If this exposure makes these young men and women uncomfortable, or if they find it distasteful, is the solution to remove these books from the curriculum? To use an analogy I have used previously, would it be responsible for the professor of medicine to allow her students to refuse to dissect the human body and examine closely its guts, urine, blood, etc. because they find this disgusting? Just as we cannot heal the human body without exposing all its gory details, we will not heal our societies if we allow our students to avert their eyes from its less than praiseworthy aspects. Just as I should not, and will not, allow my Zionist students to pressure me into removing works critical of Zionism from my syllabus under the pretext of being sensitive to their beliefs, I hope my Arab colleagues working in the Arab world will not allow their students, or anyone else for that matter, to pressure them into doing away with works critical of any and all aspects of our civilization, for that, my dear Mr. Al-Tonsi, is neither a sign of respect for a liberal arts education, nor for our students, nor for our culture, nor, ultimately, for ourselves. Magda al-Nowaihi Columbia University

Subject: AUC official statement on al-Khubz al-Hafi

The American University in Cairo March 3, 1999

Statement on Al Khubz Al Hafi

The American Univeristy in Cairo confirms the statement of the Minister of Higher Education, the Honorable Moufid Shehab, that the issue of the use of a Moroccan novel, Al-Khubz Al-Hafi, is being dealt with within the University. The novel in question has been sold in English, French and Arabic versions in Egypt since it was first published in 1971. Decisions regarding the curriculum are the prerogative of the faculty. The University relies on the individual and collective wisdom of its faculty to select and assign works that they believe are appropriate to the subject matter and that respect the culture and values of the society in which we work. Following complaints by students and parents about the book, the Department of Arabic Studies decided not to use it in the required introductory Arabic literature course. The faculty is also engaged in a serious and responsible effort to produce an agreed list of readings for core courses. No action will be taken against the professor, who is a tenured member of the Arabic Studies Department. The purpose of tenure is to protect faculty members form threats of intimidation and to ensure stability and continuity without which a university cannot operate. Egypt has a tradition of tolerance and scholarship that accounts for its intellectual leadership in the Arab world and AUC will continue to operate within that context.

Middle East Times, February 28

Book controversy strikes at AUC / Paul Schemm Middle East Times Staff

The December 17 summons of Professor Samia Mehrez by the American University in Cairo (AUC) administration to explain her choice of a book containing "obscene" passages has mushroomed into something far bigger than anyone originall involved expected. What began as complaints by a few parents over the use of a book in class that was "destroying the morals of our children" and was an act of "sexual harassment" has turned into an issue involving not only the faculty and administration of AUC, but also newspapers, parliament, and Arabic literature professors all over the world. At the heart of the argument is the disturbing issue of what constitutes a liberal education and how that can be carried out by an "American" institution located in Egypt. AUC once againfinds itself as a lightening rod for criticism, a position it has never been comfortable with.


Professor Mehrez was called out of her class in December to meet with AUC President John Gerhart as well as the dean, th provost, and the AUC doctor, Ikram Seif Eddin, who was representing the complaints of the parents. Parts of the book, Al Khubz Al Hafi by Muhammad Choukri (For Bread Alone) contain passages of an explicitly sexual nature which offended two students in the 35-member Modern Arabic Literature class (ARBS 208). The parents felt that the students' morals were being corrupted and they claimed sexual harassment. By some reports, Dr. Ikram then lectured Mehrez on the nature of Egyptian values. Mehrez defended the book as an important classic of Arab literature widely taught in universities, including AUC. "It is a very moving and candid tale of an illiterate Moroccan child of the underclass who accedes to literacy, at age 20, and is able to weave the appalling conditions of his life history into a mesmerizing text," she wrote in a memo to AUC faculty. Mehrez took her case to the AUC faculty as well as the wider world of academia when she became concerned that the principles of academic freedom and reading choices of professors might be under attack. Her description of the meeting ended up on a e-mail list service that prompted some 150 responses, led by professors Muhammad Siddiq of Berkeley University and Magda Al Nowaihi of Columbia University, expressing concern to Gerhart. Gerhart responded to AUC faculty and Mehrez by assuring them that he remained true to the ethos of the liberal arts education. The fate of the book itself remains in question, however. According to her statements, Mehrez has reserved the right to teach the book again, but Gerhart says that it will not be appearing again in the basic ARBS 208 course. The departmental advisory committee, Gerhart said, has ecided to no longer use the book in the course "in view of the widely differing appraisals of the usefulness of this book in the course." "They even said this is not the banning of the book," said Gerhart, just a recognition that the book does not belong in a lower level course. "One doesn't normally teach [James Joyce's] Ulysses in freshman English," he added. A number of faculty members in the department, however, say that this recommendation was taken without their knowledge and were not pleased. There is now talk of drawing up a list of some 40 books teachers of this course would draw from. Gerhart backs the measure, but other faculty members remain vehemently opposed. In general the situation has caused a great deal of disquiet among faculty, with divisions appearing between those counseling avoiding raising public ire over curricula and those fearing self-censorship. "People are against the way the whole thing was being treated," said one staff member. "I think this is the source of most of the resentment of the faculty." Some members feel that the administration has not been sufficiently supportive of their rights to choose readings and are too ready to acquiesce to outside demands, an allegation that Gerhart dismisses. "Then where is Didier?" asked one faculty member in annoyance, referring to the professor whose contract was not renewed following the controversy over Maxine Rodinson's Muhammad last spring. That particular controversy unfolded in a similar manner, with outraged parents (this time on religious grounds) going to the newspapers and starting an aggressive public campaign that resulted in the government banning the book and much turmoil at AUC. Many faculty see ominous comparisons between the two book incidents. OUTSIDE INTEREST The specter of the government removing books is one that hangs heavy over AUC. Since the Rodinson affair, there has been a vast increase of books requested by the censor for review (see box). According to Gerhart, in the past 11 months, 40 books have been censored, including four that were being used for classes. While For Bread Alone has not been banned, and in fact sold like crazy during the book fair, there have been rumblings. In response to the press campaign against the book and AUC that began in January when the parents went to the press, Minister of Higher Education Hussein Kamal Baha Eddin said he would look into the matter. The issue is also supposedly to be brought before parliament soon. Gerhart said he sent a letter assuring the minister that the issue had been taken care of and that the book would not be taught in the course again. Some faculty, however, see this pattern of apology for teaching controversial books as a dangerous one. There is a fear that faculty will avoid teaching controversial books for fear of coming under attack in the press and then not being defended by the university. Gerhart, finds this possibility extremely remote. "One would have thought that last year [after the Rodinson controversy] people would have scurried around and removed books from their reading lists, which didn't happen," he said, adding that "there is no evidence that a domino theory is taking place." One interesting incident that did take place immediately after Mehrez was called into account is that the director of the core curriculum removed Tayib Saleh's Arabic classic Season of Migration to the North from the reading list. It was only after core curriculum professors returned from the winter break that there was a unanimous vote to restore the book to the reading list. While Mehrez was obviously not intimidated by the fallout from the Rodinson book or the For Bread Alone case, it is noteworthy that she is tenured faculty. Whether non-tenured junior faculty would be willing to brave the ire of the Egyptian press or AUC administration is less clear. Currently the focus among the faculty and the administration has been to come up with defined guidelines and procedures for dealing with complaints about courses. Gerhart emphasizes the need to be responsive to the concerns of parents and students.


Professor Dan Tschirgi of the Political Science department says that the issue has strengthened the commitment to the principles of a liberal arts education among the faculty, but also shown everyone what more needed to be done. "It has sensitized [the administration] to the need to fill a gap ‚ a need that has been neglected ‚ the need to explain more clearly to everyone that asks, parents, public, what exactly is a liberal education," he said. The indications are that Egypt's increasingly conservative environment may require that explanation again and again.