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June 16th 2018 print

Augusto Zimmermann

Universities and the Banishment of Truth

ANU's rejection of the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation has made it, in the words of one commentator, 'a laughingstock'. To that appraisal add a toxic and shameless hypocrisy which sees that university and others eagerly accept cash for 'Islamic centres' where Western ideals are actively opposed

ramsay logo IIYou may have heard of the decision by the Australian National University to buckle under pressure from some academics to pull out of negotiations with a wealthy private donor, the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, over funding for a scholarship and teaching program in studies of Western Civilisation. Vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt announced the ANU is withdrawing from negotiations on the grounds of academic freedom, despite no attempts to have such freedom limited by the Ramsay Centre.

Curiously, the university’s own website makes it clear that the Ramsay negotiators were not desiring an undue level of influence over delivery of the programs.[1] On April 30, 2018, the website of the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences was indicating the university would be in control in any deal with the Ramsay Centre. Apparently this was not nearly good enough for these university academics. As law professor and Quadrant contributor James Allan puts it, Australian academics, especially in the Arts and Social Sciences, ‘lean massively to the left side of politics’ and so they have developed a sort of anti-intellectual hatred for anything that can potentially contribute to a better understanding of Western culture and values. As Professor Allan explains,

The complaining academics to which [the ANU’s Vice Chancellor] succumbed were afraid they would not have autonomy when it came to appointments. But if the Ramsay Centre gave them full autonomy they would pick near on wall-to-wall lefties, and that would result in teaching students quite a different account of Western civilisation than the donor intended. Mr Ramsay, like me, saw Western civilisation (warts and all) as having created the best place for humans to live ever. That goes doubly for women and minorities. You don’t have to sacrifice academic scholarship in the slightest to prefer a degree program that overall was supportive of Western civilisation’s many virtues and on balance scored comparatively best in the field grades”.[2]

By deciding to pull out of a program which is favourable to Western Civilisation, it is patently clear that the ANU administrators are not entirely committed to support an academic project that appreciates the values that make Australia so unique and special, and that makes so many non-Western people want to live in this Western nation. Naturally, the more extreme academics in such universities think that instead of appreciating the importance of Western values — individual rights, democracy, the rule of law, etc. — our students should embrace their own leftist ideology and blindly subscribe to the view that Western values are somehow xenophobic, oppressive and inequitable. Taken to its extreme, such an ideological indoctrination makes it far more difficult for anyone to argue  against, say, Islamic extremists championing hatred against the West (including Australia), and even to argue that there are some important moral values we should hold in common if our society is to survive and prosper.

The situation becomes all the more bizarre when such a university (ANU) already has a centre to promote Islamic and Arab cultures and which is financially sponsored by highly oppressive Islamic regimes in the Middle East (not to mention its own China institute[3]).  I doubt the students at such a centre will learn how the Islamic World “graciously” exercises its tolerance towards Christians, Jews, women, homosexuals, etc. Of course, the very word ‘Islam’ means submission to Allah with the lack in doing so unavoidably yielding to violence and intolerance. As stated in an editorial of The Spectator Australia, ‘the ANU wanted to believe that it was making a stand for academic freedom and autonomy, despite no attempts being made to limit them. Yet it is very happy to offer degree courses in Asian, Pacific, Asia-Pacific, and Middle Eastern studies’.[4]

Curiously, when duly reminded that, although rejecting a centre to study Western civilisation, the ANU already has its own Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies that receives money donated by UAE, Qatar, Turkey and Iran directly or through cut-outs, its vice-chancellor argued that the Islamic centre ‘does a great work on behalf of Australia that should make us all proud’.[5] Consider, however, the sort of ‘great work’ such a centre has been conducting. According to Michael Rubin, a scholar at the Washington/DC-based American Enterprise Institute,

In reality that centre has made the ANU an academic laughingstock. What its conference and events ordinarily lack in intellectual diversity, they make up for in political polemic. Just five years ago, for example, the centre … hosted a disgraced 9/11 conspiracy theorist who dismissed concerns about [Iran’s] Ayatollah Khomeini’s summary executions, repression of women and general human rights abuses as “happily false” … Its director Amin Saikal argued in a 2003 op-ed that the Islamic Republic of Iran “provides 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”.[6]

Rabin then concludes his article by informing that, for a vice-chancellor to flag pride in such an appalling Islamic centre, ‘suggests the problem at the ANU runs deep’.[7] This is particularly so if, as he also points out, ‘a whitewash of the terrorist group Hamas and its genocidal charter has been a standard practice at the ANU’.[8] And perhaps even more disturbing is ‘the fact that the ANU changed the name of Saikal’s centre from Middle East and Central Asian Studies to Arab and Islamic Studies after a large Emirati donation’, which completely undermines the claim that the proposal by the Ramsay Centre could not be accepted on grounds of preserving ‘academic integrity, autonomy, and freedom’.[9]

In a recent article in The Australian (June 12, 2018), Australian Jewish Association president David Adler accused the ANU of having been “Islamised”. Dr Adler, a former deputy medical secretary of the Australian Medical Association, claimed the university’s acceptance of foreign funding for a Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies is inconsistent with its reasoning for abandoning plans for a course in Western civilisation.[10] His views ‘echoed the sentiments of various politicians who have accused the university of double standards following the revelation that its Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies had accepted millions of dollars in donations from the United Arab Emirates and the Iranian and Turkish governments’.[11] As also reported, Dr Adler stated:

We have seen Islamic countries invest in university education around the world very substantially and we know that ANU has a program of Arabic and Islamic studies and received millions in funding from Arab and Islamic countries. There is a fundamental question that needs to be answered here: why can ANU resolve their issues of academic autonomy in some areas of study but not when it comes to Western civilisation? There’s an inconsistency there.[12]

Above all, any truly decent university should be very proud to host a centre to study the legacy of Western civilisation to balance out a perceived bias toward anti-Western ideology. This is after all our own values and culture. If you are not teaching students the whole thing about their own civilisation, then you are not really providing a complete picture of who they are, including when it comes to living in our democratic society which, by contrast to so many other cultures and civilisations, actually embraces real tolerance and human rights for all. Unfortunately, the problem is not restricted to the ANU alone. In fact, the media reports that when the University of Sydney commissioned a senior academic to prepare a draft of a potential course in Western Civilisation to be offered in partnership with the Ramsay Centre, such a proposal sparked a ‘backlash from academics’. Sydney academics are reported to have ‘reacted furiously to the news’, with more than 100 – including pro-Palestine activist Nick Riemer and fellow ‘Boycott Israel’ campaigner Jack Lynch – signing an open letter to Sydney vice-chancellor Michael Spence that they are strongly opposed to the university entering into any arrangement with the Ramsay Centre. [13]

Centres for the Study of Islamic Civilisation? – No Problem!

Australian universities host numerous centres dedicated to the study of Islamic civilisation. One such a centre is the ‘Centre for Muslim States and Societies’ at the University of Western Australia. Its director, Professor Samina Yasmeen (BSc Punjab, MSc Quaid-i-Azam, MA ANU, PhD Tas), claims to specialise in ‘the role of Islam in world politics’. When the media reported violent protests in Sydney by Muslims attacking the police (the mob was equipped with banners bearing slogans such as ‘Sharia will dominate the world’ and ‘Behead all those who insult the Prophet.’) this academic responded to such events recommending the further suppression of free speech by concerned citizens. In a short article in Conversation, on September 17, 2012, Yasmeen creates a form of moral equivalence between the violence practiced by radical Muslims and the sort of ‘violence’ disseminated by video clips on You Tube that ‘inflame emotions across the Muslim world.’[14] Because such videos apparently ‘violate the special place assigned to Prophet Mohammed’, Yasmeen concludes, ‘any disrespect is felt as an intrusion into this sacred space’.[15]

According to Yasmeen, therefore, the disrespectful behaviour of infidels is what triggers the violent responses within the Muslim community. Instead of addressing the disturbing levels of intolerance and bigotry in the Muslim community, Yasmeen proposes the further silencing of voices critical of the Islam. She goes on even to argue that ‘we’ (presumably she and like-minded Australian academics) should ‘educate’ the Australian people to understand how the ‘religious feelings’ and ‘sacred spaces’ of Muslims are ‘invaded’ by those who criticise Islam.  Such criticism is, in her opinion, a primary source of Islamic violence: ‘I would argue that intentionally violating spaces sacred to Muslims or any other people falls with the space of violence. Though not obviously targeting anyone living today, deliberating inflaming emotions needs to be acknowledged as violence’, she says.[16]  Hence this professor talks about ‘coordinating financial sanctions’ that ‘could help the Muslims deal with such attacks’. To ‘help Muslims to deal with such attacks on religious feeling’, a form of Sharia Law by stealth should be introduced. For this what such an academic has the audacity to recommend:

A billion dollar lawsuit against those who target religious beliefs, and engage in intense violation of sacred spaces, would shift the whole discussion to a different place. Even if the courts throw out the suit, it would focus attention on legal pathways to oppose such violence aimed at space that is sacred for a quarter of humanity. It may even create pathways that counter violence of this kind. [17]

Professor Yasmeen is obviously concerned about Muslim sensibilities. And yet, she sees no problem in contributing an article for a book that clearly violates Christian sensibilities. Published by the Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation at Charles Stuart University (in partnership with such bodies as Islamophobia Register Australia), Islamophobia in Australia 2014-2016 employs language that is highly critical of the Australian community, particularly the Australian Christian community.[18] Such a book claims, among other things, that ‘the Christian response to other faiths is mixed and nuanced’.[19] It also states that: ‘(i) it is likely the majority of Christians are liable to view Islam through an exclusivist lens; and (ii) the history of Christian exclusivism can provide soil out of which episodes of Islamophobia can arise’.[20]

Remarkably, such a book minimizes the threat of Islamic terrorism. It does so by suggesting that criticism of Islam can be as dangerous to the Australian community as the sort of extreme violence that is practiced by radical Islamists. ‘The potential danger of right-wing organisations is currently minimized with government, police, media and community focus on extremist Muslim violence’, says one of its academic contributors.[21] In such a publication, Professor Yasmeen writes an article on ‘countering Islamophobia’ that advocates for more legal intervention and further suppression of freedom of speech:

‘Australian leadership shoulders the primary responsibility to create the conditions that counter Islamophobia. Yet, Australian leaders have not always taken responsibility for countering Islamophobia. Politicians need to adopt a consistent policy of speaking out against acts of … negativity towards Australian Muslims when they happen’, she says.[22]

 

Final Considerations

According to the Times Higher Education Supplement, there is only one Australian university in the world’s top fifty: The Australian National University.[23] It is deeply regrettable that the ANU has tarnished the reputation of Australian universities by refusing to host a course on Western Civilisation on the grounds of such a course being somehow in conflict with what the university stands for. In so doing, as Greg Sharidan has noted, the ANU has shown beyond any possible doubt how illiberal, intolerant, and anti-Western such universities in Australia have become.[24] These academics either do not know or do not care about the unique legacy of Western Civilisation to the world.

In reality, the primary goal of many such academics is not a fair debate about different cultures, but instead to promote an ‘anti-Western ideology’ that is ‘directly opposed to Eurocentric concepts of democratic principles, culture, and identity.’[25]

Above all, the decline of university standards appears to be intrinsically associated with their present anti-intellectual condition, by which I mean a situation in which postmodernism, political correctness, and cultural fashions have replaced academic objectivity, rational argument, and the pursuit of the truth. Academics at such institutions may opt for imposing certain privileged viewpoints, although they should be far more frank and relaxed about diverse arguments over moral judgements. Such academics should not be so radically opposing a more positive approach to Western values but be inviting silenced voices back into robust discussion, thus reversing the visible intellectual decline Australian universities have been facing.[26] As should be apparent now, this is not a call for a return to the past but a call for authentic tolerance for all the varieties of intellectual expressions, including Christian and classical liberal ones.

 

Dr Augusto Zimmermann LLB, LLM, PhD is Professor of Law at Sheridan College in Perth, Western Australia, and Professor of Law (Adjunct) at the University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney campus. He is also President of the Western Australian Legal Theory Association (WALTA), and a former Commissioner with the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia (2012-2017). Dr Zimmermann is also the recipient of the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research, Murdoch University (2012)

 



[1] An extract from the ANU College’s website says: “The University’s legal framework requires ANU to retain control of the delivery of its programs. Our strong University academic structures govern academic curriculum, delivery and standards and any new degree would need to be approved by the usual ANU processes and subject to the usual quality reviews. The proposed Ramsay Scholarships would be ANU Scholarships, and, as such, also fall under University policies and procedures. Students in the proposed program would be subject to ANU legislation, policies and procedures regarding academic progress, misconduct and discipline. Similarly, staff appointed under any funding arrangements would be appointed by an ANU selection committee and would be ANU employees. Subject ot he University’s HR processes and procedures.” –   ‘ANU VC says Civ Centre Prop Not Compatible With Uni Autonomy’, Campus Morning Mail, June 4, 2018, at https://campusmorningmail.com.au/news/anu-vc-says-civ-centre-prop-not-compatible-with-uni-autonomy/

[2] James Allan, ‘West Goes South’, The Spectator Australia, June 9, 2018, at https://www.spectator.com.au/2018/06/west-goes-south/

[3] See: http://chinainstitute.anu.edu.au/. “Beijing launders donations through a network of Confucius Institutes to about a dozen Australian universities … These Chinese studies institutes may teach language but they have become centres for Chinese government intelligence and control, including monitoring and censorship of those who stray off the academic paths with which Beijing is comfortable”. – Michael Rubin, ‘Islamic Centre Mocks ANU Claim To Academic Independence’, The Australian, June 14, 2018, at https://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/islamic-centre-mocks-anu-claim-to-academic-authority/news-story/648bea3cd6ce0849615d5cf015c3c7da

[4] ‘Western Civ Rules – OK!’, The Spectator Australia, June 9, 2018, at https://www.spectator.co.uk/2018/06/western-civ-rules-ok/

[5] Rubin, above n.3.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Rebecca Urban, ‘ANU Has Been Islamised, Claims Jewish Lobby Group’, The Australian, June 12, 2018, at https://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/anu-has-been-islamised-claims-jewish-lobby-group/news-story/e880a9050ab005df6fd1191bff10dd61

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Samina Yasmeen, ‘Sydney Riots: Muslims Responses to Provocation Must Be More Considered’, The Conversation, September 17, 2012, at https://theconversation.com/sydney-riots-muslim-responses-to-provocation-must-be-more-considered-9607

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Derya Iner (ed.), Islamophobia in Australia 2014-2016, Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation (Charles Stuart University) et al., 2016, at https://arts-ed.csu.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/2811960/csu-islamophobia-in-australia-report14-16.pdf

[19] Clive Pearson, ‘Islamophobia and Religion’, in Derya Iner (ed.), Islamophobia in Australia 2014-2016, Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation (Charles Stuart University) et al., 2016, p 12.

[20] Ibid, p 14.

[21] Linda Briskman and Susie Latham, ‘Political Islamophobia’, in Derya Iner (ed.), Islamophobia in Australia 2014-2016 , Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation (Charles Stuart University) et al., 2016, p 20.

[22] Samina Yasmeen, ‘Countering Islamophobia’, in Derya Iner (ed.), Islamophobia in Australia 2014-2016, Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation (Charles Stuart University) et al., 2016, p 97.

[23] ‘The World University Rankings’, Times Higher Education, at https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/2018/reputation-ranking#!/page/0/length/25/sort_by/rank/sort_order/asc/cols/stats

[24] Greg Sheridan, ‘Our Universities Are No Longer Seeking the Truth’, The Australian, June 7, 2018, p 12.

[25] Samuel Huntington, Who are We? America’s Great Debate (New York/NY: The Free Press, 2004), p 173.

[26] C. John Sommerville, The Decline of the Secular University (Oxford/UK: Oxford University Press, 2006), p 144.

Comments [4]

  1. Lewis P Buckingham says:

    To be fair to ANU and Sydney Uni it could be that they are not prepared to handle the potential political
    pain of encouraging studies of our civilization, they just don’t want the hassle.
    As it is they still have to appear happy, whatever the promptings of the ‘inner administrator’ with their present cultural studies, playing along on the new wave of propriety.
    Administrations read the political wind, know where the grants come from and desire a ‘no nasty little surprises’ administrative life.
    In that sense they can afford to knock back vast sums, because they have plenty of cash cow students from overseas anyway.
    However there are plenty of deserving and poor Australian students living in Western Sydney.
    We need educators out here.
    Hobbled by hopeless transport systems, low socioeconomic status and boasting a heavy migrant population, these are the people who
    deserve to be given the opportunity of a liberal arts degree containing studies in European history and learning.
    The University of Western Sydney, young, vigorous, still in the upward curve, centred in the booming population growth centre of Australia is the place to go.

    https://www.topuniversities.com/universities/western-sydney-university

    They can only say no.

  2. Peter OBrien says:

    Prof Brian Schmidt has a letter in the Weekend Oz that contains this passage:

    “The Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies has never received any funding from the United Arab Emirates Government. Not one dollar donated to the centre has come with conditions that relate to academic decision-making. In the case of many donations, ANU has matched them dollar for dollar.”

    It may be true that UAE has not directly donated money but, regardless of that, why would donors need to impose any conditions when they know the mindless ‘academics’ of these centres will fall over themselves to adhere to the party line as dictated by the Greens and social media etc?

    • Lewis P Buckingham says:

      The letter was a reply to a previous claim.
      It carefully does not delve into the exact source of funding, not that this should matter, as independance is assured.
      Also is avoided the other claim, that the funding for the Confucious centre could be seen to interfere in the independence of the university.
      Notably, by equivalent funding, the university, can have a real say in the management of the course.
      This funding could be derived by charging overseas fee paying students.

      The,let’s say, Enlightenment Model,however, is superior.
      This Model could give a fully funded scholarship to the student, a bit like the old Commonwealth Scholarship Scheme,except not a burden on the taxpayer.
      The bane of private donations for the then Uni of Sydney, was the problem that they funded bricks and mortar, but rarely land
      and never maintenance such as building maintenance, cleaning and security, which had to be sourced from other revenue,forever.
      The Ramsey bequest appears, by its size,to have the option of funding land, building, maintenance, staff and students.
      The University would not need to find a 50/50 top up.
      The University of Western Sydney is modelled on a multi space Campus, which lends itself to assisting present Humanities subjects as well as broadening the funded range in both sites and personnel.
      The Weekend Oz has, through the Salt series, shown the enormous diversity and pressures on families and the young in Sydney’s West.
      The West has a can do attitude.
      We need all the help we can get out here.
      We have a theme park, new rail,road and a Museum.
      One day, an airport.
      Its time we had a bigger go at our own history.