The Malaysian academic movement, Gerak, is extremely concerned about the recent treatment of Prof Ahmet T Kuru.
The cancellation of the launch of his book at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) is an affront to academic freedom.
A scholar and intellectual based at the San Diego State University in the US, Prof Kuru was invited to Malaysia for five days earlier this month. He was to participate in a series of book discussions and forums around the subject of Islam, development, politics, democracy and history.
The highlight of his visit was to launch the Bahasa Malaysia translation of one of his books, Islam, Authoritarianism, and Underdevelopment: A Global and Historical Comparison, published by the Islamic Renaissance Front.
The facts of the Kuru case are confounding. He was accused of being a terrorist, a ‘liberal’, a secularist, and even a fake historian.
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While a terrorist is something to be wary of, it does not apply to Prof Kuru.
Also, as usual, extremists and ignorant conservatives in Malaysia, many of whom have fascist leanings, believe a secular liberal is bad for society.
Furthermore, accusing anyone of being ‘fake’ requires empirical evidence, which was not forthcoming in the Kuru case.
Throughout the history of human civilisation, there have been scores of ethical ‘liberal secularists’ who have contributed to the growth and development of their countries. Many societies under liberal and secular leadership have succeeded in leading their nations out of poverty. Secular leaders have provided dignified lives for their people. There is abundant evidence out there, so readers please check these sources.
Similarly, many Muslim-majority countries today continue to be embroiled in class conflict, economic disparity and unjust social inequality, where there is a huge gap between the very rich and the abject poor. A huge part of this sad situation is rampant political interference in education, corrupt Muslim leaders and gender discrimination.
There is already a surfeit of laws in this country constraining constitutional free speech. Academics and academic associations already have difficulties navigating these limitations, making considerable sacrifices to their freedoms.
Instances like the actions taken against Ahmet Kuru only deepen the confusion surrounding permissible speech – creating uncertainty about what can be said, when, and by whom.
It is very disappointing that under the current “Madani” (civil and compassionate) administration, there is a continuation of this vile practice of blindly obstructing intellectual discourse. One would have expected the “unity government” to be more accepting of intellectual discourse given that Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim himself was a concerned student leader during his university days.
Anwar has always been an advocate of academic freedom, critical thinking and open intellectual discourse. He is articulate, well read in history and Islamic civilisation and very capable of engaging in intellectual discourse himself. Very rarely does Malaysia have leaders of this calibre.
Yet, under his watch, the cancellation of Ahmet Kuru’s book launch at the IAIS was a regressive step. Whether the reason was due to pressure from the Turkish embassy or not, there is a need for all the responsible parties to embrace the concept of academic freedom more deeply.
Education can be defined as a continuous dialogue comprising debates, probing questions, facts and hypotheses. Education is about asking the ‘what if’ questions. The goal is to arrive at answers through critical thinking, via the consultation of all forms of knowledge available.
Academic freedom allows for such a process, because it necessitates open intellectual discourse. This is the bedrock of a good education. The ultimate goal is that this process allows us to solve the problems faced by society. It is necessary for national development, cohesion and individual dignity.
Therefore, the essence of academic freedom is to better the lives of everyone on this planet. How can this be threatening or an immoral thing? If anything, it is the Islamic way.
Kuru is a trained political scientist, having obtained his PhD from the University of Washington. He conducted post-doctoral research at Columbia University, considered one of the best universities in the world. Ahmet Kuru is no fool, and neither is he a sloppy or superficial researcher.
Contrary to the accusations thrown at him on social media, Prof Kuru is not a ‘terrorist’. Such accusations are based on ignorance and expose the fact that his accusers have not digested the contents of his scholarly writings. If anything, his accusers have shown how ignorant they are of Kuru’s history and scholarly analyses. – Gerak