Posted by Washington Post from cuapr71.ipr.northwestern.edu (188.8.131.52) on Thursday, August 22, 2002 at 1:22PM :
To Read the Koran
Thursday, August 22, 2002; Page A16
THE PUBLIC firestorm over the University of North Carolina's decision to ask that incoming students read a book about the Koran is a peculiar display of enthusiasm for ignorance. The university made an altogether rational judgment, in light of the circumstances in which this country finds itself, that students might benefit by reading and discussing a book titled "Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations" by a professor at Haverford College named Michael Sells. In response, a group of conservative Christians sued, contending that such an assignment by a state university violates the First Amendment. North Carolina legislators, meanwhile, have threatened to cut state funding for the program. And some prominent people have denounced the book as a supposed whitewash of Islam -- or even objected to the notion that students might study the Koran at all. In a particular display of demagogic illiteracy, popular talk show host Bill O'Reilly last month compared studying the Koran today to reading "Mein Kampf" during World War II.
As a legal matter, the case is silly -- and both a district court and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals have declined to interfere with the program. Nowhere does the separation of church and state preclude a public university from including religious texts in its curriculum. Books such as the Koran and the Bible are foundational texts of civilization, and understanding them is a basic part of education. As long as the state isn't endorsing or promoting a religious worldview, there is no legal impediment to such study. The state is barred from establishing religion. But it is not required to foster ignorance on the subject.
The troubling aspect of this episode is not legal, but cultural. It is the apparently widespread sense that the Koran is the enemy's text, the study of which undermines American resolve and constitutes a slight to "our" values. So it bears repeating that the Koran is not "Mein Kampf," and that Islam is not America's enemy. The Koran, like all great religious texts, is amenable to many different readings, some of which have been employed by evil people. But Islam, like other great religions, provides a theological home to an overwhelming majority of peaceful practitioners, many of whom live in this country; they too seek inspiration in the Koran. America is engaged in a long-term and complicated project of destroying the terrorism that operates in the name of Islam while embracing and fostering moderate Islam. Asking American students to know something about the Koran and consider why it moves so many people as their country pursues this process is not political correctness run amok. It is common sense.
-- Washington Post
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