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Duke needs discussion on UNC summer reading

I would like to start off by saying it is not surprising that there has been limited discussion of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's book choice for their summer reading here at Duke, since we don't even have Introducing the Qur'an in our library. I have discussed this issue with several different people, and I would like to see an intelligent debate on this issue in The Chronicle. I will try to point out some of the major arguments I have heard as well as the key points of each. I have tried to organize them and put them into insightful, but non-inciteful, wording.

Here are some arguments against UNC's decision:

A) The freedom of religion promised in the constitution. It is unconstitutional for the public university to require students wishing to gain access to higher education to study a primer on any religion.

B) Islam should not be studied over other important religions. Two major reasons for this are that Islam should not be rewarded for having attacked the U.S. and that most people in the state are Christian, so why not study the Bible?

C) This book is irrelevant to current events. A study of the Qur'an directly or how the rise of radical fundamentalism is affecting the world would have been more useful in improving students' understanding of current events.

Here are some arguments in support of UNC's decision:

I) It is not a requirement. Students may opt-out of reading and discussion of this book by writing a one page essay explaining their reasons.

II) It will be good for the students. Exposing young people to different beliefs will challenge them and make them better people.

III) Academic freedom. In order for a university to function, it must have the ability to examine subjects that are uncomfortable or are not pleasing to the politicians.

IV) Role of higher education. The role of higher education is to develop young people for the future. It is a responsibility to train students to think for themselves, and challenge both old and new ideas. Both an understanding of Islam, and the ability to confront new ideas will serve the students, the state, the country and the world.

V) If the Bible were assigned as summer reading, it would be a non-issue. This is simply an attempt by the Christian far right to attack Islam.

VI) Fear of people attacking Islam. Several comments have already been made attacking the Islamic faith by prominent Americans, and this type of inciteful speech needs to be opposed.

VI) It is not being studied as a religious text. This is going to be studied in a secular environment. It is not promoting the Islamic faith.

I actually believe most of these arguments, except for B, I, V and VI. I disagree with having students study a primer on any religion as a requirement to attend a state school. I don't think that the exemption protects students' rights to religious freedom. I don't believe that this issue has anything to do with the Bible, and I would hope if other public universities choose to require an introduction to the Bible, the book of Mormon, Hindu texts, Buddhist texts, etc., that I would oppose each and every one. I am unsure whether a purely secular study will be done. I believe this is the first step down a slippery slope that could lead to state sponsored religions in the U.S.

John McNulty

Graduate School '05

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