Ramadan’s dismissal threatens academic freedom
The University must represent freedom of thought even when emotions run high. Debate is required; not dismissal.
Published: 22 August 2009 11:57 | Changed: 25 August 2009 11:05
Open letter: Erasmus University must not sever its ties with Ramadan.
By Dick van Lente and other Erasmus University faculty members and employees.
In a joint statement last Tuesday, 18 August, the municipal administration of Rotterdam and the Executive Board of Erasmus University Rotterdam announced the dismissal of our colleague Professor Tariq Ramadan. Ramadan will be losing his position as consultant of the municipality and his chair at Erasmus University, which studied questions of identity and citizenship. As employees of the University, we are shocked by this decision, which we regard as being contrary to academic freedom.
We sincerely hope that the University will reconsider its decision.
The reason given for Ramadan’s dismissal is the fact that he hosts a panel discussion programme on Press TV, which is mainly financed by the Iranian government. According to the statement issued by the municipality and the University’s Executive Board, this means that he has an ‘indirect relationship’ with the repressive Iranian regime, and that even the appearance of such a relationship must be avoided in view of the ‘feelings’ that this may give rise to in Rotterdam and elsewhere.
It is striking that the content of Ramadan’s programme and its role in public debate are not under discussion. It is Ramadan’s collaboration with a channel that belongs to the current repressive regime that is deemed unacceptable. Ramadan himself has argued in the Opinion page of this newspaper on 18 August that he still enjoys total freedom with regard to his choice of topics, guests and discussion procedures and that such a programme can, therefore, contribute to the difficult process towards a more open and free debate in the Middle East and the West. His programme is not a platform for propaganda for the Ahmadinejad government; in fact, Ramadan has condemned its repressive policies.
His dismissal is even stranger because the University and the municipal administration in their statement recognize Ramadan’s extensive service as a catalyst for open debate about Islam and Western society. Our students are enthusiastic about his lectures. When his position came up for discussion last spring due to statements about homosexuality and women’s rights, the Executive Board of the University declared that the University wished to promote debate and did not wish to get involved in the personal beliefs and statements of academics.
The fact that the municipal administration is now sensitive to the ‘feelings’ of the population about a controversial Muslim intellectual is sad enough. But that the University simply follows the lead of the municipality without question, we find inexplicable: the University should stand for knowledge and freedom of thought even when emotions are running high.
Ramadan’s dismissal deprives us of the opportunity to engage in open debate about two important topics: academic freedom and the responsibility of academics in politically sensitive discussions. Ramadan is a man who believes in open and constructive debate under all circumstances, even when this means potential harm to himself; he is also an expert who knows the Muslim world in the West and beyond better than most of us.
We may disagree with him, but our debate with him can sharpen our ideas. We disagree with him being dismissed based on feelings that his behaviour may give rise to. This dismissal is contrary to academic freedom. We must enter into a debate with him: this is how it should be in an intellectual community such as a university.
Excerpt from the statement of the Executive Board of Erasmus University Rotterdam:
”The Executive Board emphasises that the decision to terminate the visiting professorship of Professor Ramadan is in no way related with his personal beliefs. He can and may have controversial opinions at the University and this is also actively stimulated. The University is an academic sanctuary where debates can be held at razor’s edge and where unpopular paths can be explored. (…) The crux of the matter is that he collaborates with a TV channel that is being financed by the Iranian government. This government uses disproportionate violence against its citizens, including students. It uses the TV channel to justify this violence by, for example, replacing the word “demonstrators” with “hooligans” during broadcasts.”
Dick van Lente, Ph.D., Faculty of History and Arts
Bert Altena, Ph.D., Faculty of History and Arts
Martijn Kleppe, M.A., Faculty of History and Arts
Prof. Siep Stuurman, Faculty of History and Arts
Prof. Heleen Pott, Faculty of History and Arts and Faculty of Philosophy
Anders Schinkel, Ph.D., Faculty of Philosophy
Prof. Frits Gierstberg, Faculty of History and Arts
Adrie van der Laan, Ph.D., Erasmus Centre for Early Modern Studies
Pytrik Schafraad, M.A., Faculty of History and Arts
Susan Hogervorst, M.A., Faculty of History and Arts
Prof. Frans-Willem Korsten, Faculty of History and Arts, Department of Literary Studies, Leiden University
Jiska Engelbert, Ph.D., Faculty of History and Arts
Jeroen Timmermans, M.A., Faculty of Philosophy
Prof. Henri Beunders, Faculty of History and Arts
Prof. Paul van de Laar, Faculty of History and Arts and Historical Museum of Rotterdam
Robbert-Jan Adriaansen, M.A., Faculty of History and Arts
Rolien Duijvendijk, M.A., Faculty of History and Arts
Hans Maas, Faculty of History and Arts
Bernadette Kester, Ph.D., Faculty of History and Arts
Klazien de Vries, visiting lecturer of the Utrecht University and Erasmus University
Joep a Campo, Ph.D., Faculty of History and Arts
Prof. Henri Beunders, Faculty of History and Arts
Hans Maas, Faculty of History and Art
Theo Pronk, research fellow at the Faculty of History and Art