“Respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superceded academic freedom.”
—Fayneese Miller, President, Hamline University
And so Hamline University joins the Big Two of other liberal-arts schools that have embarrassed themselves via the administration’s defense of the indefensible: The Evergreen State College and Oberlin College. Evergreen defended thuggish students who were out to hunt down Bret Weinstein for saying he wouldn’t leave campus on the “Day of Absence,” while Oberlin defended three students who shoplifted wine and then beat up the store’s proprietor (Oberlin paid over $39 million for that unwise defense). Now, as I’ve written about twice, Hamline has gained the spotlight by firing an instructor who showed two pictures of Muhammed in an art class, one showing his face and the other his body with a veiled face. And the instructor, whom the NYT names below as Erika López Prater, warned the students before class about this so they didn’t have to come if they didn’t want to. But trigger warnings apparently don’t eliminate offense.
Further, as I mentioned before and as Kenan Malik notes below, it’s only a recent and more conservative strain of Islam that considers it blasphemous to show the Prophet or his face, so there’s a whole panoply of Islamic art showing Muhammad’s visage, something that art history professor Christiane Gruber, who specializes in Islamic art, pointed out while defending López Prater in New Lines Magazine. That didn’t matter, either.
Nevertheless, and even though the teacher apologized, the college President, quoted above, didn’t renew the instructor’s contract. Hamline and its administration are holding firm, even though FIRE has now reported the school to its accreditation agency and the school has been condemned by PEN America. Can a lawsuit be far behind?
Remember, you read it here first, and only now does the New York Times cover the story. Be aware, though, that the NYT’s coverage may be a good sign that it’s losing its wokeness, for it took ages for the paper to get interested in the Evergreen and Oberlin cases n. You can read the NYT story below by clicking on the screenshot:
Besides naming the victim as Erika López Prater, a name now all over the Internet, the paper gives a few facts I didn’t know (don’t expect a small website to have the investigating capacity of a huge newspaper!). Here are a few tidbits:
Officials told Dr. López Prater that her services next semester were no longer needed. In emails to students and faculty, they said that the incident was clearly Islamophobic. Hamline’s president, Fayneese S. Miller, co-signed an email that said respect for the Muslim students “should have superseded academic freedom.” At a town hall, an invited Muslim speaker compared showing the images to teaching that Hitler was good.
Remember: an invited speaker, clearly brought in to support the accusation of blasphemy. The President’s statement is beyond the pale.
This I’ve said before:
The painting shown in Dr. López Prater’s class is in one of the earliest Islamic illustrated histories of the world, “A Compendium of Chronicles,” written during the 14th century by Rashid-al-Din (1247-1318).
Shown regularly in art history classes, the painting shows a winged and crowned Angel Gabriel pointing at the Prophet Muhammad and delivering to him the first Quranic revelation. Muslims believe that the Quran comprises the words of Allah dictated to the Prophet Muhammad through the Angel Gabriel.
Note: earlier I said that the NYT didn’t show the picture at issue. I see now that it does, though you have to click on a dot to see it. (I missed that.) I’ve put the one that caused all the trouble below.
Here it is: the face that launched a thousand kvetches. You can see the picture and its painter here as well. It’s from the fourteenth century:
More from the NYT:
Omid Safi, a professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University, said he regularly shows images of the Prophet Muhammad in class and without Dr. López Prater’s opt-out mechanisms. He explains to his students that these images were works of devotion created by pious artists at the behest of devout rulers.
“That’s the part I want my students to grapple with,” Dr. Safi said. “How does something that comes from the very middle of the tradition end up being received later on as something marginal or forbidden?”
I wonder if Safi is now in someone’s gunsights. More from the paper:
Dr. López Prater, who had only begun teaching at Hamline in the fall, said she felt like a bucket of ice water had been dumped over her head, but the shock soon gave way to “blistering anger at being characterized in those terms by somebody who I have never even met or spoken with.” She reached out to Dr. Gruber, who ended up writing the essay and starting the petition.
And get a load of this forum set up by the University to justify their heinous actions. (Aram Wedatalla, a student, complained about the picture-showing in the student paper and also filed a complaint with Hamline’s admnistration.)
At the Dec. 8 forum, which was attended by several dozen students, faculty and administrators, Ms. Wedatalla described, often through tears, how she felt seeing the image.
“Who do I call at 8 a.m.,” she asked, when “you see someone disrespecting and offending your religion?”
Other Muslim students on the panel, all Black women, also spoke tearfully about struggling to fit in at Hamline. Students of color in recent years had protested what they called racist incidents; the university, they said, paid lip service to diversity and did not support students with institutional resources.
The main speaker was Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group.
The instructor’s actions, he said, hurt Muslim students and students of color and had “absolutely no benefit.”
“If this institution wants to value those students,” he added, “it cannot have incidents like this happen. If somebody wants to teach some controversial stuff about Islam, go teach it at the local library.”
The man is a peabrain who has no notion of academic freedom, nor does he recognize that it’s only fundamentalist Muslims who have the see-no-face policy.
Here’s one more bit describing how at least one Hamline professor spoke up against the lunacy, but was shusshed by the administration:
Mark Berkson, a religion professor at Hamline, raised his hand.
“When you say ‘trust Muslims on Islamophobia,’” Dr. Berkson asked, “what does one do when the Islamic community itself is divided on an issue? Because there are many Muslim scholars and experts and art historians who do not believe that this was Islamophobic.”
Mr. Hussein responded that there were marginal and extremist voices on any issue. “You can teach a whole class about why Hitler was good,” Mr. Hussein said.
During the exchange, Ms. Baker, the department head, and Dr. Everett, the administrator, separately walked up to the religion professor, put their hands on his shoulders and said this was not the time to raise these concerns, Dr. Berkson said in an interview.
But Dr. Berkson, who said he strongly supported campus diversity, said that he felt compelled to speak up.
“We were being asked to accept, without questioning, that what our colleague did — teaching an Islamic art masterpiece in a class on art history after having given multiple warnings — was somehow equivalent to mosque vandalism and violence against Muslims and hate speech,” Dr. Berkson said. “That is what I could not stand.”
Good for Berkson, a voice of sanity in the miasma of cowardice that is Hamline University. The bolding above is mine, showing again that Hamline’s administration DOES NOT WANT A DEBATE. They want others to confirm that they did the right thing by firing López Prater. (The good news is that she says she has other job offers.)
The journalist Kenan Malik, trained in biology as well as the history of science, and now a writer who’s devoted to free speech, has an eloquent piece in the Guardian defending López-Prater’s right to show Muhammad’s face. (He doesn’t name her.) You can read it for free by clicking the headline.
It’s full of nice pull quotes; I’ll give just three. Professor Berkson shows up again (note that the student paper removed his published letter, though you can see the link below):
David Everett, Hamline’s associate vice-president of inclusive excellence, condemned the classroom exercise as “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic”. A letter written by Mark Berkson, chair of the department of religion, defending the instructor and providing historical and religious context for her actions, was published on the website of The Oracle, the university’s student newspaper, and then taken down because it “caused harm”. The instructor was “released” from further teaching duties.
What is striking about the Hamline incident, though, is that the image at the heart of the row cannot even in the most elastic of definitions be described as Islamophobic. It is an artistic treasure that exalts Islam and has long been cherished by Muslims.
. . . Yet, to show it is now condemned as Islamophobic because… a student says so. Even to question that claim is to cause “harm”. As Berkson asked in another (unpublished) letter he sent to The Oracle, after his first had been removed: “Are you saying that disagreement with an argument is a form of ‘harm’?”
That is precisely what the university is saying. “Respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom,” wrote Fayneese Miller, the university’s president, and Everett in a letter to staff and students. In what way was showing the painting “disrespecting” Muslims? Those who did not wish to view it did not have to. But others, including Muslims who desired to view the image, had every right to engage with a discussion of Islamic history.
Universities should defend all students’ right to practise their faith. They should not allow that faith to dictate the curriculum. That is to introduce blasphemy taboos into the classroom.
I think the mantra “disagreement with an argument is a form of ‘harm'” should become the official slogan of the woke. It’s the most concise characterization of the illiberal Left that I’ve seen.
And Malik’s take on the diversity angle of this issue (bolding is mine):
Too many people today demand that we respect the diversity of society, but fail to see the diversity of minority communities in those societies. As a result, progressive voices often get dismissed as not being authentic, while the most conservative figures become celebrated as the true embodiment of their communities.
Here, liberal “anti-racism” meets rightwing anti-Muslim bigotry. For bigots, all Muslims are reactionary and their values incompatible with those of liberal societies. For too many liberals, opposing bigotry means accepting reactionary ideas as authentically Muslim; that to be Muslim is to find the Danish cartoons offensive and the depiction of Muhammed “harmful”. Both bigots and liberals erase the richness and variety of Muslim communities.
The Hamline controversy shows how the concepts of diversity and tolerance have become turned on their head. Diversity used to mean the creation of a space for dissent and disagreement and tolerance the willingness to live with things that one might find offensive or distasteful. Now, diversity too often describes a space in which dissent and disagreement have to be expunged in the name of “respect” and tolerance requires one to refrain from saying or doing things that might be deemed offensive. It is time we re-grasped both diversity and tolerance in their original sense.
I fear it’s too late, as we’re educating students to be both politically correct and authoritarian, and they will grow up to run America (and perhaps England). It will be decades, I fear, before society comes back to its senses. But by that time I’ll be one with the clay.