Rodinson Banned at AUC

During the spring semester of 1998, Didier Monciaud, an instructor in the Arabic Studies department at the American University in Cairo (AUC) and a French citizen who has been doing dissertation research in Egypt for several years, assigned his Arab history class to write a critical essay on Maxime Rodinson’s well-known biography, Mohamed. As the due date for the assignment approached, a relative of one of Monciaud’s students got hold of the book, read it, found it offensive and collected 46 signatures of AUC alumni on a petition of complaint. Salah Muntasir, a journalist for the public-sector daily,Al-Ahram, got hold of the petition and published an article (May 13) entitled “A Book That Should Be Forbidden,” claiming that Rodinson’s Mohamed is one of the worst books ever written about Islam. The following day Mufid Shihab, Egypt’s minister of education, announced that he had phoned the AUC administration and that the university had agreed to remove the book from the curriculum, the library and the bookstore. Other journalists chimed in, criticizing Rodinson’s book, Didier Monciaud and AUC. The Islamist paper al-Sha‘b, for instance, used terms like “heresy” and “Zionism” to describe Rodinson and Monciaud. Monciaud took refuge with friends, fearful that the incendiary language aimed at him in the press might incite actual physical violence.

A few days after the attacks of Muntasir and his ilk, a number of Egyptian journalists and intellectuals rallied to Monciaud’s support, publishing a number of articles in newspapers and magazines. Among Monciaud’s key supporters was the journal Adab wa Naqd (Literature and Criticism), published by the leftist Tagammu‘ party. Its July issue featured a dossier on the Rodinson-Monciaud case, including an article penned by Monciaud himself. But while Egyptian liberal and progressive intellectuals acquitted themselves admirably by coming to the defense of academic freedom, the AUC administration remained silent throughout the controversy. As the semester ended in June, the university quietly terminated Monciaud’s employment. Patrons of AUC library had been able to check out Rodinson’s Mohamed since 1971, and when the controversy erupted, the library owned four copies. Now all record of the book has been deleted from the online catalog, and the AUC librarian holds the four copies under lock and key, out of circulation. A committee at al-Azhar has reportedly begun to screen books, and AUC faculty report that books they had previously used in courses can no longer be imported into the country. Titles include In the Eye of the Sun by Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif, Women of Sand and Myrrh by Lebanese novelist Hanan al-Shaykh, and Elaine Combs-Schilling’s anthropological study, Sacred Performances: Islam, Sexuality and Sacrifice. Some AUC faculty members wonder whether the administration will do a better job of defending academic freedom the next time a student or his/her relative complains about the assignment of a “controversial” book.

Small Victories Department

“I think it was a real mistake that the US chose to fire missiles into the Middle East…. I think it’s very important that the United States starts to look toward non-violent means of resolving conflicts…. Another thing that America really needs to think about is our racism toward Muslim people and toward Arabic people and that’s something that has to stop.” Comments by MCA (Adam Yauch) of the Beastie Boys, upon the group’s acceptance of the Video Vanguard Award at the MTV Video Music Awards, September 10.

And, in response to a worldwide letter-writing campaign, Ben & Jerry’s licensee in Israel announced in September that it would no longer purchase water from the occupied Golan Heights. Celebrate by eating some ice cream! (Al’s pick: Cherry Garcia.)

Cluster Bombs

Although Israel pledged in 1978 not to use US-made cluster bombs unless attacked by more than one Arab country, President Reagan stopped the shipment of cluster bombs to Israel after discovering that Israel had dropped the US-made bombs on Lebanese and Palestinian civilians during Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Since then, Israel has developed its own cluster bomb technology in order to evade US restrictions, and it has routinely used them to “protect” its northern border. For example, the Deutsche Press Agentur reported on August 5, 1998 that cluster-bomb shrapnel from an Israeli artillery assault on the village of Zibquine, east of Tyre, resulted in the death of one Lebanese civilian and the severe wounding of another.

Meanwhile, human rights groups have pressured President Clinton to impose a ban on the sale or delivery of US-manufactured cluster bombs to Turkey, which was using them against the Kurds. Cosmos, the newsletter of Panteion University’s Institute of International Relations (Athens), recently revealed that Turkey has now turned to Israel as an alternative source for cluster bombs. Yet another, unreported, benefit of the recent Turkish-Israeli military collaboration.

How to cite this article:

"Al Miskin (Winter 1998)," Middle East Report 209 (Winter 1998).

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