Letters to the Editor
—Susana M. Sotillo, Temple Alumna, Associate Professor of Linguistics, Montclair State University
Letter to the editor from an alumna:
Dear Dr. Gordon,
One of my fondest memories while studying Religions of the World at Temple University in the early 1970s was of the lively discussions among students in Dr. Ismail Raji al-Faruqi’s class.
Dr. Faruqi was an impressive scholar and a caring teacher. He had not only a superb command of his subject matter, but also the ability to explain difficult religious concepts with great flair. I was then quite naïve and uninformed, but Dr. Faruqi helped me uncover underlying meanings and encouraged me to pursue my own interests in the multifaceted religious expressions of humans.
Though he was a victim of the dismemberment of Palestine in the 1940s, Dr. Faruqi never preached violence or hate. He was an accomplished intellectual who enjoyed sharing his knowledge with an audience. The fact that his wife, the mother of five, was also an accomplished scholar and managed to balance family responsibilities with rigorous academic work impressed me the most. It inspired me to move forward with my desire to pursue graduate studies.
Dr. Faruqi believed in integrating modern science and rationality with Islamic thought, as many Roman Catholic, Protestant and Jewish scholars have also done. Islam stood equal or ahead of Europe in the days of Ibn Sina and Averroes. Dr. Faruqi wished to make it so again. He was a wise and far-seeing teacher and thinker.
I have often prided myself of the excellent undergraduate education I received at Temple University. It helped me overcome deeply ingrained prejudices and biases that were part of my cultural baggage from growing up in a sheltered environment in Lima, Peru. I had some magnificent instructors at Temple who opened my eyes and heart to the unending joy of learning.
It is with great sorrow that I read what has happened to what was supposed to be an endowed chair in honor of a beloved professor. I am outraged at Temple University’s decision to side with vile charlatans like David Horowitz, an anti-Muslim con man and sycophantic poster child of far-Right corporate foundations: Koch, Castle Rock (Coors), Lynde and Harry Bradley, and Sarah Scaife (Richard Mellon Scaife). These groups have funded virtually the whole gamut of authoritarian anti-employee propaganda groups: the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Manhattan Institute, the Hoover Institution, the Claremont Institute, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), Middle East Forum, Accuracy in Media, and the National Association of Scholars, as well as Horowitz’s Center of the Study of Popular Culture. The first three were major funders of the John Birch Society.
The attacks on American academics perpetrated by Horowitz have created a dangerous anti-intellectual climate in the United States which is reminiscent of the witch hunts of the 1950s McCarthy era. Furthermore, these frontal attacks on the free exchange of ideas have ushered in an era of repression and intolerance, where political expediency dictates that Presidential candidates engage in religious intolerance by often partaking in a sweeping denigration of Islam. Horowitz and his ilk embody anti-intellectual fanaticism.
Horowitz’s, and now Temple’s, attack on Muslim scholars and studies is deeply racist. Who among us would fail to recognize this fact if instead of Muslim studies, Jewish studies were discriminated against in this manner? No one claims that the fact that Jewish terrorists who killed Count Bernadotte and blew up the King David Hotel means that Jewish studies ought to be under special scrutiny. The same standards should apply to Muslim and Arab studies.
It is shameful that Trustee Richard J. Fox, who has ties to FrontPage, Campus Watch and other Horowitz strongholds of anti-intellectualism, has been allowed to trample on academic freedom by Temple University’s President Hart and others. It is contemptible that Temple University has allowed non-academic fanatics to impugn the good name and character of a beloved professor, Ismail Raji al Faruqi, and to attempt to do likewise with Mahmoud Ayoub, Professor Emeritus of Religion at Temple.
I am ashamed as an alumna that an institution of higher learning I so loved has chosen to be part of a modern witch hunt. How can I as an alumna make future contributions to my Alma Mater when the leadership has allowed demagogues to make academic decisions? I urge men and women of integrity to do the right thing: Reverse this dastardly decision.
Susana M. Sotillo, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Linguistics
Montclair State University
BS 1972 (formerly Susana Daniele)