The University of North Carolina has finally found a core curriculum. Usually it lets students bypass the “Great Books.” No required Shakespeare for them. Not so, however, with the Koran, or rather a politically correct introduction to the Koran called Approaching the Qur’an: The Early Revelations by Michael Sells. UNC required all entering freshmen to read his book this summer in preparation for group seminars at the beginning of the year.
The assignment was part of “The Carolina Summer Reading Program,” which “is designed to introduce you to the intellectual life of Carolina,” the UNC website tells students.
It certainly served that end, for the intellectual life of UNC, like the majority of colleges today, is defined by an eagerness to study sympathetically every tradition except America’s own. Deeply skeptical and relativistic, most colleges don’t even bother to mention “truth” in their mission statements. They can’t pass on any coherent body of wisdom, because, as far as their professors are concerned, no such body of wisdom exists. What colleges consider within their competence to do, though, is be “relevant” and form students in the attitudes, fashions, and ideas of the hour, one of the chief ones being that Islam is indisputably a religion of peace.
It is a good thing UNC required students to read a PC primer on the Koran rather than the actual text. If they read the Koran from beginning to end, they might not develop the proper attitude toward Islam. Passages which justify violent jihad could lead them to the wrong conclusion, namely, that Muslims who oppose the West aren’t ignoring their religion’s teachings, but practicing them. Apparently Muhammad held the same views and values as the staff of the New Yorker.
Would that the liberal professors at UNC interpreted the tenets of Christianity so benignly. Normally the Religious Right scares them. But Islam, which makes the most intense forms of Christianity look like backsliding, receives their warm embrace.
As long as a culture isn’t Western, it can get away with pretty much anything in the eyes of many academics. As they see it, non-Western cultures are not to be condemned under any circumstances; they are to be understood or explained. Hence, American slavery, for example, makes some academics shouting mad, while African slavery just leaves them perplexed.
If Ho Chi Minh won his war on the streets of America, maybe America’s Islamic enemies hope to win theirs in America’s college classrooms. They must chuckle over the tolerance extended to their intolerant culture. And how self-destructively vain academics must be to assume that anti-Western Muslims think like them.
People who reduce Islam to liberal humanism are sitting ducks for its more fervent practitioners. This is what students at UNC need to know. But the Western intellectual culture that taught students to think critically is long gone. The West’s intellectual culture contains no objective measure of truth, and so it is powerless to judge anything intelligently. If American academics can’t see any harm in doctrinal Islam, it is because they can’t see harm in anything — save the conservative embers in their own country.
Michael Sells says that behind some of the criticism of UNC’s use of his book “is an old missionary claim that Islam is a religion of violence in contrast to Christianity, a religion of peace.” Old missionaries weren’t the only ones who made that claim. Centuries ago, before the Western intellectual culture traded Christianity for secular humanism, professors, such as Thomas Aquinas, at schools like the University of Salamanca and Paris, made that claim too. And if they hadn’t, those schools would probably be mosques today.