The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday May 8th

Editorial: Leave the Consortium for Middle Eastern Studies alone

Let’s pour one out for academic freedom! She might not be around much longer. 

In a letter published last week, the U.S. Department of Education ordered the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle Eastern Studies to revise its curriculum or risk losing federal funding under Title VI. 

In the letter, dated Aug. 29, the Department said the Consortium places too much emphasis on “the positive aspects of Islam,” but lacks focus on other belief systems in the Middle East, such as Christianity and Judaism.  

According to the Department, many of the consortium’s activities do little to aid the understanding of  “geopolitical challenges” in the region — nor do they advance “U.S. national security and economic stability.”

The Department also wrote that, rather than focusing on the geography, geopolitical issues, history and language of the area, the Duke-UNC CMES instead discusses such issues as unconscious bias, safe classrooms and working across cultures. 

Because apparently that’s a discussion the Trump administration doesn’t want us to have. 

The Department appears to be very concerned about the protection of Middle Eastern religious minorities, such as “Yadizis” — which they spelled incorrectly. By the way, it’s Yazidis.

And if there’s any religion in this country that needs to be better understood, it’s Islam. Full stop.

The Trump administration has repeatedly shown it couldn't care less about the protection of religious minorities in the U.S. — so why are they suddenly interested in protecting them abroad?

In fact, the Department’s decision is symptomatic of a larger stain of Islamophobia within the Trump administration. Apparently, the tweets and the Muslim ban weren’t enough — now Trump and his friends have decided to shut down Islam-centered education, too. 

Framing this as a national security issue implies that Islam has no place in the United States unless we are actively fighting against it. The Middle East is about more than just terrorism and oil — it is comprised of rich cultures that are worthy of appreciation.

The Department of Education is actively limiting what students at this University are allowed to study and what experts in the field can teach. It is a threat to academic freedom everywhere, not just on this campus. Letters like this set a precedent for the federal government to intervene in the education of future generations. 

Cultural education and awareness are important  — especially when it comes to fundamentally misrepresented and misunderstood religions such as Islam. Thanks to the Duke-UNC CMES, students at these universities are able to better grasp the complexities of this region. 

But if the Trump administration has its way, this will no longer be the case. Now, more than ever, students across the country need to stand up for academic freedom and against anti-Muslim bigotry in all its forms. 

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