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Should Terrorists Be Professors? A Kuwaiti Debate

KUWAIT—Some members of the Kuwaiti Parliament are calling for the suspension of some Kuwait University professors who have been named as terrorists supporting extremist groups fighting in Syria and Iraq.

The Parliament recently questioned the minster of education about why he had not taken action against the men, accused of collecting money, arms, and fighters for the Islamic State and the Al Qaeda-affiliated Al Nusrah Front. The minister said more proof was needed that the professors were acting as terrorists before suspending them, but he attacked the men for their views. The debate over the professors’ fate is also dividing the Kuwaiti academic community.

The minister of the interior, Sheikh Mohammad Al-Khaled said that some professors at Kuwait University, a public institution, were “promoting extremism.” But the Kuwait University Faculty Association, an association that represents faculty members, denied his accusations and said that a court, not the Parliament or the ministry, should decide on the professors’ fate.

In a press release issued last month, the association said that “the Minister’s accusation distorts the image of the university and its professors and creates instability and vulnerability inside the university campus.”  The syndicate denied that the university is “a haven for extremism” and called upon the minister to present proof for his allegations against any member of the faculty who adopts extremist thoughts that threaten the security and stability of the nation.”

The minister’s statements followed the appeal of some Parliament representatives to take the necessary measures against Shafi Al Ajami, a professor of Sharia, or Islamic law, in Kuwait University and to suspend him along with other professors who are accused of supporting groups fighting in Syria by raising money for specific campaigns and helping to smuggle in fighters.

The U.S. Department of Treasury included the names of two Kuwait University professors, Al Ajmi and Hamid Al-‘Ali as “specially designated global terrorists” last August with an accusation of supporting and financing extremist groups in Iraq and Syria.

Another Kuwait University assistant professor, Hakem Al Mutairi, the leader of the Islamist political organization al Umma, has also been frequently named as raising money for organizations that are listed globally as supporting terrorism.

Shamlan Al-Issa, a professor of political science at Kuwait University said “Unfortunately the Kuwaiti government is hesitant to take necessary measures against some Sharia faculty members who support extremism and terrorism.” Many academics believe the Muslim Brotherhood is a dominant force in the student union and the teacher’s syndicate.

But some professors said that the minister of interior’s statements are an unacceptable infringement upon academic affairs. Salem Al-Shemri, a professor of faith and dawah (the preaching of Islam) in the Sharia College at Kuwait University, said no measures should be taken against any faculty member without concrete proof of involvement in supporting terrorism. That, he said, is necessary “to maintain the integrity and independence of the university.”

Hussein Al-Saeedy, a Sharia professor, supports university independence and says the university should not be connected with any extremist views or activities of some professors. He said “Kuwait University is supposed to be an independent scientific entity which does not support any specific political or intellectual trends. The university has internal by-laws to deal with any infringement by any professor that misrepresents his role or image as a university professor.”

An academic survey conducted in 2009 by the education faculty entitled “Kuwait University: An Environment for Fanaticism and Extremism” found that the fanaticism of professors reaches its peak in Sharia College, where extreme allegiance to tribes was common and almost 10 percent of professors were viewed as extremist in their religious and political views. Salem Al-Kandery, an assistant professor at Sharia College, says the absence of a government role in social and humanitarian work gives Sharia professors additional status. “Sharia professors enjoy a special status in society,” he said, “because of their specialization in Sharia and religion. With the absence of laws and governmental role in humanitarian work, a Sharia professor is a judge of religious, life, political, economic, and societal affairs.”

About 400 Kuwaitis have joined the Islamic State in some fashion, according to Waleed Safour, chairman of the Syrian Committee for Human Rights. He said the Islamic State “was primarily financed by extremist parties in Kuwait, which supported the Kuwaiti militants and promoted their status.” Some Kuwaiti sources challenged that assertion, however, and said that the number of Kuwaiti militants does not exceed 200.

Abdel Latif bin Nakhi, an expert in the quality of education and curricula and its relationship with violence and sectarianism, an engineering professor at Kuwait University, and a consultant to the ministry, thinks that professors are not solely responsible for the development of extremist thinking. He said “We need to teach our students about different religions so that they will not be prey to extremist groups and to avoid regional sectarian sedition. We also need to reform our curricula and provide our teachers with proper pedagogical training.”


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