Editor’s note: This commentary is part of a package on the prevalence and consequences of academic self-censorship in Arab higher education, based on a survey conducted by Al-Fanar Media and the Scholars at Risk network. See other articles and commentaries in the package at this link.
“The modern university should be unconditional. By ‘modern university,’ we mean the one whose European model, after a rich and complex medieval history, has become prevalent, that is to say, ‘classical,’ for two centuries, in states of a democratic type. This truth requires and should be recognized in principle, in addition to what is called academic freedom, an unconditional freedom of questioning and proposals, and even more the right to say publicly all that is required for research, knowledge and truthful thinking. … The university makes a profession of truth.”
—Jacques Derrida, in L’Université sans Condition, éd. Galilée, Paris, 2001.
A Broken Dream
This dream of Derrida’s—great deconstructor of concepts—to see the birth of a university “without condition,” a space of critical resistance aiming at building a new humanity, seems today in difficulty. To build a new humanity, such is the fundamental concern of the dreamed knowledge. The university, following the example of the Enlightenment, would be endowed with an unconditional right to question everything, especially the concept of man in its totality. There is no guide but knowledge, nothing but knowledge; hence this resistance to all powers whatever they are (church, state, institutions …). Nothing escapes questioning and everything must be said publicly.