Students to demonstrate against federal pressure on Duke-UNC consortium for Middle East Studies

Last month, the U.S. Education Department ordered the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies to revise its curriculum, saying it is advancing “ideological priorities” and promoting “the positive aspects of Islam” and is in danger of losing its federal grant funding.

The schools say they are working with the department to provide more information about its programs, which received $235,000 in federal grant money last year.

Students, faculty and academic freedom advocates are speaking out against the federal pressure — and organizing a demonstration on campus Wednesday.

Students for Justice in Palestine at UNC-Chapel Hill are organizing the event in collaboration with Take Action Chapel Hill and Defend UNC. It will be held at the South Building on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

“Take Action Chapel Hill & Defend UNC unequivocally condemn the recent attack on the Muslim community by the Trump-DeVos Department of Education and, of course, the consistent attacks by the Trump administration more broadly,” the groups said in a press statement this week.

“This attack on Muslim students at UNC (and Duke) in the wake of an Islamophobic mass shooting in Chapel Hill is tantamount to incitement,” the statement said. “This is a transparent attempt to pit groups under attack by the white supremacists both in White House and in our community against each other.”

The UNC Muslim Student Association released its own statement this week, as did UNC Students for Justice in Palestine.

“Your insistence upon the prioritization of “national security” over Islamic studies reveals a rejection of human understanding and appreciation for different beliefs and practices,” the UNC Muslim Student Association said in its statement. “The Duke-UNC Middle Eastern Studies Consortium is not your political tool. It is an acclaimed center for students and academics to study a part of the world that is too often demonized and misunderstood. This includes studying Islam in a way that is more complex than the black-and- white view promoted by mainstream media.”

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