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Sunday, October 24, 2021

QU library row sparks debate over academic freedom, cultural values



A weeklong controversy over the existence of “inappropriate” titles in Qatar University’s library catalogue is stirring debate about cultural values, academic freedom and censorship here.

The issue was raised last week after anonymous students started a petition complaining about “debauchery” at QU.

In a letter circulated online, members of the QU community are warned about certain untoward books and publications available either in the library or via its online network.

The administration that allowed such titles to be made available to students should be removed for spreading sin in the community, the petition states. To prove its point, several book covers featuring female nudity are included in the petition, which continues:

These books which are available with a click of a button call for adultery and homosexuality; they also represent the sin for the youth to seduce them and ruin their morals…

We hope that people with conscience would move to get rid of such administrations who brought corruption upon our educational institutions.

University officials were not immediately available for comment.

But last week, after the petition was forwarded to QU Vice President Dr. Mazen Hasna, the university responded by tweeting an official statement:

According to the statement, QU said the number of titles that show up in the library catalogue is based on subscriptions to publishing houses, with publications stored in an automated way. Most of the publishing houses are based in countries with different customs and traditions, the statement said.

But measures would be taken to deal with the problem and committees will be formed to prevent such incidents from recurring, it continued:

To make sure that these books does not reach the university’s attendees in the future, the university has adopted a censoring policy on books where we were able to delete the books which are against our culture according to clear standards before they reach the library’s index…

Over the past fews, residents on Twitter have been debating the incident under the hashtag #ماذا_يحدث_في_جامعة_قطر (what’s happening at Qatar University).

People appear to be of two minds on the issue. Some argued that a government-funded institution should not make content of an explicit nature so easily accessible in a conservative Islamic society like Qatar. 

Others pushed back, arguing that academic freedom trumped moral questions:

This is not the first time QU has had to navigate culturally fraught terrain. Last year, the introduce of a new, stricter dress code sparked questions about freedom of expression. 


Credit: Translation by Amin Isaac; Photo courtesy of QU on Facebook

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