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LETTER | ‘Silencing’ of the academia feels like a deafening roar

LETTER | It has been over a month since the current assault on Gaza took place and there is no sign of it receding anytime soon. In fact, things have taken a worse turn.

A few days back, major news channels such as Al-Jazeera and Jordan News reported that an Israeli attack had bombed the Al-Mughraqa campus of the famous Al-Azhar University in Gaza, rendering a renowned institution into dust and rubble.

Not only that, on Nov 10, 2023, the Islamic University of Gaza produced a statement notifying the world how their buildings and resources have been annihilated by Israeli airstrikes.

If that is not jaw-dropping enough, consider this: on social media, a statement has been circulated saying that the academic calendar of one affected university had to be halted, due to the sheer amount of their students being killed in the attacks.

Simply put, there are not enough students alive to even conduct lessons for the semester!

This is accompanied by a burst of social media from Palestinians calling for the world to react and respond to the ‘death’ of academia and knowledge institutions in Gaza.

Unfortunately, many universities, scholars and students around the world found their hands tied in speaking up against such acts.

For example, many university students have found themselves expelled, suspended, or even blacklisted by prospective employers due to their participation in the rallies.

Scholars, on the other hand, had to deal with warnings and cancelled programs, which should have been the platforms for their expertise on this matter.

With just a simple Google search, we can also see how a lot of Western-based media channels and news outlets give a hands-off warning to universities and academic institutions from “taking sides” or commenting on current, sensitive issues for fear that it may somehow endanger the core of its existence.

It’s ironic, really, because a columnist who got featured in one of the said outlets mentioned that universities (academia) should be “upsetting” and challenging the existing social dynamics and proposing a better version of it.

Now that academia is trying to play the exact role that they are supposed to, it has suddenly become a taboo.

This is a concerning pattern. Palestinians began losing their land during the Nakba some 75 years ago and throughout the decades, many ‘efforts’ have been made to silence those who could see and tell the truth. This includes academia too, where there are those who are well-versed, aware, and care enough to start retaliating, albeit intellectually.

Intellectual retaliation may not be as upfront as a military one, but it is highly coveted and also feared by those with colonial mindsets.

In the history of colonialism, the imperialists did not only bring soldiers and weapons to the lands they wished to inhabit.

They also brought their cultures, their literature, and their intellectuals over in an attempt to ‘re-set’ the natives’ perspectives of the world. That’s how important intellectual prowess could be.

This may as well be the reason why the Israeli attacks seemingly attempted to eradicate two really important things in an intellectual journey: the institutions and the next generations.

Look at how many babies and little children are being turned into corpses, meeting an untimely end to their prospective lives, how one-day-old babies were wounded and breathless due to rubble and explosions befalling them.

Look at the universities being bombed, where students are no longer alive to go to classes and the precious manuscripts being turned to shreds.

These seem like attempts to completely eradicate the intellect of Palestinians, to take away their rights to be educated in peace and comfort, robbing the future of Palestine from being developed into a glorious state like its past iterations.

Most of the displayed reactions to this mayhem have been mostly among students all over the world, who took matters into their own hands by joining demonstrations and rallies to call for a ceasefire in the name of humanity.

Thanks to the rapid nature of social media circulation, these youngsters, both Muslims and non-Muslims, Palestinians and non-Palestinians, or any sides for that matter, are given a way to channel their thoughts and voices on the conflict.

Unfortunately, many have started to believe that this is only an eerily faint voice heard from fellow academic members. The fact remains that academia has a lot to say about such a violation of a glorious institution.

Yet, the attempts to silence the people who have credibility on this matter seem to gradually becoming successful. Because now the emptiness and silence feel like an unsettling, deafening roar.

It is up to those willing enough to start their own intellectual retaliation.

AMIRUL NAZMI AZRYMI is attached to the International Islamic University Malaysia.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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