Although Northwestern in Qatar is part of Northwestern University, it faces a problem quite unheard of in Evanston: censorship of its class materials.
A recent article in NU-Q’s student newspaper, The Daily Q, revealed that NU-Q professors have had to remove controversial books from their syllabi because they were stopped by the Ministry of Culture from entering the country.
Associate professor Tracy Vaughn told The Daily Q this was the reason the book Scheherazade Goes West had to be removed from her class’ syllabus. Vaughn speculated it was due to the book’s line “I thank you Allah for sparing me the tyranny of the size 6 harem.”
Other universities in Education City (where NU-Q is located) have faced similar problems, even though the Qatari government is supposed to guarantee their intellectual freedom.
For example, The Daily Q found that the Georgetown School of Foreign Service in Qatar could not receive the full 1001 Nights for its class based on the classic.
And Doha News reported earlier this month that Mohana Rajakumar, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar, had her book Love Comes Later banned from entering Qatar.
This occurred despite the fact that Rajakumar said she consciously avoided subjects like sex, politics, and atheism. Every book entering the conservative country is reviewed by the government for potentially controversial or offensive material, and bans are not infrequent.
In a somewhat ironic example of this, the memoir of Qatari-American writer Sophia al-Maria about growing up in Qatar was well-received internationally but is not sold in Doha. Al-Maria was NU-Q’s commencement speaker last May.
NU-Q’s own work has been censored as well.
As The Northwestern Chronicle reported last month, NU-Q’s much-touted Arab Media Study went under extensive re-wording for its sections on politics and freedom of expression in Qatar.
Under orders of the Qatar Statistics Authority, the study’s survey questionnaire took out any mention of “politics,” “government,” “public officials,” and other terms which could undermine the legitimacy of Qatar’s absolute monarchy.
In the most clear example of censorship, a question which asked respondents which way they thought their country was going (on a good-or-bad scale) was entirely removed.
NU-Q’s Dean and CEO, Everette E. Dennis, a co-author of the study, did not respond to The Chronicle’s requests for comment on the censored research. He did, however, respond to other media outlets who picked up The Chronicle’s reporting.
Dennis told the Arab higher education website Al Fanar that if the research had “in any way caved to some kind of governmental directive, we wouldn’t have done it.”
Dennis said the study’s authors stand by the survey, adding that “we respect local policies and customs.”