Ever since his days as a student in the late 1970s, Ahmed
Mansour's views on Islam have stirred controversy. While studying
and teaching at Egypt's Al-Azhar University, Dr. Mansour antagonized
both national and religious authorities by challenging accepted
interpretations of the Koran and by opposing violence toward
Egyptian Christians. As a result, censorship and violence followed
Mansour throughout his academic career, beginning with the
requirement that he omit two-thirds of his doctoral thesis in 1980.
In all, seven of his 21 books were banned.
While trying to start a new political party in the 1990s, his
activist partner was killed.
Finally in 2001 - after he, his family, and colleagues received
death threats - Mansour fled to the United States where he was
granted political asylum. There, with help from the Scholar Rescue
Fund, Mansour was able to secure a grant from Harvard University Law
School, enabling him to complete a research project on the teaching
of Wahabi Islam - an extremist Sunni sect - in the US.
Settling a refugee scholar into an academic post in a safe
country is exactly the task the Scholar Rescue Fund was created to
The group is a project of the New York-based Institute of
International Education, which also administers the prestigious
Fulbright scholarship program. The Scholar Rescue Fund, created two
years ago, helps victimized academics pursue their work in other
countries until it is safe for them to return home.
Since World War I, philanthropic groups have reached out to
academics like Mansour in times of war or intense conflict, but the
Scholar Rescue Fund works on a different timetable. The group was
created to provide protection for intellectuals from the moment
The fund works to help academics leave countries where they may
have experienced death threats, censorship, or imprisonment. Often
their ideas are controversial or appear to their governments to
threaten the status quo.
The goal is not to permanently remove these thinkers from their
own countries but rather to help them find safer teaching positions
abroad until tensions ease at home.
Scholars are accepted for assistance on the basis of the gravity
of their situations and the quality of their work. Grants are
typically for one-year appointments, with longer terms available in
Nearly 50 individuals from more than 20 countries have been
placed since the fund was created in 2002.
Other groups - like the US-based Scholars at Risk Network and the
British organization Council for Assisting Refugee Academics - also
help academics like Mansour find placements.
But only the Scholar Rescue Fund offers financial assistance,
which typically amounts to half the individual's salary for the
year, with the host university making up the rest.
The fund is also unique in that it places scholars worldwide -
positions have been found in France, Norway, South Africa, and
Mexico. "There's no question that some of those awards were life-
saving," says Robert Quinn, the fund's director. "All of them were
A century of protecting scholars
Scholar rescue has been practiced in various forms for nearly a
century. One of the first to do it was the internationally active
World's Student Christian Federation.
When students and professors lost their homes and livelihoods as
a result of World War I, the group responded by providing clothing,
books, food, and shelter. Later, in the years before World War II,
the Institute for International Education's Emergency Committee in
Aid of Displaced Foreign Scholars and the New School for Social
Research worked together to relocate intellectuals at risk in
The Emergency Committee was dismantled after the war, but the
institute continued to help scholars around the globe at moments of
danger such as the Soviet occupation of Prague in 1968, China's
Tiananmen Square massacre, and the "ethnic cleansing" in the former