Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Special Fund Brings Scholars to Safe Shores

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Special Fund Brings Scholars to Safe Shores

Article excerpt

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 perform.

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 danger arises.

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 some cases.

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 career-saving."

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 Hitler's Germany.

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 Yugoslavia. …

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