The funny, sad history of intellectual pandering

Institutions that possess the power of freely granting diplomas forget the sacredness of their educational duty and could not care less about credibility.

Wednesday 25/11/2020
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan receives an honorary degree from Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi on May 1, 2017. (AFP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan receives an honorary degree from Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi on May 1, 2017. (AFP)

Fun fact: A Sudanese university withdrew the master’s degree it had bestowed on ousted President Omar al-Bashir. And get this, the name of the institute at the university that handed out the degree speaks volumes. It is the Institute of Islamic Knowledge. Mortified, the university not only withdrew the diploma, but also cancelled the institute itself.

I don’t know if Bashir deserved that master’s degree the day it was awarded to him by the university. The whole affair was a very obvious case of pandering. But, if truth must be told, the whole era of Bashir’s regime deserves to be recorded in many M.A. and Ph.D. theses. There is enough material to fill up dozens of them. Thirty years of contradictions deserve serious examinations in Sudan and elsewhere.

By withdrawing the diploma, the university was perhaps thinking that it was righting a wrong, while in fact it was rewriting the history of obsequious behaviour and flattery. Such institutions that possess the power of freely granting diplomas forget the sacredness of their educational duty and could not care less about credibility.

Nevertheless, they still remain institutions. They can easily erase such a history or ignore it. There is something not right here. Big name institutions hand out awards and prizes to personalities, to the extreme delight of these personalities, only to see them later turn against their generous donors.

Take, for example, the Saddam Prize for Literature. In the late 1980s, it was awarded to Egyptian writer Yusuf Idris. The recipient was ecstatic about his prize. Less than two years later, Idris unleashed a volley of most venomous barbs against the donor. It was Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait that caused his ire. He even talked about returning the prize. Then the whole matter died out in the midst of the hullabaloo of the war and the death of the recipient in the same year.

The Gadhafi International Prize for Literature is another telling example. The first to win it was Egyptian writer and critic Jaber Asfour. Libya celebrated the recipient at the time and he was very happy with the award. Then he decided to give it up after Muammar Gadhafi suppressed the Libyan people, as if Gadhafi had never done that before the revolution. We have no idea where the prize money ended up.

Some award recipients are smart, very smart. One of those smart, lucky winners is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In 2010, Gadhafi bestowed on him the Gadhafi International Prize for Human Rights (sic). No, it’s not a joke. This was during the height of Qaddafi’s arrogance, and during the height of the preparations for the Erdoganian era in Turkey. It was also the height of Turkish companies swooping down on contracts in Libya. Because Erdogan is smart, the topic of this award was never brought up and Turkey went on to do whatever it’s been doing in Gadhafi’s Libya after Ghadafi. And so on and so forth.

These are just a sample of the incredible hypocrisy of some and of rewriting the history of hypocrisy. Yusuf Idris, Jaber Asfour and many others were literary and cultural giants that did not need to be flattered by an award, nor need to flatter the award giver, to be recognised and counted. They went on to place themselves in a bigger pickle when they turned their barbed arrows against the donors of their awards.

We are not judging here the undeserving people who have named prizes after themselves. History will do that. And perhaps history will eventually catch up with someone who enjoys pandering like Erdogan.