Oxford endorses Muslim theologian

September 11, 1998

An Oxford University inquiry is expected to endorse the controversial appointment of a Muslim theologian who has been accused of being an apologist for religious murder.

Jean Michot, who has written a booklet that has been interpreted as a justification of the 1996 murder by Algerian Islamic militants of seven French monks, has been appointed a fellow of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies with teaching duties at the university.

The university has initiated an inquiry, which is expected to be completed within the next week, but it is understood that it will rule that the allegations are false and that even if they were not, academic freedom at Oxford renders the political views of its staff "irrelevant".

An inquiry report by Keith Griffin, former president of Magdalen College, for the centre for Islamic studies, has already concluded that the OCIS has made "an outstanding appointment".

Presented to OCIS's trustees late last week, the report said that Dr Michot's political activities as a Muslim leader - a high-profile convert from Catholicism - in Belgium have been controversial.

"But as far as the centre (and Oxford) is concerned," the report said, "they are irrelevant when deciding on the appropriateness of his appointment ... A scholar's political views on violence in society are irrelevant."

Dr Michot left the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, amid a storm of protest when his authorship of the booklet was revealed.

Louvain is criticised in the report: "Unlike Oxford, Louvain does not protect academic freedom but reserves the right to dismiss faculty for ideological reasons."

But regardless of his political views, the Griffin report concludes, the suggestion that Dr Michot is an apologist for terrorism or violence is false.

"The allegations made against him can most charitably be interpreted as arising from a misreading and misunderstanding of his 37-page translation and commentary on a medieval text," the report said.

The director of the OSIS, the chairman of Oxford's oriental studies faculty and its regius professor of theology have all agreed that the booklet does not advocate murder.

The new inquiry is not expected to depart from these conclusions.

"I solemnly attest that I have never developed any kind of apology for murder in my writings or statements," Dr Michot said in a statement.

Dr Michot was chosen from a shortlist of six and his appointment was endorsed by Oxford's selection committee, theology board and general board of the faculties. He speaks 11 languages, and has published eight books and 61 articles.

Why I ... by Jean Y Michot, page 18

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