UCLA faculty lead initiative to support Afghan scholars in danger

Intenert cafe at Nangarhar University, Jalalabad, Afghanistan. (Photo: Babak via Flickr, 2012; cropped. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

UCLA faculty lead initiative to support Afghan scholars in danger

In an effort to bring Afghan scholars to UCLA, the Center for Near Eastern Studies is working to raise funds to support several visiting Afghan scholar positions on campus.

UCLA International Institute, September 1, 2021 — The chaos at the Kabul airport during the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan made clear that many, many Afghans fear for their lives and futures in a country ruled by the Taliban. Afghan scholars and academics are prominent among communities who now find themselves in danger.

“I believe it is our moral duty to help our fellow Afghan colleagues who are facing severe, if not life-threatening, challenges in their homeland,” said Ali Behdad, director of the Center for Near Eastern Studies (CNES) and John Charles Hills Professor of Literature at UCLA.

In an effort to bring Afghan scholars to UCLA, CNES is working in conjunction with the national organizations Scholars at Risk and the Scholar Rescue Fund to raise funds from the general public and the UCLA scholarly community to fund several visiting Afghan scholar positions on campus. 

CNES and the International Institute have directly invited and received support from the UCLA administration and the Promise Institute for Human Rights, and many faculty and UCLA members across the campus. Chancellor Gene Block and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Emily Carter have committed $150,000 to the effort, and the chancellor has secured a match of the same amount from an anonymous donor. The campaign has also elicited donations from professors from across the social sciences, humanities, the law school and many other schools and departments. 

“Supporting other academics and institutions is core to UCLA and our community,” said Chancellor Block. “We’re grateful to be able to play a part in assisting Afghanistan’s scholars in need.”

Building on these commitments, the campaign seeks to raise an additional $100,000 in donations from campus community members and the general public for a total of $400,000.

The demonstrated UCLA commitment to the initiative in the first few days of the campaign is a vote of confidence in the effort, as well as an expression of solidarity with scholars imperiled by the Taliban.

“Assisting Afghan scholars to maintain knowledge production in the face of repression in Afghanistan serves an important service both in terms of their valuable scholarly output and as an expression of academic solidarity — so we at the Center for Near Eastern Studies are delighted to create the opportunity to host these scholars at risk at UCLA,” said Behdad.

Domenico Ingenito, director of the Program on Central Asia (PoCA) and associate professor of Persian literature at UCLA, concurred. “We cannot remain silent while witnessing such an unprecedented humanitarian, political and sociocultural crisis in Afghanistan. We hope that our intellectual and institutional efforts here at UCLA will contribute to fostering federal and international political action leading to the rescue and protection of our Afghan colleagues,” he said.

Ingenito, who has been assisting Afghan refugees flown to Italy clear resettlement hurdles there, is actively supporting the UCLA effort to place Afghan scholars on campus and will devote considerable programming to Afghanistan at the Program on Central Asia in the coming year. “We hope that our fundraising efforts and programs will inspire people to stand by us in supporting the people of Afghanistan and their rich cultural heritage,” he added.

Contribute to the Scholars at Risk fund here.

This article was originally published on September 1, 2021, and updated on September 10 and 15.

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Published: Wednesday, September 1, 2021

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