A poem written by an al Qaeda leader -- while serving sentence at the famous Guantanamo Bay prison – has found its way to the syllabus for third semester degree students of Calicut University in one of the worst educational howlers in the country, triggering a storm of protests in Kerala.
A section of teachers and students have demanded immediate withdrawal of the poem and sought an inquiry into it while the firebrand Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) has threatened agitation over the issue.
The poem, ‘Ode to the Sea’, written by Ibrahim al-Rubaish, a former detainee of the Guantanamo Bay, is part of the text ‘Literature and Contemporary Issue Studies’ for third semester BA/BSc students. The anthology of poems includes works of such celebrated poets like Kamala Das, Pablo Neruda, Sylvia Path and others.
But what really angered teachers and students was the fact that in the introduction given in the text all details were given about the poet except his detention in Guantanamo Bay and his alleged links to the dreaded terrorist outfit.
The introductory text merely says he is a Saudi national and acquired his post-graduate degree in Shariat laws from the prestigious Imam Muhammed Bin Saud University in Riyadh.
Al-Rubaish was captured by US forces from the Afghan-Pak border and detained in Guantanamo Bay for some time before he was extradited to Saudi Arabia in 2006. He managed a dramatic escape while lodged in a Saudi jail and is now reported to be a senior functionary of al Qaeda. While in detention in Guantanamo, he wrote his poems on the walls of the prison using charcoal and toothpaste.
One of the attorneys of Amnesty International, who visited the detainees, had collected the poems of al-Rubaish and others and compiled a book titled “Poems of Guantanamo.’
The Guantanamo Bay detention camp facility of the United States military is located at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba. Established in January 2002 by the then Bush Administration to hold terror detainees, the prison has been the subject of numerous controversies, specially over the use of "unorthodox" methods allegedly used to interrogate the detainees. President Barack Obama has pledged to close down the facility and transfer the detainees elsewhere.
Though critics did not find any fault with the content of the poem they fear that glorifying a poem by a terrorist leader would tantamount to glorifying him and the outfit itself, besides sending the wrong signals to the world community. There are also murmurs that the al Qaeda leader’s personal details were “knowingly” omitted by some who really wanted the poem to be in the syllabus.
However, the university’s board of studies chairman Dr K Rajagopalan, denied that the controversy was intentional and said they were searching for hard-hitting poems on right issues when one of the committee members suggested the poem by Al-Rubaish. He said that there was no way they could check the antecedents of all authors.
However, not all are impressed and many student outfits including the ABVP have threatened an agitation if the varsity failed to withdraw the poem immediately.