Sunday, July 11, 2010

Without comment: on convocation robes, or how not to fear history

Consider the following that was recently reported:

Stoking a potential controversy, environment minister Jairam Ramesh on Friday called as "barbaric colonial relics" the practice of wearing the traditional coloured robe at convocation ceremonies and publicly removed his own gown at one such event.

On the other hand, Mahmoud Mamdani has the following to say:

For over a millennium, these gowns have been a symbol of high learning from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic. Should anyone ask you where they came from, tell them that the early universities of Europe – Oxford, Cambridge, le Sorbonne – borrowed them from the Islamic madressa of the Middle East. If they should seem incredulous, tell them that the gown did not come by itself: because medieval European scholars borrowed from the madressa much of the curriculum, from Greek philosophy to Iranian astronomy to Arab medicine and Indian mathematics, they had little difficulty in accepting this flowing gown, modeled after the dress of the desert nomad, as the symbol of high learning. Should they still express surprise, ask them to take a second look at the gowns of the ayatollahs in Iran and Iraq and elsewhere and they will see the resemblance. Education has no boundaries. Neither does it have an end.

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