June 4, 2014
‘Islamophobia’ Thought Crimes at Berkeley
Cinnamon Stillwell and Rima Greene
‘Islamophobia’ Thought Crimes at Berkeley
What’s an “Islamophobia”-promoting academic to do when there simply aren’t enough hate crimes to sustain the mythical narrative that Muslim-Americans are persecuted for their religion? The Islamophobia Research & Documentation Project (IRDP) at the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Race & Gender came up with a brilliant idea for this spring’s Fifth Annual International Islamophobia Conference: they invented a thought crime called “latent Islamophobia.”
According to the conference description and “inspired by [the late Columbia professor] Edward Said’s work on Orientalism,” “Islamophobia” can be broken into two categories: latent and manifest:
Latent Islamophobia is founded upon an unquestionable certitude that Muslims trend “towards despotism and away from progress.” They are constructed and “judged in terms of, and in comparison to, the West, so it is always the Other, the conquerable, and the inferior.” Manifest Islamophobia “is what is spoken and acted upon.”
Near Eastern studies lecturer, IRDP director, and conference convener Hatem Bazian supported this blatant effort to condemn thought, as he promised in his opening remarks that this effort would eventually be a “field [and] a distinct area of study” called “Islamophobia studies.”
This is no idle threat. In addition to producing annual UC Berkeley conferences and the Islamophobia Journal, Bazian said IRDP’s plans include:
- Publishing papers for the Second International Islamophobia Conference to be held in Paris this December.
- “Down the line, [to] provide funding for graduate students and fellowships” at IRDP.
- Establish “partnerships with other research institutes, in the U.S. and globally,” to build “a global faculty network.”
The audience—much of which consisted of women wearing hijabs (headscarves)—of sixty to eighty people on the first day, was swallowed by the spacious Booth Auditorium housed in the Berkeley School of Law. In between panels, a bevy of academics and graduate students, many of them speakers, greeted each other and gabbed, while the few attendees outside the fold looked on. Bazian boasted that 6,000 people watched the conference online last year via the live stream and that this year, Duke University would be “carrying our live feed.”
Saeed Khan, a lecturer in history and Near East and Asian studies at Wayne State University, spoke on the second panel about “Islamophobia, the Conservative Movement, and the Creation of the Muslim Menace.” Khan is also a fellow at the Detroit-based Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, which co-commissioned a flawed May, 2013 study alleging “Islamophobia” in the San Francisco Bay Area, of all places, that was co-authored by Bazian. He critiqued what he called “the conventional wisdom among Tea Party conservatives and other Islamophobes” that “Muslims are infiltrating every aspect of American society, particularly education” by quoting a 2008 article on the unconstitutional insertion of Islamic curriculum into American public education written by this author. He then made a nonsensical comparison:
Cinnamon Stillwell, from here in the Bay Area. . . . She definitely takes the line that in spite of the “soft jihad” that is taking place, a soft crusade about the Christianity of the Founding Fathers is perfectly acceptable in public schools in a construct that is supposed to have separation of church and state.
Khan’s alleged concern for separation of church and state would be more convincing were he to apply it to the very real threat outlined in the article in question, not to a nonexistent Christian “soft crusade” that its author did not reference.
He later complained about efforts in “Texas and Florida” to combat the use of biased textbooks in K-12 education, mischaracterizing valid concerns over the whitewashing and falsifying of Islamic history as opposition to inclusion and objectivity:
A world history text is being reviewed to extricate Islam from the curriculum, or at the very least, to try and remove any reference to Islam that would be seen as objective or—in their estimation, the same thing—biased toward Islam.
During the question and answer period, Khan actually complained that the “backlash” against Muslims after the 2013 Boston bombing that was predicted by speakers at last year’s Islamophobia conference never happened. Referencing a Boston Globe article titled, “Inclusive Spirit Reassures Muslims After Bombings,” he concluded:
This portrays Muslims being unnecessarily and unreasonably paranoid. It showcases the magnanimity and largesse of an American society that didn’t cause a backlash.
We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.
The next panel, which boasted the Orwellian title, “Gender, Sexuality, Class and Colonialism in Transnational Latent and Manifest Islamophobia,” dished out a great heaping of academic jargon from the realms of queer, gender, and women’s studies.
Paola Bacchetta, an associate professor of gender and women’s studies at UC Berkeley, introduced her incomprehensible presentation with the even more perplexing sentence, “Muslims as enemy Others as queerphilia xenophobia.” She was just warming up:
By that, I mean in which their queerphobia is displaced onto the enemy Others, who they now claim are the queerphobic ones. . . . Queers are now shifted to this position which under colonialism belonged to women: that is, queers are constructed as either silent self-hating collaborators with the presumed straight and queerphobic collective enemy Other camp, or imagined as enemy Other’s victims requiring dominant saviors.
Bacchetta included “the Israeli state” in her “neo-colonial” enemies list for its supposed “pink-washing,” claiming that:
[T]he idea that Palestinian queers are being saved by Israel . . . ignores the occupation and the many years of solid work done by Palestinian queers such as Palestinian Queers for BDS [boycott, divestment, sanctions].
It’s hard to imagine that groups like Palestinian Queers for BDS are succeeding in helping their gay compatriots so much as engaging in self-preservation by attacking the preferred enemy, Israel.
Huma Dar, a Ph.D. candidate in South East Asian studies at UC Berkeley, compared “Israeli occupation” to “Indian Occupation” in her jargon-ridden presentation, “Latent and Manifest Islamophobia in Indian Occupied Kashmir: Queerphilic Imperialism and Hindu-homonationalism.” Echoing anti-Israel rhetoric, she denied that Islamism has any relevance to either conflict:
Akin to the Palestinian situation, the struggle for Kashmiri independence is not a religious or theological matter, but a political one of indigenous people’s rights to territory and sovereignty. India, like Israel, has attempted to frame it as a fight against Kashmiri Muslims . . . riding on the coattails of a wave of global Islamophobia.
Dar accused India of engaging in “queerphilic imperialism” by “projecting queerphobia onto the Kashmiri Muslims” and of “pinkwashing the Indian occupation akin to the Israeli occupation.” With all these “occupations” allegedly engaging in “pink-washing,” one would think that gays in the Muslim world were safe, when in fact persecution and capital punishment are common.
The day’s final panel included Zahra Billoo, executive director for the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has been linked by the United States government to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Her presentation, “California Muslim Youth Experiences with Bullying, Harassment and Religious Accommodation in Schools,” was based on CAIR’s own “statewide survey,” yet she was unable to report on any widespread persecution. Despite citing isolated instances of “bullying” in schools, her own data forced her to acknowledge that the “complaints are not coming,” leading her to lament that:
It troubled some of our partners and allies, who said, “well, these bully figures are not as high as we think they should be.”
Instead, they found that “the figures in the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] community are far higher.” “At the federal level these complaints are handled by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights,” Billoo added, before launching into a gratuitous tirade against pro-Israel activists concerned for the safety of Jewish students on campus:
And as a side note, this office is used by pro-apartheid Israel activists attempting to silence human rights activists on campus calling attention to that nation state’s racism and violent policies—but that’s a separate conversation.
Apparently, bullying is only a concern when Muslim students are on the receiving end.
It turns out pushing “Islamophobia” trumps addressing myriad human rights challenges afflicting the Muslim world.
The second day of the University of California, Berkeley’s Fifth Annual International Islamophobia Conference—organized by the Center for Race & Gender’s Islamophobia Research & Documentation Project (IRDP)—featured as much hysteria, victimhood, and anti-Western rhetoric as the first (which we reported on yesterday).
Viewing the second day’s antics via live stream, two commercials ran repeatedly: one featuring sexy Latina actress Sofia Vergara selling shampoo for her long, flowing, decidedly unveiled locks, and the other seeking recruits for the U.S. Marines. This led one disgruntled online viewer, expecting an anti-American atmosphere to prevail in the virtual world as well as at the conference, to ask in the comments section, “What’s up with these super wack commercials killing Arab, African brown people?,” which elicited an apology from the organizers, who assured him they had no hand in picking the commercials.
During the afternoon, Ilyse Morgenstein Fuerst, an assistant professor of religion at the University of Vermont, spoke on, “Muslim Subjects and Citizens: Discursive Ties, Lingering Orientalism, and Islamophobias.” She attempted to draw parallels between the era of British colonialism and modern-day America, claiming that Muslims were seen, then and now, as “traitors,” “fanatics,” and as having “suspect, dual allegiances.” She described this phenomenon as the “insidiousness of Orientalism,” before reaching the ahistorical conclusion, “We find the same thing over 200 years later in America.”
She next asserted that the “rhetoric after 9/11 was similar to the British Raj,” including seeing “Muslims as agents of sinister forces.” In a thinly veiled allusion to Sharia (Islamic) law, Fuerst condemned what she called “anti-foreign law legislation” and chalked it and other efforts to combat Islamism up to being part of an “extended, insidious Orientalist discourse” rather than to the obvious desire of Americans to retain their constitutional liberties.
Deepa Kumar, an associate professor of media studies and Middle Eastern studies at Rutgers University, presented, “Islamophobia in the Obama Era: Liberalism and the National Security State.” Kumar proved to be one of the funnier, more engaging speakers of the day; in lieu of dry academic subject matter, she focused on popular culture, interspersing her talk with clips from movies and television shows such as “Homeland.” Yet her lively humor couldn’t hide her stale political correctness.
Referencing the films Black Sunday (1977) and True Lies (1994), she noted that even before the Islamic terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, “Americans were convinced that terrorism comes with brown, male, Arab bodies.” She continued:
9/11 cements the imagination. It was no longer necessary to keep demonizing brown people, but to justify a massive national security state.
Shifting to the “post-racial era” of the presidency of Barack Obama, Kumar noted that:
The language of liberalism and multiculturalism comes to be used to strengthen the national security state. Obama has done this quite effectively, picking up where [President George W.] Bush left off.
To illustrate her point, she played clips from a Department of Homeland Security video DHS intended to “raise public awareness about terrorism” called, “If You See Something, Say Something,” the purpose of which she summed up as follows: “We are being recruited to become agents of a surveillance state.” Kumar argued that the filmmakers went out of their way to cast white actors as the suspected terrorists and a multi-ethnic group of actors as the good citizens who report them to the authorities. Despite its basis in reality, she mocked the film’s portrayal of “unattended luggage and backpacks” as threats, claiming that they, too, were merely stand-ins for “the brown terrorist.”
Instead of chalking up these decisions to liberal political correctness, she called them another form of “Islamophobia,” adding “This is how latent racism works: unconsciously.” By this logic, both portraying Muslims as terrorists in the pre-9/11 era and avoiding doing so in the Obama era are examples of “Islamophobia.” The question for Kumar is: what isn’t?
Arun Kundnani, who holds adjunct appointments at New York University, Queens College, and John Jay College (where he teaches terrorism studies), rounded out the panel with the presentation, “Racialization and Radicalization: Islamophobia and the Surveillance of Muslims in the U.S.”
Kundnani lamented the “legalistic, technical” tone of the debate on mass surveillance by the National Security Administration in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations, which he claimed leaves out “the interlinking of race and surveillance” so that, “the last thing anyone wants to talk about is the experience of the targeted population.” He dismissed Snowden’s references to George Orwell’s 1984 and the idea that “digital surveillance is a new form of Big Brother” and claimed that “no one minds” that “surveillance works by targeting specific groups.” This surely dismisses valid concerns among Americans of all backgrounds over the potential loss of privacy to everyone, not just Muslims. Instead, Kundnani claimed we live in a “panoptical racist society,” in which “different races are policed differently.” Addressing the fact that Islam is a religion, not a race, he insisted that there are “racial signifiers in the discussions about Muslims,” which he compared to anti-Semitism.
Kundnani then likened U.S. authorities to the Stasi, the secret police in communist East Germany, but maintained that “using current data, we’re worse.” He associated Muslim-Americans with the “East German population,” alleging, absurdly, that the “everyday life of Muslims comports with classic accounts of totalitarianism.” Repeating his previous mischaracterizations, he concluded that “the minority is subjected to secret police because the majority doesn’t experience that.” Either Kundnani hasn’t properly understood the ongoing discussion about the scope of counterterrorism surveillance in the U.S., or he misrepresented it to suit his purposes, as the issue goes far beyond allegations of “Islamophobia.”
Ahmet Temel, a graduate student in religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, opened the next panel by speaking on, “Shariaphobia, A Recurring Obsession: Sharia as a Means to Justify Islamophobia.” Adding to the long list of supposed hatreds indicating a clinical diagnosis of “phobia,” “Shariaphobia” is used to smear opponents of the implementation of draconian Sharia (Islamic) law in the West.
Temel alleged that the “misrepresentation” of Sharia as “inherently brutal” and consists of only “three rubrics: punishment, the treatment of women, and fatwas,” which leads to “racism towards Muslims.” The “media creates an image of Sharia” that is “meant to make Muslims look archaic” and makes them “targets of Islamophobic attacks.” Moreover, “media reporting on Sharia shows images of stonings, veiled women, and bearded men,” which eventually leads to “physical attacks.” Yet Temel didn’t deny that stonings occur (he couldn’t given the numerous honor killings of veiled women by bearded men) and simply asserted that criticism of Sharia is nothing more than “a sophisticated way of attacking Islam as irrational, backwards, [and] violent.” He even bemoaned the “anti-Sharia, anti-Islamic agenda in the history” of his native Turkey.
The dissembling continued with Nancy A. Khalil, a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at Harvard University, who spoke on, “Jihad: American Media and Muslim Theology.” Disassociating jihad from its historic meaning, holy war, Khalil claimed that of the “different meanings of jihad . . . jihad against yourself is the most important one.” Similarly, she alleged that the word “Islam means both submit and peace.” She praised the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) “My Jihad” campaign, launched in response to activist Pamela Geller’s counter-jihad advertising series, as “reclaiming this appropriation of jihad from the association with violence” and “taking back jihad one hashtag at a time.”
IRDP’s is succeeding in its goal to instill the specter of “Islamophobia” into the West. In addition to the aforementioned December, 2014 conference in Paris, its expanded agenda includes upcoming conferences in both London and Salzburg. Last year, Bazian and other North American Middle East studies specialists participated in an international Islamophobia conference in Turkey, while the Ottoman and Modern Turkish Studies Chair at Indiana University-Bloomington organized its own conference. Bazian is fulfilling his pledge to create the new field of “Islamophobia studies” As there is no shortage of academics invested in pushing this agenda, look for its widespread use by those seeking to censor critics of Islam.
Berkeley resident Rima Greene co-wrote this article with Cinnamon Stillwell, the West Coast Representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. She can be reached at email@example.com.
August 13, 2013
‘Islamophobia’ in the Bay Area?
According to “The Bay Area Muslim Study: Establishing Identity and Community,” (BAMS) the San Francisco Bay Area, long known for its tolerance towards minorities and adherence to multiculturalism, is a hotbed of “Islamophobia.”
Its principal author is Hatem Bazian, a senior lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley’s Near Eastern Studies Department, director of Berkeley’s Islamophobia Research & Documentation Project, which advertises BAMS at its website, and “Academic Affairs Chair” at Zaytuna College in Berkeley. Bazian’s co-author is Farid Senzai, an assistant professor of political science at Santa Clara University, a Jesuit school, and a faculty member (subject undisclosed) at Zaytuna. Senzai is also director of research at a little-known entity originating in Detroit, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), which co-commissioned the May, 2013 Bay Area study.
BAMS is the latest effort by Islamists to use their stature in academe to deceive the Western public about their extremist agenda and the interests of Muslims in general. It is fatally flawed in its methodology, the evidence it musters does not support its conclusions, and it is little more than propaganda to use as a political bludgeon against anyone who objects to radical Islam. No scholarly tool for understanding the Muslims of the Bay area, it will be used to silence critics and stifle debate.
The study was commissioned officially by the One Nation Foundation, a philanthropic effort established by George F. Russell, Jr., a financial services adviser in Gig Harbor, Wash., and ISPU. One Nation and ISPU partnered with such well-known local public service organizations as the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, The San Francisco Foundation, Marin Community Foundation, and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy. Most of these institutions were likely drawn innocently into the project, which is described by its authors as intending to:
[B]etter understand who is in the community, what languages they speak, what their educational attainment levels are, what their immigration status is, what the levels of employment are, what civic engagement means to them, and to honor their resilience in the face of continued misperceptions about the American Muslim community.
Only the final phrase of this statement, evoking “resilience,” would betray that the inquiry, rather than presenting an objective portrait of San Francisco Bay Area Muslim life, was intended mainly to reinforce charges of wide-scale anti-Islamic bias in the U.S.
Data accumulation is credited to “the students at Zaytuna College and University of California, Berkeley Asian American Studies 128AC, ‘Muslims in America.'” Zaytuna is described erroneously in BAMS as “the first four-year liberal arts Muslim college in the United States.” (In reality, the American Islamic College in Chicago was established in 1981, while Zaytuna was founded in 1996.) Moreover, Zaytuna is unaccredited.
Statistical collection for BAMS is admitted to be inconsistent and incomplete.[i] A sample of 1,108 individuals was solicited through questionnaires in English, Farsi, Pashto, and Arabic distributed at community events rather than mosque services. Two key communities are underrepresented: “Afghan and Yemeni Muslims . . . restricted efforts to conduct the survey out of suspicion that the results would be used to harm the community,” the study asserts. In addition, “the Yemeni Muslims in San Francisco and the Afghan Muslims in the East Bay, both . . . exhibited far lower levels of engagement with the broader Muslim community.”
Any positive attributes noted by BAMS are countered by an emphasis on Islamist political grievances. Muslims living in the Bay Area, it claims, are concerned mainly with issues very far from the region geographically and socially, including “challenges” that were:
[S]trongly associated with the post-9/11 environment and the United States government’s global campaign to ‘counter violent extremism.’ The Patriot Act and other laws have opened the door for targeting by government agencies, public anti-Muslim statements by prominent national leaders, and negative media coverage.
However, no such targeting, political denunciations, or negative media about Muslims in the Bay Area is cited in the study.
Nevertheless, the study declares:
[D]irect American involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, as well as in other areas, places the local Muslim community at the forefront of discussions and debates based upon these conflicts. Local community members remarked that they feel regularly called upon to deal with issues and events beyond their immediate control and circle of influence.
The authors blame U.S. policy for aggravating local Muslim sensitivities about such foreign concerns. Simultaneously, BAMS emphasizes the spread of Islamic “unity” as expressed by such rhetoric as this unidentified Muslim:
It doesn’t matter whether I’m here or in Lebanon or in China. That doesn’t matter to me. . . . It’s creating that Muslim environment and creating and growing as a Muslim. That’s what I care about because in the end, to me, that’s all that matters.
Above all, the study charges bias against Muslims (“Islamophobia”). “Discrimination Faced by Bay Area Muslims” shows 42 percent of respondents believing “Yes, very much” in a “Muslim discrimination problem,” 23 percent alleging they were victims of “hate crimes;” and 50 percent purporting to “know a hate crime victim.” These dismaying figures are followed by a disclaimer: “These results should be interpreted with caution, as they might be related to a broad interpretation of hate crimes. More research is needed in this area.” The study does not provide a single empirical or factual instance of a hate crime directed against a Muslim in the Bay Area. This is mendacious propaganda, not social science.
In 2004, ISPU issued a similarly vacuous survey of Muslims in Detroit titled, “A Portrait of Detroit Mosques: Muslim Views on Policy, Politics and Religion,” and written by Ihsan Bagby, associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky. The new, Bay Area version, heavily padded with historical and banal measurements of hijab (headscarf) wear, frequency of mosque attendance, and other common Muslim practices, is a shoddy pamphlet stamped with Zaytuna’s imprimatur and projecting Islamist ideology rather than providing an objective sample of Muslims in the San Francisco Bay Area. The involvement of Middle East studies scholars in the production of this political tract will shock no one familiar with the politicization of the discipline.
Contact information for Nicholas B. Dirks, Chancellor of UC-Berkeley:
Office of the Chancellor
200 California Hall # 1500
Berkeley, CA 94720-1500
Phone: (510) 642-7464
Fax: (510) 643-5499
[i] The demographic material for “The Bay Area Muslim Study” includes a count of 250,000 Muslims in the Bay Area, and a breakdown of 30 percent Muslims from South Asia, 23 percent Arab, 17 percent Afghan, nine percent African-American, seven percent Asian/Pacific Islanders, six percent whites, and two percent Iranian, supporting 84 mosques. The total accounts for 3.5 percent of the local census, according to the study. Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Egypt, and Yemen were the leading countries of origin, and only a third of those queried were born in the U.S.
Pushing ‘Islamophobia’ at UCLA
May 5, 2011
Should an academic lecture on Sharia (Islamic law) become a platform for promoting fear of “Islamophobia”? This is exactly what occurred on April 14, 2011, when the University of California, Los Angeles, held the third and final lecture from Khaled Abou El Fadl—Omar and Azmeralda Alfi Distinguished Professor in Islamic Law and chair of the Islamic Studies Interdepartmental Program at UCLA—in the series, “Sharia Watch: AView from the Inside.” The lecture was cosponsored by UCLA’s School of Law, Center for Near Eastern Studies, Journal for Islamic and Near Eastern Law, and Islamic Studies Interdepartmental Program.
The receptive audience of approximately 30 people consisted mostly of members of the local Muslim community and graduate students from UCLA’s Near Eastern Languages and Cultures Department.
In her introductory remarks, UCLA law professor Asli Bali explained that the aim of the series was, “to better understand Sharia, as there is a lot of misinformation on what it is in the West.” But, as in previous lectures, only 15 minutes of the hour-long lecture were actually devoted to Sharia; the bulk of the lecture focused on Islamophobia in America and the West.
Abou El Fadl claimed that the phenomenon of Islamophobia is due to racism and that it originated in medieval Europe where, as he put it, “Jews and Muslims were repeatedly constructed in European literature as ‘folkloric monsters.'” This is incorrect, for both race and ethnicity were alien ideas in medieval Europe. In fact, the terms “race” and “racism” appeared for the first time in European belle-letters in the eighteenth century.
Continuing the anti-Western diatribe, Abou El Fadl later added that, “the construction of the racial and ethnic alien stems from the West’s ethnocentrism.” Of Islamic supremacy, he had nothing to say.
He even blamed the West for the very concept he was espousing:
The term ‘Islamophobia’ is inadequate as it is limited. Discourse on Islam has a long history but the word itself, Islam, is problematic for it is constructed and reconstructed by the West.
Without citing a single piece of evidence—and in contradiction to FBI statistics on anti-religious hate crimes—Abou El Fadl alleged that in the U.S., “every single week there are new victims of Islamophobia.”
Employing a false correlation popular among those advocating the view of Muslims as victims, Abou El Fadl insisted that Islamophobia is similar to anti-Semitism:
Those crazy right wing nuts who keep on telling the public that Muslims want to impose Sharia on Americans have in common[sic] with anti-Semites who to this day propel the ideas of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Betraying the disingenuousness of this comparison, Abou El Fadl and Basli later circulated a December 2010 Huffington Post article by leftist journalist Max Blumenthal alleging an “Islamophobic crusade” on the part of, among others, “right wing ultra-Zionists” and the “pro-Israel lobby.” Such rhetoric, paradoxically, hearkens back to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It was, they asserted, “great literature.”
in bemoaning the discomfort among Americans with the building of mosques such as Park51 (the ground zero mosque), Abou El Fadl failed to mention that non-Muslim houses of worship are forbidden and bibles routinely destroyed in Saudi Arabia, Buddhist shrines were blown up by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Israelis, or travelers with an Israeli customs official stamp on their passports, are barred from entering countries such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Kuwait, Libya, Syria, or, in the case of Iran, from flying to Israel.
Later, Abou El Fadl—without naming names as is his usual practice—made the following accusation:
Those who spread the idea that Muslims want to dominate the West and America are lunatics. . . . In America, the Muslim population is about six million, which is close to two percent. It is as if this two percent of Muslims can actually take over America. I mean, you have to be seriously paranoid to think this.
But the facts belie his accusations of paranoia: members of that small percentage of the American population killed approximately 2,992 people on September 11, 2001; bombed the World Trade Center in 1993; opened fire at Fort Hood, killing 13 and wounding 29 on November 5, 2005; shot two soldiers outside a military recruiting center on June 1, 2009; left a car bomb in Times Square, in New York City, on May 1, 2010; and the list goes on.
In addition, the Muslim population in the U.S. is under two million, not the inflated figure of six million—which conveniently matches that of Holocaust victims and outnumbers American Jews—cited by Abou El Fadl, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and others with an interest in manipulating public opinion.
In reality, this tiny sliver of the population poses a very real threat to the security and safety of American citizens. Nonetheless, Abou El Fadl chose to shift the focus and insist that it is Muslims who have something to fear.
During the final 20 minutes of his lecture, Abou El Fadl at last addressed Sharia, discussing the wealth of literature that, as he put it, “like rabbinic literature on the Torah,” exists in the Islamic tradition. After explaining the various definitions of Sharia, he concluded that, “the challenge for the modern Muslim is how he or she relates to his religious obligations (taklifs).” He then added:
The challenge for every Muslim thinker must be how they can enter the modern world and contribute something to this modern world from their rich religious tradition. That is the real challenge.
Ironically, Abou El Fadl ended up calling for the same thing as members of what he dubbed the “lunatic right”: the need for reform in the Islamic world. Based on Abou El Fadl’s Islamist proclivities, however, his version of reform is unlikely to be as far reaching as that emanating from the West or from true moderate Muslims.
Moreover, by focusing our attention on “Islamophobia,” the Abou El Fadls of the academic world have successfully hijacked the narrative and made it that much more difficult to achieve reform. Such efforts to redirect, redefine, and rewrite today’s debate over the challenges the West has had to confront post 9/11 have become part of the problem, not the solution.
Judith Greblya wrote this article for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.