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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.”
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