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Profs on Boston Bombing: Blame Right-Wingers, ‘Islamophobia,’ and Blowback

Posted By Cinnamon Stillwell On May 7, 2013 @ 12:35 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | 50 Comments

University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole

How did scholars of the Middle East and those engaged in moonlighting (non-specialists who write about the region) react to the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013? Before the smoke cleared, some were predicting that the perpetrators would be “right-wingers” who sought to “disrupt tax day,” “neo-Nazis,” or “lone wolves.” Given that Muslims constitute 30 of 32 of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s list of most wanted terrorists, this represents either wishful thinking or willful blindness.

Accordingly, after brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were identified as the perpetrators, scholars resorted to apologetics and obfuscation to explain away Islam’s role: the Tsarnaevs aren’t “real” Muslims; Islam and terrorism are incompatible; Islamic terrorism is no more significant than any other societal ill; “Islamophobia” and a wave of anti-Muslim hate crimes (that has yet to arrive) will ensue; and the attack was an example not of ideologically-rooted violence, but of logical “blowback” against American foreign policy.

What follows is a sampling of such inanity.

Early speculation on the identity of the perpetrators:

Ingrid Mattson, London & Windsor Community Chair in Islamic Studies, Huron University College:

Just paid my U.S. taxes which are due today. Almost forgot because of the attacks on Boston. Did the bombers intend to disrupt tax day?

And:

If we wake up to the news that the bombers were white men, who should issue press releases condemning the actions?

Jessica Stern, Task Force on National Security and Law, Hoover Institution, Stanford University:

[A] recipe for creating this kind of bomb was actually published in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s online magazine known as ‘Inspire.’ And a couple of terrorist wannabes were inspired by that–al-Qaeda’s call for individuals to carry out their own jihad in America and try to detonate these bombs. . . . But it’s also important to recognize that the recipe was shared and lauded by Stormfront, which is a neo-Nazi website. And the whole idea of leaderless resistance, which comes out of the far right, neo-Nazi, patriot movement, also spread over to al-Qaeda-related groups. . . . So my guess is that this probably is a do-it-yourselfer kind of individual or individuals, or perhaps a small group. Either one that was inspired by al-Qaeda or perhaps neo-Nazis or anti-government patriot groups who have been known to act on Patriot’s Day. So the date of the attack suggests that we not overlook the possibility that this could be an American anti-government group.

Mark Ensalaco, associate professor of political science, University of Dayton:

My immediate reaction is this is something similar to Oklahoma City and the Olympics in Atlanta. Because it’s tax day and a holiday in Boston honoring revolutionaries who fought for America freedom, and many people from foreign nations were in attendance, I worry a right-wing extremist used a highly visible event such as the Boston Marathon to make a highly visible statement. It would be tragic if some mad man took a peaceful movement such as the tea party and acted in this way.

Eli Berman, Research Director, International Security Studies, University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, University of California, San Diego:

This looks like an aberration. It’s called ‘lone wolf’ terrorism—it’s not attached to any organization.

As’ad AbuKhalil, professor of political science, California State University, Stanislaus:

The buffoons of Muslim-American organizations are holding a press conference in Washington, D.C. today. Why? Why are you so eager to speak on the matter when the manhunt is not even over? And what will you say? Condemn? Why not reinforce the view, by not speaking, that condemnation is to be assumed by all American about all Americans?  Do you see Jewish-American organizations rushing to hold press conferences every time a Jewish person commits an act of murder or terrorism? Why do you act suspicious when you are innocent? Why do you remind American bigots that they are not wrong in their suspicions of you? Why not issue a statement saying once and for all that you condemn all acts of terrorism like all other Americans and that for that, you will shut up if some Muslim kook or terrorist commits an act of murder or terrorism in the future?

Juan Cole, Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History, University of Michigan:

We don’t yet know who carried out the attack, but we know they either aren’t Muslims at all or they aren’t real Muslims, in the nature of the case.

Why the Tsarnaev brothers aren’t “real” Muslims:

Omid Safi, professor of Islamic studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:

We don’t know much about the two brothers . . . The few pieces we have do not exactly add up to a life of pious observance of Islam. Their high school friends talk about the two brothers getting together, drinking, and smoking pot. . . . We have seen this before, in the case of the 9/11 hijackers who visited strip clubs and got loaded up on alcohol and porn before committing their atrocities—again, not the actions of Muslim role models.

Brian Glyn Williams, professor of Islamic history, University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth:

While he [Tamerlan Tsarnaev] was previously known to smoke marijuana and box, he ultimately found himself in a radical strain of Islam. But it was not the Islam most Muslims would recognize, it was almost a separate cult known as jihadism which seeks to construct what has been called the ‘Sixth Pillar of Islam’ i.e the fard (obligation) of jihad (there are actually only five pillars in Islam).

Juan Cole, Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History, University of Michigan:

Being a fanatic is, contrary to the impression both of Fox Cable News and some Muslim radicals, not actually the same as being a good Muslim; in fact, the Qur’an urges the use of reason and moderation. . . . All this shows that they were on an adolescent homocidal [sic] power trip, dressed up like al-Qaeda, the way the Aurora shooter was wearing an arsenal and dressed up like Batman. In any case, here are the signs that Dzhokhar in particular wasn’t ever observant, and Tamerlan’s later fanaticism led him and his brother to disregard Islamic ethics and laws.

Claims that Islam and terrorism are incompatible:

Hatem Bazian, senior lecturer in Near Eastern, University of California, Berkeley:

These acts of violence and terror have no place in Islam, which condemns such acts—in strongest possible terms—that takes lives of innocent people or causes pain and suffering.

Omid Safi, professor of Islamic studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:

No matter what the experts on TV say, and for that matter what the two brothers might have said, here is one simple fact. Islamic law does not permit the random, indiscriminate killing of civilians. It is categorically forbidden. The Prophet Muhammad himself forbade the killing of women, elderly, civilians, and religious leaders.

Juan Cole, Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History, University of Michigan:

If the motive for terrorism is religious, it is impermissible in Islamic law. It is forbidden to attempt to impose Islam on other people. . . . Islamic law forbids aggressive warfare. . . . The killing of innocent non-combatants is forbidden. . . . Terrorism or hirabah is forbidden in Islamic law. . . . Sneak attacks are forbidden. Muslim commanders must give the enemy fair warning that war is imminent.

Muqtedar Khan, associate professor of political science and director of the Islamic Studies Program, University of Delaware:

To act in anger, even in the pursuit of justice is Un-Islamic. How do we teach our child that how one responds to injustice is the true measure of one’s values and a true reflection of who we are? How do we teach them that our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) taught us—la darar wa la dirar—do no harm and do not reciprocate harm. Yes, Muhammad taught Muslims neither to initiate harm nor to reciprocate harm. This tradition is very widely known, at least to Muslims who know their religion.

Brian Glyn Williams, professor of Islamic history, University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth:

Dzhokar and Tamerlan are . . . two names with some heavy significance and import for jihadified Muslims of Chechen ancestry who may have found themselves drawn to the cult of Muslim holy war at the expense of other less radical aspects of the faith . . . most notably the passage in the Koran that states ‘killing one innocent person is like killing all humanity.’

Downplaying the significance of Islamic terrorism:

Omid Safi, professor of Islamic studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:

As everyone is of course fully aware, there are some Muslims who engage in terrorist activities. There are also some Jews, some Christians, some atheists, some Hindus, etc. No religion has a monopoly on hatred and idiocy, and no religion has a monopoly on love, compassion, and beauty.

Dalia Mogahed, executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, co-author, with Georgetown University’s John Esposito, of Who Speaks for Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think, and nonresident senior public policy scholar at the American University of Beirut:

I think that all terrorists are motivated by an ideology and some perceived grievances, but they all belong to some group and it’s important that we not conflate extremists with the entire group, because if we do that, we actually hand the extremists the legitimacy that they desire, to represent the entire community, which they do not.

Mark LeVine, professor of history, University of California, Irvine:

Why do we assume that if a young man is obsessed with extremely violent videos, websites and extreme music that he is psychologically disturbed, but if he’s obsessed with religion—not any religion, Islam only it appears—and begins following extremists online and viewing violent videos or reading violent literature that he’s become merely a ‘radical’—that is, he’s made a conscious and ‘sane’ political decision to attack and murder people in the name of an ideology, and isn’t suffering from some kind of mental illness?

As’ad AbuKhalil, professor of political science, California State University, Stanislaus:

If an Arab is behind it is terrorism and if an American is behind it is an explosion.

Predicting hate crimes and “Islamophobia”:

Akbar Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, American University:

Americans, particularly the media, also need to recognize the damage that Islamophobia can cause in alienating these young Muslims away from the mainstream religious and civic community. Already there are stories circulating of a backlash against Muslims in the wake of the events in Boston.

Muqtedar Khan, associate professor of political science and director of the Islamic Studies Program, University of Delaware:

The bombing of the Boston marathon and the subsequent man-hunt for the young Dzhokar Tsarnaev, has once again focused everyone’s attention on the so-called threat of Islamic radicalism and on Muslims living in the West. It has also given anti-Muslim extremists all the ammunition they need to put Islamophobia and anti-Muslim campaigns on steroids.

Aziza Ahmed, assistant professor of law, Northeastern University:

TV shows like 24 portray Muslims as secret radicals, which gets reproduced as facts by news agencies. . . . After an act of violence, we often desire to assign blame and ask for vigilance for the sake of justice.

Omid Safi, professor of Islamic studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:

How we as a nation move forward is critical. . . . Do we turn into an angry mob accusing all Muslims of a crime that two men committed? Do we turn this into an anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant hysteria? Or, do we insist that we as a people are better than what we have been through? Do we want to be heroes, like the ones that put their own lives on the line on Monday, and again in apprehending the suspects? Or do we give in to unjustified bloodlust?

As’ad AbuKhalil, professor of political science, California State University, Stanislaus:

I feel bad for Arab-Americans. At a time like this, when people speculate about the culpability of Arabs, I watch and read Arab-Americans striving to prove that they too are human beings, and that they too are Americans. Not that this works with bigots.

Dalia Mogahed, executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, co-author, with Georgetown University’s John Esposito, of Who Speaks for Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think, and nonresident senior public policy scholar at the American University of Beirut:

I pray for the day . . . when these things happen that we look at each other as Americans and assume that we are all as disgusted by these horrific acts as anyone else. I don’t want to prove that I am against the killing of an eight-year-old. That to me is outrageous.

Khaled Abou El Fadl, Omar and Azmeralda Alfi Distinguished Professor in Islamic Law and chair of the Islamic Studies Interdepartmental Program, University of California, Los Angeles:

I have not seen a significant decrease [in anti-Muslim hate crimes since 9/11]. In fact, although I have had high hopes of [sic] our 2005-2006 that things would get better, there was an increasingly widening sort of cultural gap of misunderstanding.
[Ed. note: Click here to access FBI hate crimes statistics for 1996-2011.]

Blaming the attack on “blowback”:

Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies and director of the Middle East studies program, University of San Francisco:

As we offer our thoughts/prayers to Boston bombing victims, let’s also remember the many equally innocent victims of U.S.-made bombs overseas.

And:

When people have been oppressed or dispossessed, whether it be Palestine or Kashmir or Chechnya, some people will take to desperate acts. . . . We need to keep into account that history instead of falling into ugly stereotypes about Muslims or immigrants or anything like that.

Richard Falk, Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law and Practice and Professor Emeritus of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University:

The American global domination project is bound to generate all kinds of resistance in the post-colonial world. In some respects the United States has been fortunate not to experience worse blowbacks, and these may yet happen, especially if there is no disposition to rethink U.S. relations to others in the world, starting with the Middle East. . . . America’s military prowess and the abiding confidence of its leaders in hard power diplomacy makes the United States a menace to the world and to itself. . . . We should be asking ourselves at this moment, ‘how many canaries will have to die before we awaken from our geopolitical fantasy of global domination?’

Omid Safi, professor of Islamic studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:

There is a difference between justifying terrorist attacks, and understanding the role that our own government has played in causing grievances that lead to these attacks. There is a difference between explaining terrorist attacks away, and understanding that we as a country have committed actions that create resentment among millions of people in this world. We have become, and have been for a while, not a Republic but an Empire. . . . The United States’ actions abroad are a root cause of radicalization.

Mark LeVine, professor of history, University of California, Irvine:

[T]he Tsarnaev brothers can be seen as just one element of a global blowback against a world system that for centuries has produced war and violence on a massive scale. This is a system in which all of us are implicated—the bystanders at the marathon as much as the average citizen in Russia. . . . Do Americans want to admit that as a society they produce an incredible amount of violence, and that sometimes the structure of the society helps produce people like the Columbine, Newtown or Boston murderers? Do they have the time and willingness to consider the incredibly twisted path leading back to the 1940s Soviet Union and ending, at least on this occasion, at the Boston Marathon finish line?

Akbar Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, American University:

Upon their arrival in the United States, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar joined a Muslim community that bore the scarlet letter of terrorism. Expecting hospitality, they felt alienated and disillusioned, even with all of the opportunities and privileges available to them as citizens of this country. They opted for an act of violent nihilism, of devastation and death. It was a mutation of their religious and tribal codes. Under no circumstances is there any justification for their actions.

Clearly, the specialists cited above are using their knowledge not to clarify, but to conceal; not to explain, but to apologize. When they serve as a source of propaganda rather than elucidation, the professoriate becomes a barrier to understanding. Moreover, the insistence that bigotry is endemic to the American character only promotes the very hysteria and division they decry. In turning to such “experts” in times of crisis, the media and the public at large are ill-served and often misled.

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