The contemptible reaction of Middle East studies professors to the Charlie Hebdo and kosher market massacres in Paris earlier this year was repeated with the brutal ISIS attacks on Paris in November. The deaths of 130 people resulted not in unequivocal condemnation, but in apologias for Islam, dire warnings of “Islamophobia,” and anti-Western equivocation.
Omid Safi, director of Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center, complained about Western media coverage, given numerous ISIS attacks throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and asked inanely, “What about my pain?” While it’s hardly unusual for the Western media to focus on the West, it is Safi and his academic cohorts who routinely omit or downplay ISIS’s misdeeds so as to avoid addressing its theological underpinnings. Indeed, his hackneyed comments on that front were true to form:
Yes, the members of ISIS come from Muslim backgrounds. No, their actions cannot be justified on the basis of the 1400 years of Islamic tradition. Every serious scholar of Islam has confirmed this clearly, and unambiguously. ISIS is about as Muslim as the KKK is Christian.
University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole engaged in similar equivocation:
No religion, including Islam, preaches indiscriminate violence against innocents. … People resort to violence out of ambition or grievance, and the more powerful they are, the more violence they seem to commit.
Steven Salaita, the would-be University of Illinois professor currently teaching at the American University in Beirut, applied moral relativism, tweeting that, “When non-state actors kill people, it’s irrational aggression. When states kill people, it’s the aggressive restoration of rationality.” Like Safi, he criticized “corporate media coverage” by employing the sarcastic hashtag, “#WesternLivesMatter.”
Similarly, Terje Ostebo, director of the University of Florida’s Center for Global Islamic Studies, lamented that, “horrendous attacks” in North Africa “do not get as much attention as Paris does” because “the largest number of the casualties and those killed are Muslims.” He then offered the qualifier, “That does not diminish the horror of Paris, of course.”
The rabidly anti-Israel As’ad AbuKhalil of California State University, Stanislaus blamed“Western governments and media … for the selective denunciations and condemnations culture” due to supposed silence “about the daily crimes against the Palestinian civilian population by key West ally, the terrorist state of Israel.”
Meanwhile, Columbia University’s Hamid Dabashi excoriated the BBC for its “Eurocentric” coverage, concluding myopically that, “there was no way for the terror in Paris to be … humanly perceived and understood by non-Europeans”—a nihilistic claim that, if true, would render teaching anyone about cultures (or times) beyond their own impossible.
Predictably, Hatem Bazian, director of the Islamophobia Research & Documentation Project at the University of California, Berkeley, accused politicians of inserting “a heavy dose of Islamophobia and ‘clash of civilizations’ venom” into “public opinion” following the attacks. Moreover, he asserted, “Terrorism is a tactic that has no religious identity.”
Muqtedar Khan, director of the University of Delaware’s Islamic Studies Program, claimed that, in addition to “the challenges of poverty” and “inequity,” the “discourse on Islamophobia has radicalized Muslims.” He bemoaned the “discursive assaults which demonize Islam and blame Islam for essentially the failure of geo-politics in the Muslim world.”
Others responded by distancing ISIS from its religious roots and denying its support in the Muslim world. Ovamir Anjum, Imam Khattab Chair of Islamic studies at the University of Toledo—employing an infamous Obama quote— maintained that, “ISIS is not Islamic,” before adding, “ISIS is isolated completely—both in the Muslim world and worldwide. Nobody is supporting ISIS.”
University of Notre Dame Islamic studies professor Ebrahim Moosa, in addition to urging the West to “explore avenues to build peace,” engaged in similar whitewashing:
The Quran teaches that all human life is sacred and when all human life is sacred, you cannot take any human being’s life and ISIS is doing the very antithesis of that teaching.
Mark LeVine, a Middle Eastern history professor at the University of California, Irvine, acknowledged both ISIS’s religiosity and the predominance of “chauvinistic attitudes towards other sects, religions, races, ethnicities and nationalities, women, sexual minorities, and others” in the Muslim world, but pivoted by affixing such characteristics to all religions. He then managed to blame the left’s favorite bogeyman for the Islamic State’s barbarity:
[I]t’s worth noting that its strategy was inspired not by the Quran but instead by George W. Bush, whose “you’re either with us or against us” threat after 9⁄11 it directly and approvingly quotes.
Some made clear that their “condemnation” was based on pragmatic, not moral, reasoning by reciting a laundry list of Islamist “grievances.” Yasir Qadhi, an assistant professor of Islamic studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee bemoaned the fact that the “senseless attacks” did nothing to help “our Palestinian brothers against Israelis” or “our Afghan and Iraqi brothers and sisters against Western invasions.”
Even worse, Farid Esack, a former professor of Islamic Studies at Harvard University now teaching at the University of Johannesburg, refused to denounce the killers and blamed France outright:
I am not praying for Paris; I am not condemning anyone. Why the hell should I? I had nothing to do with it. I am sickened by the perpetual expectations to condemn. I walk away from your sh—y racist and Islamophobic expectations that whenever your chickens come home to roost then I must feign horror.
Just when it seemed Middle East studies professors could sink no lower, the latest ISIS bloodbath in Paris has proven otherwise. Instead of proffering objective analysis, they trade in obfuscation, moral relativism, and anti-Western rhetoric. We turn to these “experts” for advice on the central struggle of this age at our peril.