No Jihad Here: Middle East Studies Profs on Chattanooga Shooting

Obfuscation, equivocation and denial.

Less than one week after the slaughter in Chattanooga, Tennessee of four U.S. Marines and one sailor by Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, a Kuwaiti-born Islamist who grew up in suburban Chattanooga, a pattern has emerged in Middle East studies scholars’ analyses of the shooting: obfuscation of any Islamist or jihadi motives accompanied by efforts to depict Abdulazeez as one among many troubled killers whose recent actions have shocked the country. No specialized knowledge of the Middle East is required for such politicized and misleading analyses, and none is evident in the examples that follow.

The title of University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole’s article at truthdig reveals his desperation to deny any religious motivation: “Four Marines Dead: Semi-automatic Assault Weapons Are a Security Problem for the U.S.” Cole lumps the latest chapter of jihad in America with non-sectarian mass murders committed by psychopaths:

The mass murder of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., or the theater massacre in Aurora, Colo., both in 2012, were insufficient to spark a serious national legislative debate about this threat. Now that four Marines are dead at the hands of a civilian armed with such a weapon, can we discuss again a ban on those weapons, of the sort enacted in the Clinton administration?

Cole never considers Islamist beliefs, the possible influence of ISIS or others, radicalization via the Internet, or overseas meetings with pro-jihadi individuals or groups as possible motivations for Abdulazeez’s actions. His effort to label the deliberate targeting of U.S. military personnel as a symptom of insufficient gun control is simply willful blindness masquerading as scholarly commentary.

Omid Safi, director of Islamic studies at Duke, took to his Facebook page to claim a moral equivalence between the accidental killing of civilians by U.S. drones and premeditated mass murder—again, with no mention of jihad or Islamism:

I see people suffering in ‪#‎Chattanoogashooting, victim of another crazy act of suffering, yes by a Muslim . . . a pot-smoking, drunk-driving/arrested Muslim. My heart and prayers go out to the families of the victims, who loved their babies as much as anyone, including the victims of American drones.

Because in Safi’s hyper-politicized mind, long used to cloaking Islamist sentiments in the florid language of sentimentalism, the events he cites are the same. As for the killer’s pot smoking and drinking, offered as evidence that he wasn’t a true Muslim, the 9/11 hijackers sought out strip dancers in Las Vegas bars the summer before their heinous acts. Lascivious living and terrorism, it seems, go hand in hand.

Safi continues:

My heart is heavy because immediately the shooter was labeled a domestic terrorist, while Dylann Roof killed 9 people in a historic black church, and MSM media (and a bunch of politicians) resisted using the T-word. . . . My heart is heavy because another day, another black person dies in police custody.

Would Safi have had a lighter heart had Roof been labeled a “domestic terrorist,” like Timothy McVeigh? How about a more accurate label still: Islamist terrorist, which denotes the affiliation that, for many federal agents, bureaucrats, and the president himself, dare not speak its name.

In an interview with PRI, Safi misapplied Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s famous quip that, “Few are guilty, but all are responsible” to the Chattanooga shooting in order to spread the blame:

I take that same approach when it comes to the Charleston shooting or police brutality. We want to hold the individuals who are responsible for these horrific acts accountable, and then to step back and ask the question about how all of us [are]… responsible?

Speaking to a crowd in Vancouver in the immediate aftermath of the Chattanooga shooting, UC-Riverside creative writing professor Reza Aslan denied that Abdulazeez’s actions amounted to terrorism:

Just hours after an American Muslim gunned down four US Marines in Chattanooga, Tennessee on Thursday, Reza Aslan had harsh words for anyone describing it as a terrorist attack. “Terrorism,” he said, is “an absolute bulls#@t and meaningless term.”

According to the reporter, Aslan stayed on theme by conflating international jihad with far-right militias in the U.S.—a convenient strategy to avoid any analysis of the unique dangers jihadis like Abdulazeez pose to the West:

Perhaps most striking take-away of the evening was Aslan’s casting of violent Muslim jihadism in the same mold as what the West now experiences as libertarian militia and sovereign citizen movements, commonly associated with anti-government white supremacist ideology. 

We’re now at a point in the history of Middle East studies wherein “scholars” of the region deny the obvious, ignore the infamous, and offer apologias in their never-ending effort to protect Islamists from the consequences of their actions while blaming the West for all the world’s ills. Just when the West most needs insightful policy advice guided by expertise, it receives instead propaganda in the guise of scholarship to support its enemies. Seldom has any academic discipline so failed its duty.

Winfield Myers is director of academic affairs and director and of Campus Watch at the Middle East Forum.


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