Raymond Ibrahim, the Judith Friedman Rosen Fellow at the Middle East Forum, Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and author of Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, spoke to a February 11 Middle East Forum Webinar (video) hosted by Winfield Myers, director of the Middle East Forum’s Campus Watch project, about the reasons for the academic myths that “proliferate in university life about Islam and the Middle East.”
Ibrahim began with an overview of “the history of Islam, vis-a-vis the West” which was one of “continuous warfare from the seventh century on.” According to Ibrahim, most people are unaware that “basically, three quarters of what was originally Christian territory was conquered and absorbed by Islam.” Ibrahim focused on today’s cultural atmosphere “where history isn’t considered too important” in influencing the historical revisionism seen among academics. In an environment of “fake news,” much of the media manipulates historical facts to suit their own agendas. Similarly, in academia, graduate students feel pressured to present Islam’s history of warfare with the West in a “new interpretation … that [goes] hand in hand with political culture since the sixties.”
Ibrahim discussed the Palestinian Arab academic, Edward Said – a literary critic and “not a historian,” – whose 1978 book Orientalism criticized “European academics who studied the Orient.” Said claimed that Western scholars presented the “East as barbaric and … primitive, especially Islam,” and were therefore “not objective.” At the time, the culture was ripe for Said’s politicization of historical fact, including tarring the term “Orientalist” as a pejorative. Today, this trend has reached a zenith in the current climate among leftist academics and their fellow apologists. Western history is reframed largely as “racist … imperialistic … [and] xenophobic,” while Islam’s wars of conquest, which consisted of “nonstop violence,” are minimized or justified. The culmination of the mythmaking has produced the “new” version of history in which Islam was “peaceful [and] progressive,” while Western Europe was the “violent” aggressor.
Islamic conquests that began with “the Battle of Yarmuk in the year 636,” and were halted temporarily in the Siege of Vienna in 1683, resumed their advance that included attacks by Barbary pirates against the “infidels” on American ships in 1785. It then hit a pause that was an “aberration,” according to Ibrahim. “The Islamic world wane[d]” after Napoleon’s entry into Egypt in 1799, an event marked “the [beginning of the] golden age for the Christian minorities of the colonial era.” Ibrahim said that jihadists like ISIS bolster their anti-Western rhetoric with quotes hearkening back to Islamic leaders of the distant past who fought against the “Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire” only a few years after the death of Muhammad, Islam’s prophet and military leader. Ibrahim said, “So yes, to me, it’s definitely a continuum … even if [Islam] took one or two centuries” off.
Ibrahim experienced firsthand the consequences of questioning academia’s mythmaking orthodoxy. After lecturing about his book on Islamic warfare at the U.S. Army War College, Ibrahim was attacked for disagreeing with those who charge that Islamic wars were entirely the fault of the West. Ibrahim said the excuse academics assign to “Western machinations” is used as a rationalization “other than radical Islam to explain … what we’re seeing today [that] is an identical duplication of … [what] Islam was doing … for over a millennium.” Myers referred to the plethora of centers devoted to the “propaganda of Islamophobia … tied to intersectionality … [as] part of the … leftist push to silence critics.” Ibrahim noted how the opposition, unwilling and unable to debate, is silenced when they are challenged with “objective truth.”
Mythmaking academics resort to “anything and everything but Islam,” instead blaming the victim for the continuation of Islamic warfare against the West, charging that it is either “colonialism … [or] Israel and Zionism” that is at fault. To shore up their position, academics in many Middle East Studies departments are “obsessed” with Israel, Palestine, and the boycott, sanction, and divestment (BDS) movement targeting Israel. Ibrahim questioned the preoccupation of “non-Muslim, non-Arab, regular academics” who handily avoid discussing the “pandemic of Christian persecution by Muslim nations.” He said, a reported “380 million Christians around the world are being persecuted … eighty percent of [them] … in the Islamic world.”
Middle Eastern Christians, already a “second class minority … ostracized and disenfranchised,” are loathe to express any support for Israel because of their own fears of being “on a thin line” in Muslim host nations where Israel is considered “the arch enemy.” Ibrahim found that the paucity of Western Christians advocating for their oppressed co-religionists in the Middle East is a result of the “ignorance of the media,” which avoids reporting on the plight of Christians so as not to portray Islam in a “negative light.”
Despite the “ecumenical talk” of interfaith efforts between religions, Ibrahim said that the Quran “appropriate[s]” the biblical figures of the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament by “recast[ing]” them to “[give] credibility to Islam [while] denigrat[ing] Christianity and Judaism.” Ultimately, the Quranic text “creates obstacles” and divisions with its narrative of Islamic superiority. Ibrahim also cited the “Red-Green Alliance” where “hardcore leftists … [are] embedded with Islamist types” because of both groups’ animosity and hatred for “the West’s background [of] Judeo-Christian tradition [and] ethical system.” By applying the adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” the alliance between leftists and Islamists is “ironic because the left is antithetical to Islam in many social mores.” Leftists who advocate for homosexual rights ally with radical Muslims “who would behead them in a heartbeat.” Ibrahim believes the “linchpin” uniting these diverse groups is “hatred for … Western tradition.”
Ibrahim remarked on the glaring irony that academics are “supposed to be the ones who believe in free thought [and] inquiry,” but now act as self-appointed guardians of censorship. He bemoaned the mythmaking “spirit … in the academic world … shutting down critics of Islamism.” Far from being an isolated case in academia, Ibrahim said, “you’re seeing it in so many different ways … in American culture today.”
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.