On April 13-15, the King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Arkansas held a symposium on so-called “honor violence,” as exemplified by honor killings, forced marriage, and other such delightful acts. I’ll get back to this – but first of all, am I the only person who still finds it jarring to see words like “King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies” in the same sentence as words like “University of Arkansas”?
The Center, as its website informs us, “was founded with a $20 million endowment from the Saudi government in the mid-1990s. An initial endowment of $2 million, dedicated toward language, literary translation and publication was followed by a much larger $18 million gift designed to spark the foundation of a comprehensive Middle East Studies program at the undergraduate and graduate levels.”
Of course, this isn’t the only so-called “Middle East Studies” shebang based at a Western university, named for a Saudi royal, and funded by Saudi cash. Georgetown University famously boasts the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding – which, when you stop to think about it, is a strange name for a unit of a university, where you’d imagine that the idea would be not “understanding” in the touchy-feely sense suggested by the phrase “Muslim-Christian Understanding” but, rather, “understanding” in the sense of becoming informed about a subject. But anyway.
Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the regal moneybags behind Georgetown’s lavish propaganda operation (as of last year he was the 41st richest person in the world) is also responsible for the Alwaleed Centre at the University of Edinburgh, the Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard, and the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Islamic Studies at Cambridge, plus centers for American Studies bearing his name in Beirut and Cairo. In addition, according to Wikipedia, he’s “Citigroup’s largest individual shareholder, the second-largest voting shareholder in 21st Century Fox, and owns Paris’ Four Seasons Hotel George V and part of the Plaza Hotel,” presumably the one in New York.
A quick look at the prince: he’s tweeted that he wouldn’t “visit Jerusalem…until its liberation from the Zionist enemy.” He’s the guy who, after fifteen of his fellow Saudis laid down their lives for their God on September 11, 2001, gave then New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani a $10 million check and a lecture about the terrorist attack’s supposed roots in U.S. policies. (Giuliani, to his everlasting credit, turned down the check, in response to which the prince suggested that he’d done so out of fear of “Jewish pressures.”)
But back to Arkansas’s King Fahd Center, named for the ruler of Saudi Arabia from 1982 to 2005 and son of that nation’s glorious founder. Some fun facts on Fahd: when he was still just a princeling, he was named Minister of Education, even though he is believed to have been functionally illiterate at the time. His contributions to Saudi history, following his ascent to the throne, include (and again I’m quoting Wikipedia, which, let’s remember, notoriously whitewashes and euphemizes anything untoward about Islam) his strengthening of the “separation of the sexes and power of the religious police” and his endorsement of the idea that young Saudis should “avoid the path of evil by not travelling to Europe and the United States.”
When it comes to avoiding the path of Western evil, some might consider Fahd a wee bit of a hypocrite, given his love of Monte Carlo, where he frequently gambled, drank, smoked, and could be seen in public consorting with more than one hot babe at a time. In 1991, when he feared that Saddam Hussein might follow up his conquest of Kuwait with an invasion of Saudi Arabia, Fahd, abandoning his deep concerns about the Western moral pollution of his holy kingdom, allowed infidel U.S. forces to sully it by their presence in order to defend it from Iraq.
Who better to name an American center of education after?
Anyway, I bring up the King Fahd Center – which, by the way, is within shouting distance of the Sam M. Walton School of Business and the Frank Broyles Athletic Center (sorry, I just can’t get over the outrageous cultural incongruity) – because of this recent “honor violence” symposium, which would seem to mark some kind of advance. After all, if they’re willing to acknowledge and discuss this appalling aspect of Islam, there must be something other than pure Islamic propaganda going on there, right?
The most impressive sign of all was that one of the individuals invited to participate in the symposium was Phyllis Chesler, who has researched honor violence extensively and may well be the world’s foremost expert on the topic. Chesler, a psychotherapist and bestselling author whose name will be familiar to readers of this site, is a remarkable figure in many ways – one of the marquee names of second-wave feminism, a co-founder of such groups as the Association for Women in Psychology and the National Women’s Health Network, and a founding mother of Women’s Studies.
In recent years, however, Chelser has been all but read out of the very movement she help found. Her 1979 book With Child recounted her own experience of pregnancy and new motherhood with a sensitivity and seriousness that unnerved some feminists, for whom the topic uncomfortably recalled old-fashioned conceptions of sex roles. In Women’s Inhumanity to Women (2002), Chesler committed the crime of admitting that the feminist concept of perfect sisterhood is a ridiculous utopian fantasy.
But Chesler’s principal offense has been her recognition – and her readiness to say out loud, notably in The Death of Feminism (2005) – that the systematic misogyny she has spent her career decrying reaches its apex in Islamic cultures, and that all too many of her former feminist allies, motivated by a misguided multiculturalism, refuse to address this fact. Indeed, while today’s feminist establishment is quick to skewer Chesler for her criticism of Islam, it has no trouble welcoming into its ranks pro-sharia Muslims such as Linda Sarsour, a leader of the recent Women’s March in Washington.
It was, therefore, refreshing – shocking, actually – to learn that a Center for Middle Eastern Studies named for King Fahd of Saudi Arabia had invited Chesler to take part in a symposium on honor violence. Had the world suddenly gone sane?
Alas, no. In an anonymously leaked e-mail sent to Thomas Paradise (yes, Paradise), head of the Fahd Center, three Center faculty members – Joel Gordon, Ted Swedenburg, and Mohja Kahf – slammed Chesler as “a prominent Islamophobe” who expresses anti-Muslim “bigotry,” commits “hate speech,” and has been published by “the ultra-right Breitbart forum” and other “right-wing platforms.” (It’s true that, since her fall from feminist grace, Chesler has written less often for leftist than conservative outlets, this one included: she’s done so because the latter tend to be far more open to a diversity of views than the former.) Chesler’s views, the three Arkansas professors wrote, were so far out that they simply could not be “tacitly accepted as part of the discourse.” But then, what else can you expect from lackeys of an authoritarian foreign government that exerts severe and (when necessary) violent control over “the discourse” – in addition to denying religious freedom, imprisoning dissidents, and executing gays and apostates?
There ensued an e-mail exchange between Paradise and the Center’s Lisa Avalos in which Paradise was palpably panicking (“It is getting ugly and they are rallying”), worrying that “campus Muslim organizations” would make noise over Chesler’s presence, and insisting that despite his “disagree[ment] with issues of stifling free speech” (yeah, right) there was no choice but to disinvite Chesler. And so – _voilà!_ – Chesler was given the heave-ho.
The result: an academic symposium at which not a single one of the participants was a published scholar on the subject. (They were all either activists or law-enforcement officers.) “Being dis-invited,” Chesler e-mailed me the other day when I asked her for a comment, “confirms that the Western academy is ruled by Brown-Shirts; that the professoriate are willing dhimmis; and that even the good people are too terrified to stand against those who wish to close their minds to truth and to shut honest inquiry down and replace it with Orwellian propaganda.” That just about says it. In short: yet another disgraceful episode in the ever-lengthening chronicle of campus compromise and cowardice on the topic of Islam.