'Islamophobia' in the Bay Area?

According to "The Bay Area Muslim Study: Establishing Identity and Community,"  (BAMS) the San Francisco Bay Area, long known for its tolerance towards minorities and adherence to multiculturalism, is a hotbed of "Islamophobia."

Its principal author is Hatem Bazian, a senior lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley's Near Eastern Studies Department, director of Berkeley's Islamophobia Research & Documentation Project, which advertises BAMS at its website, and "Academic Affairs Chair" at Zaytuna College in Berkeley. Bazian's co-author is Farid Senzai, an assistant professor of political science at Santa Clara University, a Jesuit school, and a faculty member (subject undisclosed) at Zaytuna. Senzai is also director of research at a little-known entity originating in Detroit, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), which co-commissioned the May, 2013 Bay Area study.

BAMS is the latest effort by Islamists to use their stature in academe to deceive the Western public about their extremist agenda and the interests of Muslims in general. It is fatally flawed in its methodology, the evidence it musters does not support its conclusions, and it is little more than propaganda to use as a political bludgeon against anyone who objects to radical Islam. No scholarly tool for understanding the Muslims of the Bay area, it will be used to silence critics and stifle debate.

The study was commissioned officially by the One Nation Foundation, a philanthropic effort established by George F. Russell, Jr., a financial services adviser in Gig Harbor, Wash., and ISPU. One Nation and ISPU partnered with such well-known local public service organizations as the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, The San Francisco Foundation, Marin Community Foundation,and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy. Most of these institutions were likely drawn innocently into the project, which is described by its authors as intending to:

[B]etter understand who is in the community, what languages they speak, what their educational attainment levels are, what their immigration status is, what the levels of employment are, what civic engagement means to them, and to honor their resilience in the face of continued misperceptions about the American Muslim community.

Only the final phrase of this statement, evoking "resilience," would betray that the inquiry, rather than presenting an objective portrait of San Francisco Bay Area Muslim life, was intended mainly to reinforce charges of wide-scale anti-Islamic bias in the U.S.

Data accumulation is credited to "the students at Zaytuna College and University of California, Berkeley Asian American Studies 128AC, 'Muslims in America.'" Zaytuna is described erroneously in BAMS as "the first four-year liberal arts Muslim college in the United States." (In reality, the American Islamic College in Chicago was established in 1981, while Zaytuna was founded in 1996.) Moreover, Zaytuna is unaccredited.

Statistical collection for BAMS is admitted to be inconsistent and incomplete. (The demographic material for "The Bay Area Muslim Study" includes a count of 250,000 Muslims in the Bay Area, and a breakdown of 30 percent Muslims from South Asia, 23 percent Arab, 17 percent Afghan, nine percent African-American, seven percent Asian/Pacific Islanders, six percent whites, and two percent Iranian, supporting 84 mosques.  The total accounts for 3.5 percent of the local census, according to the study. Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Egypt, and Yemen were the leading countries of origin, and only a third of those queried were born in the U.S.) A sample of 1,108 individuals was solicited through questionnaires in English, Farsi, Pashto, and Arabic distributed at community events rather than mosque services. Two key communities are underrepresented: "Afghan and Yemeni Muslims . . . restricted efforts to conduct the survey out of suspicion that the results would be used to harm the community," the study asserts. In addition, "the Yemeni Muslims in San Francisco and the Afghan Muslims in the East Bay, both . . . exhibited far lower levels of engagement with the broader Muslim community."

Any positive attributes noted by BAMS are countered by an emphasis on Islamist political grievances. Muslims living in the Bay Area, it claims, are concerned mainly with issues very far from the region geographically and socially, including "challenges" that were:

[S]trongly associated with the post-9/11 environment and the United States government's global campaign to 'counter violent extremism.' The Patriot Act and other laws have opened the door for targeting by government agencies, public anti-Muslim statements by prominent national leaders, and negative media coverage.

However, no such targeting, political denunciations, or negative media about Muslims in the Bay Area is cited in the study.

Nevertheless, the study declares:

[D]irect American involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, as well as in other areas, places the local Muslim community at the forefront of discussions and debates based upon these conflicts. Local community members remarked that they feel regularly called upon to deal with issues and events beyond their immediate control and circle of influence.

The authors blame U.S. policy for aggravating local Muslim sensitivities about such foreign concerns. Simultaneously, BAMS emphasizes the spread of Islamic "unity" as expressed by such rhetoric as this unidentified Muslim:

It doesn't matter whether I'm here or in Lebanon or in China. That doesn't matter to me. . . . It's creating that Muslim environment and creating and growing as a Muslim. That's what I care about because in the end, to me, that's all that matters.

Above all, the study charges bias against Muslims ("Islamophobia"). "Discrimination Faced by Bay Area Muslims" shows 42 percent of respondents believing "Yes, very much" in a "Muslim discrimination problem," 23 percent alleging they were victims of "hate crimes;" and 50 percent purporting to "know a hate crime victim." These dismaying figures are followed by a disclaimer: "These results should be interpreted with caution, as they might be related to a broad interpretation of hate crimes. More research is needed in this area." The study does not provide a single empirical or factual instance of a hate crime directed against a Muslim in the Bay Area. This is mendacious propaganda, not social science.

In 2004, ISPU issued a similarly vacuous survey of Muslims in Detroit titled, "A Portrait of Detroit Mosques: Muslim Views on Policy, Politics and Religion," and written by Ihsan Bagby, associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky. The new, Bay Area version, heavily padded with historical and banal measurements of hijab (headscarf) wear, frequency of mosque attendance, and other common Muslim practices, is a shoddy pamphlet stamped with Zaytuna's imprimatur and projecting Islamist ideology rather than providing an objective sample of Muslims in the San Francisco Bay Area. The involvement of Middle East studies scholars in the production of this political tract will shock no one familiar with the politicization of the discipline.

Stephen Schwartz is executive director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism. He wrote this article for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.

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