Academia on San Bernardino Attack: No Jihad Here

As Islamic terrorist attacks increase in the West, so, too, does the obfuscation of Middle East studies academia.  By employing the predictable tropes of poverty, alienation, workplace violence, the need for gun control, bullying, "Islamophobia," and other alleged Western ills, academics avoid assigning responsibility to the actual perpetrators or their Islamist ideology.

Such has been the reaction to the December 2 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, which authorities were slow to describe as a terrorist attack, despite early evidence that married shooters Syed Rizwan Farooq and Tashfeen Malik had radical sympathies, including with ISIS.  This led to speculation that, not coincidentally, omitted the actual culprit.

Omid Safi, director of Duke University's Islamic Studies Center, immediately jumped on the gun control bandwagon and – echoing President Obama's recent gaffe following the latest Paris attacks – claimed that mass shootings occur only in the U.S.: "This is everyday [sic], everywhere in America – and no where [sic] else in the world."  He decried America's "deadly fetish" and "gun obsession," urging readers to "Stand up to #NRA," as if the National Rifle Association's adherence to 2nd Amendment rights were the cause of Islamic terrorism.

University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole maintained that "white supremacists" are a greater threat than "al-Qaeda-style terrorism."  He disregarded the significance of the terrorists' Middle Eastern names, alleging that they "may or may not be very pertinent to the incident," and condemned "politicians and pundits" for making "hay with the threat of 'terrorism.'"  He attributed the perpetrators' motives to the likelihood of "someone going postal over his work situation" or "workplace violence linked to some sort of grievance."

When asked to reassess his initial reaction, Cole instead proffered a more ridiculous excuse:

Actually the evidence is that Farook was subjected to considerable workplace bullying. If this were something primarily beyond workplace rage, why not hit a target with security implications?

If by "workplace bullying" Cole was referring to the baby shower Farook's coworkers organized  for him, or to Farook's debate with a Messianic Jewish colleague over Israel's legitimacy and whether or not Islam is a "religion of peace" – the implication being that the planned attack several weeks later was Farook's answer – then he has a point.  After all, who wouldn't plan to murder all of one's coworkers during a Christmas party under such dire circumstances?  As for the "security implications" of the Inland Regional Center, in an age of soft targets, civilization itself is the battlefield.

Steven Salaita, the would-be University of Illinois professor currently teaching at the American University in Beirut, denied that (American-born citizen) Farook's "foreign culture" had any bearing on his "terrible deed," instead blaming it on "political violence ... endemic to the United States."  He accused Americans of complicity in "the supposed deviance of Farooq's shooting" due to their "endless, adamant justification of U.S. bloodletting throughout the world" and, for good measure, of "hating Arabs and Muslims."

As'ad AbuKhalil, a political science professor at California State University, Stanislaus, took umbrage at reporters covering the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)'s post-attack press conference for asking about Farook's religion:

[O]ne reporter asked one of the people on the stage: "was he religious?" Why does that matter? A terrorist is a terrorist regardless whether he/she is religious or atheist. 

Just days after the attack, Hatem Bazian, fulfilling his mandate as director of the highly politicized Islamophobia Research & Documentation Project at the University of California, Berkeley, tweeted:

Islamophobia in America and Europe has reached a tipping point and civil society discourses are filled with racist venom toward Muslims.

Likewise, Muqtedar Khan, director of the University of Delaware's Islamic Studies Program, fretted about the allegedly "hostile" environment for Muslims in the U.S., blaming Republican presidential candidates for acknowledging that "this is war."

Pondering "the perverse appeal of ISIS" to "a well-established young professional in California," such as Farook, Khan concluded that the fault lies with "unjust foreign policies ...  persistent and virulent Islamophobia, state surveillance, discrimination[,] and demonization," not to mention the failure of "modernity," "the American dream," and "the promise of Western liberalism."

Columbia University's Hamid Dabashi, purporting to speak for the "countless innocent victims" of "ISIS thugs and their sympathizers in San Bernardino," launched into a diatribe against "the fear-mongering Islamophobes and relentless warmongering"; the "lowest common denominators of fear, hatred, and suspicion"; and, in case he omitted anything, "the wanton cruelty of imperialist warfare, [and] the colonial occupation and domination of other people's homeland."

Once again, Middle East studies professors have shown their true colors.  San Bernardino, the largest Islamic terrorist attack in the U.S. since September 11, 2001, has betrayed the moral relativism, obfuscation, and anti-American prejudices of academe.  These are not scholars pursuing the truth, but partisans seeking to conceal the undeniable: global jihad's rising body count. 

Cinnamon Stillwell is the West Coast representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.  She can be reached at

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