Harvard 'Experts': Islamophobia Everywhere!

Dictatorships have an interest in magnifying minor problems in liberal democracies in order to divert attention from their own oppression and brutality.  One wonders if this interest played a role in facilitating a recent panel titled "Anti-Muslim Sentiment in the US: Challenges and Perspectives."  The panel was sponsored by Harvard University's Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program (AISP), whose eponymous founder is an influential member of the Wahhabi Saudi regime.  As every panelist was either a current or future Harvard alumnus, the event provided evidence of some disturbing trends in elite higher education today.

The discussion was held on a cold, rainy Monday evening in the Tsai Auditorium, which serves Harvard's Center for Government and International Studies, before an audience of about eighty, including a representative from the university's Office of the President.

Moderator and AISP director Ali Asani, a Harvard Ph.D., opened the program by arguing that anti-Muslim sentiment is attributed to social polarization and religious illiteracy, which is then exploited by unscrupulous politicians and terrorist organizations.  He described panelist Omar Khoshafa, a Harvard senior who, in 2015, invited Holocaust-denying extremist preacher and Rhodes College religious studies professor Yasir Qadhi to speak at the university as a "superhero."

Panelist Lana Idris, a Harvard senior and campus activist, followed by lamenting:

We harbor some academics and professors on this campus that reiterate, sort of, ideas that help entrench anti-Muslim sentiment on campus, which is something that we really have to work on.

She provided a single example of this alleged phenomenon: an unnamed faculty dean declining to conclude that the 2015 Chapel Hill shooting was a hate crime before the details of the attack became available.  In fact, the motive for that shooting remains unknown.

Christopher Bail, a Duke University assistant professor of sociology and Harvard Ph.D., characterized his lengthy broadside against critics of radical Islam as social science, but his talk did not rate well in a simple fact-check.  To prove his assertion that Republican Party presidential primary candidates are fomenting "Islamophobia," he attributed an inaccurate quote to Marco Rubio and confused Ben Carson with 2012 African-American Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain.

According to Bail, Rubio called to close down "places where Muslims gather to be inspired."  This was presumably a reference to Rubio's extemporaneous remarks on November 19, 2015, in which he spoke of "closing down any places where radicals are being inspired" (emphasis added), while expressly rejecting the equation of these places with mosques.  Bail then lambasted Ben Carson for supposedly saying "that he would hesitate to appoint Muslims to his cabinet," when it was Herman Cain who stated in 2011 that he would not "be comfortable appointing a Muslim ... in [his] cabinet."

Repeatedly plugging his book, Terrified: How Anti-Muslim Fringe Organizations Became Mainstream, Bail argued that the "mainstreaming of anti-Muslim sentiment" in America is due not to terrorism, ISIS, or the attacks of September 11, 2001, but to:

... [a] very well-coordinated effort by a small network of anti-Muslim organizations who have succeeded not only in captivating the mass media but also, increasingly, in influencing our counter-terrorism policy and ... American public opinion about Islam.

The villains in Bail's story included the Middle East Forum and its president, Daniel Pipes; Frank Gaffney; the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI); and unnamed Christian Arabs he alleged were employed as "pseudo-terrorism experts" by anti-Muslim organizations.  That Bail considers those who point out the all too real dangers of Islamism "anti-Muslim" reveals the bias of his arguments.

MEMRI, for example, had allegedly engaged in "media manipulation" for translating a line in a Palestinian children's program as "I will shoot the Jews," when, according to Bail, it meant "the Jews are shooting at us."  Does Bail not know that MEMRI addressed and rebutted the alternative translation, that the context of the statement undisputedly included directing children to shoot "for the sake of al-Aqsa," or that incitement to kill Jews in Palestinian Authority media is routine?  If such sloppiness reflects the quality of his research, it's little wonder he draws such bizarre, conspiratorial conclusions.

The panel's hostility and contempt toward law enforcement, the Republican Party, and anyone opposed to Islamic militancy were similarly revealing.  None of the speakers called for combating jihadism within the Muslim-American community as a moral duty.  Nor was there any acknowledgement that, according to the latest FBI statistics, anti-Jewish hate crimes are over 3.5 times more common than those against Muslims.

Reducing such crimes to zero is a laudable goal.  But the panel's – and particularly Bail's –  scapegoating, systematic use of "Islamophobia" as a cudgel to settle partisan political scores, demonstratively inaccurate research, and lack of objective analysis or constructive suggestions impede rather than advance that aim.  One would hope for more from Harvard-trained students and scholars than biased data made to serve overtly political ends.  One would be disappointed.

Caleb Jephson is a member of the Harvard community.  This essay was sponsored by Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.

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