On the surface, this festschrift is as conventional as it is reputable. Students, colleagues, and a prominent university press celebrate a prolific and influential scholar on reaching his 80th birthday with a substantial tome of original essays related to his lifelong interest.
But look harder and the apparatus shatters. The title alludes to the greatest intellectual scam of the generation—the claim that Western scholars of the Middle East served as cogs in imperialist machines. The feted scholar has written dozens of books apologizing for a totalitarian ideology, Islamism, while opening an academic center funded and named by a notorious advocate of that same ideology. The book's editor revels in a university position named after one of the most active political leaders promoting that same ideology.
In other words, Overcoming Orientalism represents one cog (as it were) in the great deceit of post-1978 American scholarship, corrupt in its purposes, fraudulent in its ideas, and toxic in its impact. Rather than argue this point for all twelve essays, let us concentrate on a sample chapter, "How Islamic Is ISIS" by Soheil H. Hashmi, professor of international relations on the Alumnae Foundation and professor of politics at Mount Holyoke College.
Now, everyone sentient during the ISIS heyday of 2014 knew that the organization adopted extreme Islamic practices, implemented Shari'a law in medieval detail, and sought to expand its caliphate to the entire globe. Some specialists, such as Graeme Wood and this reviewer, expounded on this argument. But Hashmi, as they say, missed the memo. For him, seeing ISIS as Islamic is "grotesque." In his view, "ISIS is first and foremost a cult. It is not a social movement, nor a reform movement, nor a group of insurgents or rebels." It "placed itself well outside" of the "broad interpretive consensus" on Islam.
Lest it be thought that this line of thinking sank harmlessly into obscurity, it bears remembering that a host of important political leaders, including Tony Blair and Barack Obama, echoed this nonsense that ISIS "is not Islamic," leading to erroneous policies, the destruction of property, the revival of slavery, and much death.
Such is the legacy of John L. Esposito, perpetuated by this rogue's gallery of sham scholars.