A conference at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) on April 16, 2010, offered "Critical Perspectives on the Criminalization of Islamic Philanthropy in the War on Terror." Co-sponsored by the UCLA International Institute, the Critical Race Studies Program, and the UCLA Journal of Islamic and Near Eastern Law—and including speakers from UCLA's Center for Near Eastern Studies (CNES)—the conference proffered the usual apologist fare.
It was also an echo chamber. Of the approximately 30 people in attendance, 20 of them were academics. Several students showed up, in addition to the usual assortment of aging leftist revolutionaries.
The thrust of the conference was simple: The war on terror has led to a crackdown on Muslim charities, which has had a chilling effect on Muslims by rendering them unable to engage in Zakat (charity), one of the five pillars of Islam.
Unmentioned throughout this eight-hour infomercial was that the majority of the charities that have been investigated for financially aiding terrorism were found guilty and that decent Muslims are capable of giving to charities that do not foment bombings and beheadings.
Asli Bali, acting professor of law at UCLA, organized the conference and acted as one of the principal moderators. She responded to challenging questions from the audience by stating: "We will take three questions from presenters; others will have to wait."
Jennifer Turner of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Human Rights Program was the speaker over whom everybody seemed to be fawning. Her presentation was titled, "Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity," and, in typical ACLU fashion, she made excuses for Islamists' bad behavior while bashing America.
She began by stating: "I'm not a social scientist. I am not here to offer any statistical analysis"—a fig leaf she employed to make wildly unsubstantiated claims, as when she announced that "the conviction in the Holy Land Foundation case was based on faulty evidence." She didn't bother to elaborate.
It turned out her "research" that had the entire room in a swoon consisted of the following:
I did 120 interviews with American Muslims in Michigan and Texas. People reported that they were unable to give Zakat. Some had stopped giving entirely. Some felt fear of deportation or denial of citizenship.
Turner excused her extremely small sample size with more platitudes about not being a statistician. She insisted that she did not ask leading questions, although the process was clearly an exercise in promoting victimhood. She did not verify the accuracy of her respondents or analyze any tax returns. In short, she relied on her own biased views to justify a predetermined conclusion.
University of Michigan, Dearborn, history professor Sally Howell actually found oppression in increased giving. As she put it:
Since 2001, there have been 14 new mosques, and 17 mosques have doubled in size. This is proof that people are not donating overseas.
Howell followed this with more bizarre commentary:
"The Arab charity LIFE [Life for Relief and Development] had their board resign one year after Israel invaded Lebanon."
"As a result of restrictive policies" a board member of another charity, according to Howell, "embezzled $10,000."
Yes: and as a result of inconvenient and restrictive securities laws, Bernie Madoff was forced to steal. It was all America's fault.
"Does government get to decide what is good Islam and what is bad Islam?," she asked.
No, but it does get to decide what constitutes funding terrorism.
Howell concluded, "The FBI has to show results or lose resources."
Erica James, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) anthropology professor, offered proof—of nothing:
"I have an anthropology background. I am here to theorize what is happening."
Her solution to the supposed problems faced by Muslim charities? "Defiant giving."
During the question and answer period of this panel, an audience member—resorting to the usual name calling directed at critics of Middle East studies— proclaimed that "well-known bigot Daniel Pipes wrote an article about 'stealth Islamists.'"
The panelists all nodded in agreement. There was no word on Pipes's findings regarding UCLA law professor—and moderator at this conference—Khaled Abou El Fadl's status as, in fact, a stealth Islamist.
Laila Al-Marayati, the chairperson of KinderUSA—a charity that terrorism analyst Matthew Levitt included in his book on funding Hamas—portrayed the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah as harmless. As she put it, "Hamas helps Palestinian children in Gaza. I don't consider Hamas and Hezbollah as threats to me and my family."
Jonathan Benthall of University College, London, gave a talk that can be summed up in one quote: "The United States is the key to the problem."
Mona Atia, assistant professor of geography and international affairs at George Washington University, claimed that "Egypt has been a model of fighting terrorism."
Meanwhile, McGill University political science and Islamic studies professor Khalid Medani demonstrated willful blindness by opining, "Somalia is a place where Islamic terrorism is not possible because they are not organized."
When asked if the definition of a terrorist was hard to prove, Medani responded, "You're right. I try to critique them based on their own terms. I'm not a lawyer."
No UCLA conference would be complete without offensive commentary from a member of the Center for Near Eastern Studies faculty. This time, CNES director and anthropology professor Susan Slyomovics—speaking during a break with colleagues about a book she's working on—said:
If Jews can get reparations from Germany, then Palestinians should get reparations from Israel. After all, what the Germans supposedly did to the Jews [emphasis added] is what Israel is doing to the people of Palestine.
All the while, she kept smiling and laughing. Nothing makes for a good academic sitcom like Holocaust denial from a prominent professor of Middle East studies.
Despite eight hours of groupthink, I was able to finally cut through the leftist clutter to determine why the U.S. is investigating Muslim charities: 9/11 actually did happen, and the majority of the charities accused of funding terrorism actually did.
Only a UCLA Middle East studies conference could deliberately fail to grasp this.
Eric Golub is the publisher of the Tygrrrr Express blog. He wrote this article for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.