Juan Cole (left) denies that the Orlando massacre "was terrorism in any useful sense of the term" and disputes Mateen's claim to be an Islamist. Nader Hashemi says Islam "has little to do with the modern jihadist movement."
Following Omar Mateen's massacre of forty-nine people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, professors of Middle East studies reacted predictably by blaming guns, American homophobia, Christians, Deep South bigotry – anything but Islamic terrorism. Never mind that Mateen pledged allegiance to ISIS, depicted himself as an Islamic soldier during the attack, had taken two trips to Saudi Arabia, and was interviewed three times by the FBI in connection with terrorism. Excuses must be made, willful ignorance enforced, and the American public bamboozled.
Immediately after the attack, University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole announced, "I don't think it probably was terrorism in any useful sense of the term." His reasoning? Mateen didn't "make demands about U.S. government policy," and hitting soft targets is "not a form of classical strategic terrorism." The victims of terrorist attacks – many issued without demands – on cafés, malls, restaurants, resorts, schools, social services, and countless other soft targets would beg to differ.
Cole questioned Mateen's allegiance to the Islamic State, given reports that Mateen frequented the Pulse nightclub regularly and drank heavily, claiming that "puritanical Muslim fundamentalists of the ISIL sort don't behave that way." In fact, Mateen's libertine lifestyle is a hallmark of Islamic terrorists in the West, who are instructed to blend in. In his case, there may have been several motivating factors, but Cole advanced only one conclusion: "To put all this on Muslims and Islam in general is frankly absurd."
Middle East studies professors typically blame guns, Christians, and American bigotry for the Orlando killings.
University of Denver Center for Middle East Studies director Nader Hashemi placed the emphasis on the American public, predicting the worst: "There is a huge danger that in the coming days and weeks that American Muslims/Islam will be collectively targeted and blamed for today's massacre in Florida." He claimed, "The 1,400-year-old Islamic faith in itself has little to do with the modern jihadist movement."
Meanwhile, Omid Safi, director of Duke University's Islamic Studies Center, decried "[t]he sickness, the homophobia, the violence, and the ease of access to war-grade guns that brought about this vile terrorist attack," predicting that "the solution" will come about only when Americans "confront this xenophobia and violence in our own society."
Safi revealed his own bigotry and provincialism by chalking up the attack to imagined Southern perfidy: "Let us not lose sight of the fact that this horrible attack took place in the South, after years of demonizing gays and lesbians." Aside from the fact that Orlando is hardly a bastion of Southern culture, there is no moral equivalency between the debates over same-sex marriage and transgender bathroom use he cited and the mass murder of gays.
Sticking with the theme of blaming anyone but the perpetrator, Safi noted that "[t]he killer worked for the G4S security firm with a history of abuse in American prisons and the Occupied Territories/Israel."
Omid Safi (left) says Americans must confront "xenophobia and violence" in their own society. Stephen Zunes claims that "Christians of European ancestry" are a bigger threat to the LGBT community than Muslims.
Finally, Safi cynically urged Muslim organizations "to demonstrate the intersectionality of Muslim and LGBTQ struggles" and "the connection between Islamophobia and homophobia" by referring "media requests to self-identifying gay/lesbian/transgender Muslims." His acknowledgement that the latter should include only those "who feel safe to be publicly identified" indicates why there have been few takers.
Trying to shift the blame from the Muslim gunman to all Americans, Columbia University's Hamid Dabashi waxed poetic about "two people, Americans and Muslims, converging on the edges of their common destiny," who "now face two traumatic experiences of Islamophobia and homophobia together."
Dabashi encouraged Muslims to engage in "urgent soul-searching concerning homophobia" but then pivoted to "other factors involved here," including "the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq," "the major U.S. allies state sponsored fanaticism in the Arab and Muslim world," and "the obscenity of the availability of assault weapons in the U.S."
While acknowledging the existence of "homophobic Muslims," Dabashi avoided specificity with a litany of "homophobic Jews, homophobic Christians, homophobic Hindus, [and] homophobic atheists" before concluding, "There has been homophobic violence in all communities and among all religious denominations."
California State University, Stanislaus political science professor As'ad AbuKhalil declared "[t]he crazy homophobia of the shooter in Orlando" to be "home grown homophobia." He accused the "Western church" of stoking anti-gay prejudice in the Middle East, concluding that "those who speak homophonically [sic] among Arabs or Muslims merely reproduce Western homophobic statements or claims." Extending this ludicrous argument, AbuKhalil asserted that "Islamism in Western societies has been influenced by the tone and themes of Christian fundamentalism, namely in the issue of homophobia."
Muqtedar Khan, director of the University of Delaware's Islamic Studies Program, conceded that "reforms are long overdue" to Islam's views on homosexuality and admitted that one should "consider the possibility that he [Mateen] was radicalized." Yet apologetics followed: "What happened in Orlando is more about the accessibility of guns and their devastating power than about Islam or Muslims."
These 'experts' on Islam and the Middle East lend cover to killers and disgrace their profession.
Likewise, Stephen Zunes, director of the University of San Francisco's Middle Eastern Studies program, obfuscated by emphasizing that "the overwhelming majority of killings of GLBTQ people here in the United States have been committed by Christians of European ancestry." In an obsequious interview with the Iranian regime-run Press TV, he shifted to mass shootings: "Virtually, every single one of these was done by people of European and Christian background." Describing the Islamic terrorist attack in San Bernardino earlier this year as "one of these exceptions," he complained that "you had politicians jumping all over this as to justify" unnamed "Islamophobic policies."
Kaukab Siddique, the Lincoln University English professor infamous for his anti-Semitic statements, Holocaust denial, and open support for ISIS, was characteristically bigoted. Evidently annoyed that President Obama had publicly addressed the attack, Siddique complained on his Facebook page that "[h]omos are the most important people in America" before adding, "Have you ever heard him talk of the 1200 children killed in Gaza by the Jews?" Elsewhere, he expressed dismay that the attack "got maximum publicity in the Zionist media."
Faced with an ideology committed to mass murder in the name of Islam, Middle East studies professors respond with willful blindness, vicious bigotry, and outright mendacity. In seeking to deflect blame from the Islamists responsible for these heinous acts, these ostensible experts on Islam and the Middle East lend cover to killers and disgrace their profession.
Cinnamon Stillwell is the West Coast Representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.