Thus begins an article by Teresa Watanabe in the Los Angeles Times, "UCLA Islamic Law Professor Fears Unseen Enemy." Khaled Abou el Fadl, 42, a professor of Islamic law at the University of California at Los Angeles, claims that in April 2006, in Watanabe's words, "a bullet whizzed past his ear and lodged in a book as he was standing near his living room bookshelf in front of his open front door." And now, he has informed the media that, earlier in August, a small Anaheim-based Arabic-language newspaper, Al-Watan, carried what he called a "solicitation of murder" against him by reporting that some Iranian had declared it permissible to spill his blood. He also let it be publicly known that members of the FBI's joint terrorism task force recently visited Abou el Fadl to warn him to take precautions. The professor portentiously concludes: "I've received so many death threats, and I've never had an impending sense of doom. This time, we're taking it more seriously."
His little story prompts two thoughts:
(1) Why did Abou El Fadl go public with what could have remained a private matter? If he got shot at, that is just between him and law enforcement. If he worried about a threat published in Al-Watan, why amplify its obscure message to the vastly larger audience of the Los Angeles Times? Telling the world about such things only makes Abou El Fadl less secure. So, why did he do it?
(2) Two possible answers come to mind. One is that Abou El Fadl is an unbalanced, erratic individual, for which there is some evidence. For example, note the case I documented at "Khaled Abou El Fadl's Disastrous Interview." A second answer is his being a self-promoter and shameless publicity hound who exploits any opportunity to get his name in the paper, even at the expense of his reputation and security. In this, he would resemble another Middle East studies specialist, Hamid Dabashi, a Columbia University professor who turned crying wolf into a cottage industry.
(August 27, 2006)