Last week, The Badger Herald published two editorials attacking me. Allow me to play Jesse Ventura (a 9/11 Truth supporter, by the way) and fight off this tag-team of Jeff "Butcher of the English Language" Carnes and Ryan "Mistaken and Delusional" Masse.
In his Oct. 19 article, Jeff Carnes implicitly argued that I should be fired in order to prevent me from "wasting a week" of my Islam class by teaching a "fringe theory" about 9/11. Carnes has interesting ideas about what an introductory Islam course should teach:
"Islamists (sic) have been battling over controversies (sic) surrounding Islamic study: Is Islam locked in a clash of civilizations with Christianity? How does Islam reconcile with the modern nation-state (sic)? What role does Islam play in conflicts such as Palestine (sic), Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan? Has mainstream Islam been hijacked by Islamist extremists? In a survey class such as Dr. Barrett's, the focus should be on giving the information needed to answer some of these controversies (sic)."
Setting aside Carnes' linguistic brutalities, it sounds like it is Carnes, not me, who wants to politicize what is supposed to be a religious studies class. Substitute Buddhism, Hinduism or Native American religion for Islam in the above paragraphs and you will see how ridiculous Carnes' idea of what an introduction to a religion is supposed to be: "Buddhicists have been battling over controversies surrounding Buddhistic study: Is Buddhism locked in a clash of civilizations … ?" Or try substituting "Judaism" for "Buddhism" to get a sense of the implicit bigotry that informs Carnes' outlook on Islam.
Ironically, it is the two controversial weeks of my course — one devoted to analyzing "the clash of civilizations," the other "the war on terror" — that directly address the only issues Carnes cares about, while the other 13 weeks do not. During these two weeks, students will examine texts that express scholarly variations on the current mainstream American outlook on these issues, alongside other texts that express mainstream Muslim outlooks. And the mainstream Muslim outlook (held by secularists and atheists as well as religious people from Muslim-majority countries) is that the war on terror is phony and that 9/11 was an inside job. An al-Jazeera poll in October 2003 showed that 89 percent of respondents believed that U.S. officials perpetrated the 9/11 attacks, while only 11 percent blamed al-Qaida. Other polls of several major Islamic countries have showed that less than 20 percent of Muslims believe the official "Arab hijackers" story.
This is important information for Americans who study contemporary Islamic cultures. Why do so many people from Muslim countries, whatever their religious backgrounds, believe 9/11 was an inside job? Is it just uneducated, illiterate people who believe this? Well, actually, no. The most respected political author and commentator in the Arab world, former Egyptian foreign minister Mohammed Heikal, openly ridiculed the official story of 9/11 just weeks after the attack. Heikal's job as Egypt's foreign minister included overseeing some of the massive Western intelligence penetration of so-called "al-Qaida" cells. And it wasn't just Egyptian intelligence that did this on behalf of U.S./British intelligence, Heikal has said. It was also the Jordanians, the Saudis, the Pakistanis and other U.S. allies, as well as U.S. intelligence itself. Heikal made a point later developed by the BBC documentary "The Power of Nightmares" that puts it bluntly: "There is no such thing as al-Qaida … Al-Qaida is a myth" designed by Western politicians to sow fear in Western populations so their governments can control and dominate them. Heikal, a secularist who is Islamic culture's most prominent political intellectual, quickly convinced Gore Vidal and most everyone else who was paying attention — including viewers of al-Jazeera, where Heikal's show is a must-see — that 9/11 was an inside job.
Doubting the official conspiracy theory of 9/11 is not a peculiarity of Muslims. A recent New York Times poll showed that only 16 percent of the American people believe the official story, meaning that 84 percent do not. Additionally, dozens of former high-level military and intelligence officials have spoken out for 9/11 Truth. That means that if I were teaching the official story as historical fact, I would be teaching a "fringe theory" that is only believed by a tiny, shrinking minority of Americans, and an even tinier minority of citizens of other countries. Indeed, a 2004 poll by Canada's largest newspaper, The Toronto Star, showed that nearly two out of three Canadians believe that top U.S. officials committed high treason and conspiracy to mass murder on 9/11; while an August 2004 Zogby poll showed that half of New Yorkers believe the same thing. A recent Scripps-Howard poll showed that 36 percent of Americans believe that top U.S. officials either perpetrated or allowed the 9/11 attacks in order to launch a war in the Middle East and Central Asia. That 36 percent represents more Americans than voted for George W. Bush in the last election, even if we believe the un-auditable figures of the Diebold voting machines.
Given the above facts, it seems to me that presenting the majority Muslim view of "the war on terror" alongside the majority American view, and encouraging students to critically analyze both views and the evidence on which they are based, is a reasonable way to spend one week of a 15-week course on the religion and culture of Islam.
Kevin Barrett (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a lecturer in the department of languages and cultures of Asia.