Brandeis University professor Natana DeLong-Bas recently found herself at the center of an embarrassing misunderstanding. While vacationing in Saudi Arabia this December, DeLong-Bas, a lecturer in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, was interviewed by the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat. When asked if she thought Osama bin Laden was behind the 9/11 attacks, she allegedly responded:
I think that the Western media and the world have given Osama bin Laden more weight [than he has in reality] and exaggerated in depicting the danger he poses. Likewise, I do not find any evidence that would make me agree that Osama bin Laden was behind the attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. All we heard from him was praise and acclaim for those who carried out the operation.
Now that her comments have drawn critical fire, DeLong-Bas insists that she was misquoted. She does not deny that Bin Laden was behind the attacks, she now says -- only that he had no role in the "logistics or the planning of the attacks themselves."
Yet, even if DeLong-Bas was misquoted about the 9-11 terrorist attacks, there is no misunderstanding the fact that, throughout her academic career, she has been a staunch apologist for the Islamic extremism that the perpetrators of the attacks followed.
In her Al-Sharq Al-Awsat interview, DeLong-Bas was asked if she considered the writings of the Egypt-based terrorist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, to be the principal source from which the extremists in Saudi Arabia have taken their views, a widely accepted belief. To this, she responded that the Muslim Brotherhood's founder, Hassan Al-Bana, was not a "jihadist or an extremist," and that the only thing he sought was "how to be a true Muslim in everything one does and says."
Despite her contention that Al-Bana is not militant, his own writings suggest otherwise. In The Message of the Teachings, Al-Bana wrote, "Always intend to go for Jihad and desire martyrdom," and "If you suffer [death] in the way of God, it will be your profit in this world, and your reward in the next." Al-Bana's group, the Muslim Brotherhood, had a seminal influence on Osama bin Laden and is the organization from which such terrorist groups as Hamas, Gama'a al-Islamiya, and al-Jihad were spun off. Al-Bana himself died violently in 1949 when he was shot by an assassin in a crowded Cairo market.
That DeLong-Bas insists on whitewashing Al-Bana's confessional militancy is not altogether surprising. Consider that she is a protégé of Georgetown professor, and fellow apologist for radical Islam, John L. Esposito. It was under his tutelage that she truly became enamored with the teachings of Islam, especially Wahhabism, a fanatical brand of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia and known for its doctrinal violence. According to Stephen Schwartz, executive director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, when it was publicized that 15 out of the 19 September 11th hijackers were Saudis, and an ensuing scrutiny of Saudi Wahhabism began, Esposito introduced DeLong-Bas to the media as an "expert" to quell mistrust of the Wahhabi movement. DeLong-Bas duly played the assigned part, portraying al-Qaeda's preferred ideology as essentially tolerant and fair.
She has not reconsidered her views since. In 2004, DeLong-Bas published Wahhabi Islam: From Revival to Global Jihad, with partial funding for the book coming directly from Saudi Arabia. In it, she disputes the critics of the movement and its founder, stating that Abd al-Wahhab's writings display "an absence of the xenophobia, militantism, misogyny, extremism, and literalism typically associated with Wahhabism," and that they provide "a vision that offers hope for the future." Regardless of how benign she feels its founder and his writings were, the vision held by Wahhabism's terrorist supporters is that of the complete destruction of the West. Delong-Bas seems willing to let slide the violence carried out by Wahhabis, content to note the movement's misconceptions rather than denouncing its brutal and sadistic followers, who have been responsible for everything from the U.S. embassy bombings in Africa to the attack on the U.S.S. Cole.
DeLong-Bas has raised eyebrows before. In January 2006, another controversy erupted on the Brandeis campus when the University appointed Khalil Shikaki a senior fellow at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies. Shikaki's brother is Fathi Shikaki, the founder of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group that Khalil has voiced support for. Despite the group's responsibility for killing over 100 people in Israel, DeLong-Bas jumped to the defense of both Shikaki and former University of South Florida professor Sami al-Arian, stating, "The assertion that any connection with Sami al-Arian makes a person a terrorist is very disturbing, given that Sami was acquitted of the terrorist charges against him. … The outcome of the trial indicated that he was, in fact, raising money for charity." Notwithstanding her apologia for Al-Arian, one month after maintaining his innocence, he pled guilty to "conspiracy to make or receive contributions of funds to or for the benefit of Palestinian Islamic Jihad," a State Department-designated terrorist organization.
In addition to defending the religious movement of Islamic terrorists, Delong-Bas doesn't seem overly concerned about the status of women in Islamic society. Although she claims to be a Christian, she adheres to some of Islam's strictest laws, and has acknowledged wearing a burka when traveling in the Middle East. In the book, Women in Muslim Family Law, in which DeLong-Bas co-wrote with Esposito, it states:
Some of the most important and fundamental reforms of customary law were made by the Quran in order to improve the status of women and strengthen the family in Muslim society.
According to scholar of Islamic history Robert Spencer, the Quran permits men to marry up to four wives, which they may beat when disobedient, and it likens a woman to a field (tilth) to be used by a man as he wills. Regardless of the blatant inaccuracies presented in the book, DeLong-Bas requires students to read her Women in Muslim Family Law book in her "Islam: Civilization and Institutions" and "Women and Gender in Islam" courses.
Brandeis University was founded in 1948 as a "nonsectarian university under the sponsorship of the American Jewish community." That the school is now home to professors like Natana DeLong-Bas, who crafts excuses for the most anti-Semitic permutation of Islam, indicates how far it has strayed from its historical roots.