When Omid Safi of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, was asked recently by AP Press to comment on the Pew poll of American Muslims, which found that about a quarter of those between the ages of 18 and 29 approved of suicide bombings against civilians in at least some cases, he replied:
"Given what's happened in Iraq and Palestine, I would be shocked if there wasn't discontent."
He expressed no outrage against the death of innocents, no blanket condemnation of a death-loving ideology. And, in academe at least, there was no reaction to Safi's attempt to justify the most disturbing finding of the Pew poll.
Safi is a rising star in academic Middle East studies. He recently decamped from snowy Hamilton, NY, where he taught at Colgate University, to the idylls of Chapel Hill, where he is an associate professor of religious studies.
In April, the Carnegie Corporation awarded him a $100,000 research grant (his project is "Reforming Islam in the ‘Axis of Evil': Contesting Islam in Post-Revolutionary Iran") and he's co-chair of the steering committee for the Study of Islam at the American Academy of Religion. Safi's future in university circles looks bright.
Little wonder. Safi has mastered the art of postmodern double-speak pioneered by the late Edward Said of Columbia University, whose error-filled book Orientalism paved the way in 1978 for the politicization of Middle East studies. In Safi's hands, politicizing becomes a way to cloak justifications for ensconcing radical Islam in the West in the language of peace.
This technique is on display in his 2006 Beliefnet article titled "A Path to Peace-Rooted Justice." In it, Safi's calls for peace among the children of a loving and peaceful God alternate with condemnations of the West (i.e., America, Europe, and Israel). His assertions are couched in a moral relativism that obscures, but doesn't neutralize, his efforts to downplay anti-Western violence.
After establishing his peaceful bona fides by evoking Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and the Dalai Lama, Safi admonishes Muslims to engage in self-criticism, to cease treasuring "'our own' lives … more than that of ‘others.'" A few paragraphs later, after further warnings against privileging the self over the "other," we get this:
"I don't see that happening right now in the Middle East."
One hopes at this point that he's going to call for an end to suicide bombings and indiscriminate attacks on civilians and condemn brutal governments that engage in dhimmitude, which is the oppression of religious minorities.
Not quite. The next sentence reads: "I see my fellow Muslims cherishing and lamenting the lives of Iraqi civilians and Palestinians who live under brutal oppression. We should continue to cherish those lives, but not at the expense of demonizing Israelis or others [i.e., Americans] in the region."
Which, of course, he has just done. But Safi is only warming up. In the next paragraph, he charges that Israeli society "is far from acknowledging the humanity of those around them," or of "coming to terms" with the "thousands of civilians shot dead by the Israel Defense Forces."
As for "we as Americans," Safi charges that "we have never [emphasis original] come to terms with the humanity of Iraqis and Afghanis — if we had, we would be having a public discussion about the tens of thousands of civilian casualties as a result of our military operations."
In these self-serving charges, Safi ignores the extraordinary risks taken by the IDF to avoid civilian casualties in its responses to rocket and sniper attacks, suicide bombings, and kidnappings of civilians and soldiers alike, many from militias hidden in neighborhoods, schools, churches and mosques.
As for America's recognition of the humanity of Iraqis and Afghanis, he cynically discounts the sea of goodwill that existed here ahead of both wars, the brutality of Saddam and the Taliban, and the belief by most Americans that in a post-Sept.11 world, Muslims in the Middle East deserved liberty bought with American blood.
Later, Safi writes: "When ‘peace' is used in the context of ‘security' to reinforce the ideology of the powerful at the expense of the weak, it is a mockery." This is an attempt to delegitimize Israel's right to self-defense.
Then: "As long as our definition of peace is simply the ‘absence of fighting,' we are ... on our way toward stripping human beings of their ability to resist injustice." Here again is the old argument that Palestinian "resistance" is legitimate in the face of Israeli "oppression."
Whatever Safi's technique — the language of peace, postmodernism, or war — his goal remains the same: the justification of radical Islam.
Winfield Myers is director of Campus Watch.