Three American academics flew to Tehran last week to accept awards from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In Tehran, Carl Ernst, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was honored along with William Chittick, a scholar of Islamic mysticism and a professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and Miriam Galston, a lawyer at George Washington University who made significant contributions to the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Thorp and Ernst seemed anxious to stress that this was an academic, non-political award -- as if Tehran these days were crawling with disinterested academics who are in no way co-opted by the regime. Even though Ernst reportedly "cringes" at some of Ahmadinejad's "policies," UNC-CH Chancellor Holden Thorp decided that this was an "academic honor," not a political one, and so had no objection to Ernst's trip. Ernst himself explained, "it would have looked strange if I declined an academic award."
Are Thorp and Ernst hopelessly naive, or do they believe that we are? In any case, they have little cause to worry that anyone will get upset about this in Chapel Hill, where the academic Left holds comfortable sway -- you know, the kind of people who thought it would be a great idea for Ahmadinejad to give an address at Columbia University and to present a Christmas message on British television. But meanwhile, has it even crossed Carl Ernst's mind that his work is useful to the Iranian regime, whatever the nature of this award, and that his traveling to Tehran to accept it is even more useful to them? Has this not occurred to him even after his trip to Tehran earlier this month, during which he made a "strong plea for improved academic and cultural relations between Iran and the United States"?
And would Carl Ernst really even be able to distinguish an academic award from a political one? After all, a genuine academic evaluates arguments on the basis of evidence. He does not work to predetermined conclusions based on ideological or political considerations. Ernst does not do anything like this. Consider (and I am sorry that I must use a personal example here, because the problem of Carl Ernst and the Middle East Studies establishment in American universities in general is far larger than me, and I have nothing to do with it) how he has dealt with my own work: see his "Notes on the Ideological Patrons of an Islamophobe, Robert Spencer."
Take, in the first place, the characterization "Islamophobe." He offers no evidence for it, much less any definition of this spurious, manipulative, politicized coinage. Nothing from my books, nothing from my articles at FrontPage Magazine or elsewhere, nothing from my website Jihad Watch, nothing at all. His use of this word is without substance, designed to propagandize rather than convince, much less to equip one to make one's own judgment.
Note also that in the document, he doesn't offer a single example of anything I say that is inaccurate. Instead, he expects his readers to dismiss my work because Ernst dislikes my publishers -- on political grounds. This is an example of the logical fallacy of appealing to authority: he is suggesting that his own publishers (such as Shambhala) are more prestigious than those of his critics, and that therefore he is to be believed over them. Argumentum ad verecundiam and ad hominem attacks are two sides of the same worthless coin.
Carl Ernst is no academic. He is a political and politicizing propagandist. Now he is also a willing tool of the vicious Iranian mullahcracy. And in Middle East Studies departments in universities all over the country, he is just one of many.
And so, it is time for me to make an announcement of my own: I hereby award Ernst, Chittick and Galston the Jihad Watch Afshin Award, named after the ninth century Persian general Khaydhar ibn Kawus, a.k.a. Afshin, who won great victories for Islamic forces although he himself fought for them only for his own material advantage, and not out of conviction -- he was in fact a proud Persian who had contempt for the Arabs and the religion they had imposed upon Persia. (In awarding this prize I in no way mean to imply that Ernst, Chittick or Galston have any contempt for Arabs or Muslims, or that they traveled to Tehran seeking their own material advantage.)
Thought experiment: would Ernst and Holden Thorp be as understanding about accepting an award from Jihad Watch, even though Ernst doubtless "cringes" at some of my "policies," as they are about Ernst's accepting an award from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?
Or are Ahmadinejad's positions, thirst for genocide, Holocaust denial, open Jew-hatred and all, more acceptable to Ernst, Chittick, Galston and Thorp than those of someone who wants to defend the West against Islamic supremacism and its denial of freedom of speech and freedom of conscience, and institutionalized discrimination against women and non-Muslims?
Robert Spencer is a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of seven books, eight monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including the New York Times Bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His new book is Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is Subverting America without Guns or Bombs.