My latest Washington Examiner column, "Connecticut Teacher Encourages Muslim Mau-Mauing," asks what a Connecticut high school teacher's request for student volunteers to advertise her class by wearing a burqa or other traditional Muslim garb around school has to do with ongoing efforts by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to take advantage of situations in which Muslims are harassed, even when the offenses are manufactured.
Observations not included in the column:
1. Note the obsequious tone of the Hartford Courant's reporter who first wrote about the episode on March 12, especially in her description of CAIR:
CAIR is dedicated to promoting better understanding of Islam and Muslims through public education and interfaith cooperation and to defend American Muslims' civil and human rights, according to its website.
2. The teaching of Middle East studies in high schools too often mirrors university pedagogy, which consistently takes on an advocacy role, thereby substituting indoctrination for education and politicizing the curriculum.
3. When non-Muslims dress in traditional Muslim garb in an effort to show solidarity with Muslims, the premise of their actions draws on this same pedagogy and the more general culture of vicitmization that pervades American universities. It claims, "I know you are oppressed, and I stand with you." This element of the politicization of higher education helps to explain why non-Muslim women at the University of Missouri at Columbia recently sported scarves as part of the national "Scarves for Solidarity Campaign."
Additional observations (4:55pm):
The Daily Free Press of Boston University reflects this approach today in "Muslims Share Experiences with Racism." Again, the topic is head covering: "'After 9/11, I knew I would be a target, but it never crossed my mind to take off my headscarf,' said Yasmin Hosein...." Another student sees this bias in media coverage (they should have called the Courant): "'The media paints a very grim picture of Muslims,' said attendee Farva Bilgrami, a College of Arts and Sciences sophomore, before the event, 'and people tend to believe everything they see.'"
The B.U. students gathered to watch "Muslims in America: The Misunderstood Millions," a documentary featuring, among others, Georgetown professor John Esposito. He heads the Prince Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, which the prince founded with a gift of $20 million. That act received positive press coverage, with Esposito defending the Prince, whose gift of $10 million to New York City after 9/11 was returned by then-mayor Rudy Giulliani. I guess this means no ambassadorial post for Esposito in a future Giuliani administration.
In "What Ails Mainstream Journalism?," Alyssa Lapin takes a very different (and far more accurate) assessment of the uncritical approach so many reporters take to covering Muslim affairs. She notes that, while business journalists are expected to perform exhaustive research on their subjects, and to approach persons in the company being covered only after this research is completed, those who cover the Middle East and Islam tend to "lose their professional skepticism." As the above examples illustrate, she's got it right.
King Mau-Mau (John Esposito) Defends Sami al-Arian, Again: (additional update, 5:55pm)
No sooner had I mentioned John Esposito of Georgetown in my comments above than I read this post at the Washington Post-hosted blog, On Faith. In the process of complaining that the media cover Islam far too critically, he defends Sami al-Arian, the former University of South Florida professor who pleaded guilty to raising money for Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a Specially designated Terrorist organization. Al-Arian was sentenced to 57 months in prison, with credit for time already served. But that's not the end of the story; today Esposito wrote:
Notably absent in the mainstream media is coverage of Islam and Muslims is coverage of the erosion of civil liberties. While stories on global terrorism and domestic threats are important to us all, at the same time how many stories have gone one step further and focused on the thousands of Muslims indiscriminately arrested, detained, monitored and interviewed and not found guilt or released for lack of evidence; the number of Islamic charities shut down but despite the passage of years not successfully prosecuted; the continued detention of Muslims like Prof. Sami al-Arian, whose jury verdict as well as the post-trial agreement forged by Justice Department and Defense attorneys were ignored by the trial judge [emphasis added].
The latest news on al-Arian is that on Friday, March 23, he ended a two-month hunger strike; he was also sentenced to an additional 18 months in prison for refusing to testify before a Virginia grand jury that's investigating Palestinian charities. He would have been released in April, and John Esposito would have us believe his extended sentence evinces the unjust persecution of Muslims in the U.S. Perhaps, in fact, Esposito's fulminating is indicative of how far astray Middle East studies in America have gone.