In the aftermath of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's attempted bombing of Northwest flight 253 on Christmas day, Guardian blogger Sunny Hundal seeks to defend University College London (where Abdulmutallab studied) from charges that it and other universities are incubators of Muslim radicalism. Along the way, he employs pseudo-scholarship to attack Campus Watch via an anonymous critic:
Singling out universities as potential conveyor belts for terrorists is an old talking point for neocons. The most notorious example in recent times was American commentator Daniel Pipes's project Campus Watch, which created dossiers on professors and universities that did "not meet its standard of uncritical support for the policies of George Bush and Ariel Sharon", according to one critic.
Hundal's charges, along with his rhetorical techniques, are older than any neocon talking points (which, come to think of it, no one has ever sent me). Who exactly is this "one critic"? Why does Hundal not name him? (We'll call him Anon.) Why hide this font of wisdom behind the mask of anonymity?
One good argument for doing so is the sheer vacuity of Anon's words. "Uncritical support" for George Bush and Ariel Sharon? Never mind that CW does not base its critiques on professors' views of politicians and their policies, nor that not a single dossier has been posted at CW since September, 2002 (as we have stated so often before). Does Hundal not realize that Anon's words apparently originated no later than January 4, 2006, when Sharon had a massive stroke and entered a vegetative state? If Anon uttered his charges against CW more recently, one fears for his intellectual reputation if he could do no better than rely on information that is no less than four years old, almost to the day. As for Bush's policies--well, one just wonders what the left will do when they don't have him to kick around anymore.
But there's another reason for keeping Anon anonymous: his (and Hundal's) pseudo-scholarship. Hundal builds his case against CW not by citing facts that might refute CW's research, but through the intellectual sleight-of-hand available to those who build arguments on the work of phantom writers. No proof is needed in such presentations: the "facts" are already widely known through a large body of publications that outwardly mimics scholarship or solid journalism. This self-referential epistemology yields not accurate results but pre-determined conclusions that, over time, form the hollow core of conspiracy theories.
Do universities radicalize students like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab? If no approach more rigorous than Hundal's writing had been devised, we could never know.