The exploitation of the University of California's Bay Area law schools as a platform for Arab and Islamist propaganda continues. A convocation on "Litigating Palestine," replete with extreme rhetoric against Israel, was held at Hastings Law School in San Francisco on March 25-26, 2011--without official endorsement by Hastings--and on April 20-21, an equally radical conference took place at UC Berkeley Law School. It was held in Boalt Hall and presented to the wider public via streaming video.
The Berkeley event was hosted by the University's Center for Race and Gender (CRG) and titled, in the style of post-modern academia, "Islamophobia Production and Re-Defining Global 'Security' Agenda for the 21st Century." Within CRG, the function appeared under the rubric of the Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project, directed by Hatem Bazian, a senior lecturer in the department of Near Eastern studies. Conference publicity stated that the speeches "will be published in UC Berkeley's Islamophobia Studies Journal, inaugural edition, Fall, 2011."
CRG assembled some notable cosponsors for its presentation on "Islamophobia." These included the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which advocates for radical ideology under color of defending Muslim civil liberties and as the flagship organization of the "Wahhabi lobby" in America, and the Islamic Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO). Although based in Rabat, Morocco, ISESCO is a branch of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), a body headquartered in Saudi Arabia and established in 1969 with the supposed aim of protecting Islamic monuments in Jerusalem from Israel. The OIC has 57 member countries.
Other cosponsors of the CRG colloquium included Zaytuna College, the over-hyped "Islamic university" projected for establishment in Berkeley by prominent American Muslim preacher and radical apologist Hamza Yusuf Hanson, his close associate Zaid Shakir, and Bazian; American Muslims for Palestine, of which Bazian is also chair; the UC Graduate Theological Union (GTU) Center for Islamic Studies; the Boalt Law School Journal of Middle Eastern and Islamic Law; and the San Francisco State University Arab and Muslims Ethnicities and Diaspora Initiative. More UC backing, according to the conference program, came from the University's Institute of International Studies and its American Cultures Engaged Scholarship program.
The heaviest hitters on the speakers' list, with regard to their widespread public activities, were CAIR executive director Nihad Awad, Hamza Yusuf, and Hatem Bazian. The three appeared on an April 21, 2011, evening panel, which dealt with "Community Partnership" and was moderated by Munir Jiwa, director of the GTU Center for Islamic Studies.
Hamza Yusuf was introduced with the fawning praise customarily granted him by his admirers, including mention of his "teacher" Abdullah Bin Bayyah, a member of the fundamentalist European Council for Fatwas and Research (ECFR) headed by the most famous radical Islamist preacher in the world, Yusuf Al-Qaradawi.
Hanson demonstrated in Berkeley that his fondness for hyperbolic idioms has changed little since the period before the atrocities of September 11, 2001. In 1995, he described Judaism as "a most racist religion." On September 9, 2001, two days before 9/11, Hanson declared in Los Angeles, "This country [America] unfortunately has a great, a great tribulation coming to it. And much of it is already here, yet people are too illiterate to read the writing on the wall." In the aftermath of 9/11, Hamza Yusuf sought to remake himself as a Muslim moderate and spiritual Sufi, and even before launching his "Zaytuna College" enterprise, he gained attention from prominent Western media, including the New York Times, as a supposed representative of an alternative to radicalism in Islam.
Hanson began his Berkeley discourse, accompanied by a slide show, by alleging that a "war on Islam in the U.S." has begun that is "well-funded" and omnipresent in media. His evidence for this exaggerated statement commenced with the projection of newspaper editorial cartoons critical of radical Muslims, which he equated with comic strips. Many Americans only read "the funny papers," he added, contemptuously.
Hanson was similarly caustic in dismissing concerns about airport safety, charging that "everybody" is engaged in suspicious activity in airports, such as talking on cellular telephones. He further displayed his sarcasm by remarking that, "all of us have a weapon of mass destruction" if we own an automobile. According to Hanson, Americans should be comfortable with the fact that more people die in traffic accidents and ordinary criminal assaults than in Islamist terrorist attacks.
Hanson's view of historical and geopolitical relations between Muslims and non-Muslims was equally snide and simplistic. He asserted that Europe has "two identities," "Christian" and "not Muslim," ignoring the long-term presence of some 30 million European Muslims in Russia, the Balkans, and other parts of Eastern Europe. With his penchant for gratuitous twists of illogic, he complained that he is a "public figure" and therefore cannot sue his critics, who have supposedly libeled him. Meanwhile, he insulted the Canadian writer Irshad Manji and other Muslim moderates, and announced that critical websites on Islamic issues are financed by military technology corporations such as Raytheon and General Electric.
He presented a familiar litany of chapters and incidents of racial and religious discrimination in American history, all of them intended as parallels with the purported situation of American Muslims today. These included the dispossession of indigenous Americans, enslavement of Africans and the attacks on African-Americans after the Civil War, prejudice against Irish immigrants, exclusion of Chinese and other Asians from citizenship, relocation of ethnic Japanese in the Western U.S. during WWII, and bias against Hispanics and Jews. Seeking to inject a note of inspiration into his harangue, Hanson referred to American Indian resistance and the African-American civil rights struggle as "models of possibility" for American Muslims. He failed, however, to enumerate incidents of massacres, involuntary servitude, lynchings, or other such violations imposed on American Muslims. Hanson predicted horrors supposedly awaiting American Muslims in the future, rather than accounting for existing problems.
Hanson could not control his anti-Jewish reflex; he claimed that religious Jews may be sympathetic to Muslims because Judaism is also a religion with a "pre-modern" heritage, including child marriage, and thus, "people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones."
Approaching the end of his speech, Hanson delivered yet another absurd complaint: that while American bookstores are, as he put it, filled with titles celebrating Wicca (witchcraft) and Satanism as "self-help" cults, they include nothing Islamic or pro-Muslim, compared with the volumes of anti-Muslim polemics he claimed had flooded the country. Apparently, Hanson does not visit Western-style bookstores frequently enough to notice that books on mainstream religions like Islam are shelved separately from "new age" and "self-help" books, and that titles sympathetic to Islam, and even to its radical forms, now abound.
CAIR's Nihad Awad repeated Hanson's inappropriate catechism of comparisons, drawing the now-hackneyed, but no less spurious, parallel between the contemporary situation of American Muslims and past ill-treatment of Asians. He invoked the specter of thousands of adherents to Islam he said were now denied U.S. citizenship because of their faith, without providing evidence for so expansive an accusation. Awad pilloried Hollywood for supposedly producing 900 films that stereotyped Muslims and, therefore, encouraging Americans to mistreat Muslims and ignore their complaints. He also indicted television news, which he said "never" produces positive reportage on Muslims.
Bazian, whose record of radical incitement is no less extensive and exhibitionistic than Hamza Yusuf and Nihad Awad, closed the panel by demanding that the Jewish Community Relations Councils, Anti-Defamation League, and Simon Wiesenthal Center be "taken to task" for their work exposing radicalism in the American Muslim community. He was equally aggressive in denouncing Muslim critics of radicalism such as Irshad Manji, and declared, "I don't need to reform my thinking." Bazian called for a political coalition to align Muslims with other minority groups in preparation for the 2012 presidential elections, in which he predicted that Muslims would be unfairly targeted by conservative candidates.
From the perspective of the radicals at Berkeley, Islamophobia is a political label that has little or nothing to do with how Islam is discussed as a religion, and much more to do with gaining standing for extremist Muslims as protectors of a minority allegedly subject to bias and discrimination. Islamophobia is, for them, a precious commodity whose "production" justifies their demagogy and panic-mongering. They have turned a legitimate topic for discussion into a target for irrational fears of persecution - a phobia about Islamophobia. And they have succeeded, at least in Berkeley, in making any discussion of Islam a matter of ideology rather than of comparative religion or principles of faith, with the apparent assent of Berkeley's theological departments.
Stephen Schwartz is executive director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism. He is a UC Berkeley alumnus and was a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle from 1989 to 1999. He wrote this article for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.