[Editor's Note: To read Part II, please click here.]
What's an "Islamophobia"-promoting academic to do when there simply aren't enough hate crimes to sustain the mythical narrative that Muslim-Americans are persecuted for their religion? The Islamophobia Research & Documentation Project (IRDP) at the University of California, Berkeley's Center for Race & Gender came up with a brilliant idea for this spring's Fifth Annual International Islamophobia Conference: they invented a thought crime called "latent Islamophobia."
According to the conference description and "inspired by [the late Columbia professor] Edward Said's work on Orientalism," "Islamophobia" can be broken into two categories: latent and manifest:
Latent Islamophobia is founded upon an unquestionable certitude that Muslims trend "towards despotism and away from progress." They are constructed and "judged in terms of, and in comparison to, the West, so it is always the Other, the conquerable, and the inferior." Manifest Islamophobia "is what is spoken and acted upon."
Near Eastern studies lecturer, IRDP director, and conference convener Hatem Bazian supported this blatant effort to condemn thought, as he promised in his opening remarks that this effort would eventually be a "field [and] a distinct area of study" called "Islamophobia studies."
This is no idle threat. In addition to producing annual UC Berkeley conferences and the Islamophobia Journal, Bazian said IRDP's plans include:
- Publishing papers for the Second International Islamophobia Conference to be held in Paris this December.
- "Down the line, [to] provide funding for graduate students and fellowships" at IRDP.
- Establish "partnerships with other research institutes, in the U.S. and globally," to build "a global faculty network."
The audience—much of which consisted of women wearing hijabs (headscarves)—of sixty to eighty people on the first day, was swallowed by the spacious Booth Auditorium housed in the Berkeley School of Law. In between panels, a bevy of academics and graduate students, many of them speakers, greeted each other and gabbed, while the few attendees outside the fold looked on. Bazian boasted that 6,000 people watched the conference online last year via the live stream and that this year, Duke University would be "carrying our live feed."
Saeed Khan, a lecturer in history and Near East and Asian studies at Wayne State University, spoke on the second panel about "Islamophobia, the Conservative Movement, and the Creation of the Muslim Menace." Khan is also a fellow at the Detroit-based Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, which co-commissioned a flawed May, 2013 study alleging "Islamophobia" in the San Francisco Bay Area, of all places, that was co-authored by Bazian. He critiqued what he called "the conventional wisdom among Tea Party conservatives and other Islamophobes" that "Muslims are infiltrating every aspect of American society, particularly education" by quoting a 2008 article on the unconstitutional insertion of Islamic curriculum into American public education written by this author. He then made a nonsensical comparison:
Cinnamon Stillwell, from here in the Bay Area. . . . She definitely takes the line that in spite of the "soft jihad" that is taking place, a soft crusade about the Christianity of the Founding Fathers is perfectly acceptable in public schools in a construct that is supposed to have separation of church and state.
Khan's alleged concern for separation of church and state would be more convincing were he to apply it to the very real threat outlined in the article in question, not to a nonexistent Christian "soft crusade" that its author did not reference.
He later complained about efforts in "Texas and Florida" to combat the use of biased textbooks in K-12 education, mischaracterizing valid concerns over the whitewashing and falsifying of Islamic history as opposition to inclusion and objectivity:
A world history text is being reviewed to extricate Islam from the curriculum, or at the very least, to try and remove any reference to Islam that would be seen as objective or—in their estimation, the same thing—biased toward Islam.
During the question and answer period, Khan actually complained that the "backlash" against Muslims after the 2013 Boston bombing that was predicted by speakers at last year's Islamophobia conference never happened. Referencing a Boston Globe article titled, "Inclusive Spirit Reassures Muslims After Bombings," he concluded:
This portrays Muslims being unnecessarily and unreasonably paranoid. It showcases the magnanimity and largesse of an American society that didn't cause a backlash.
We couldn't have put it better ourselves.
The next panel, which boasted the Orwellian title, "Gender, Sexuality, Class and Colonialism in Transnational Latent and Manifest Islamophobia," dished out a great heaping of academic jargon from the realms of queer, gender, and women's studies.
Paola Bacchetta, an associate professor of gender and women's studies at UC Berkeley, introduced her incomprehensible presentation with the even more perplexing sentence, "Muslims as enemy Others as queerphilia xenophobia." She was just warming up:
By that, I mean in which their queerphobia is displaced onto the enemy Others, who they now claim are the queerphobic ones. . . . Queers are now shifted to this position which under colonialism belonged to women: that is, queers are constructed as either silent self-hating collaborators with the presumed straight and queerphobic collective enemy Other camp, or imagined as enemy Other's victims requiring dominant saviors.
Bacchetta included "the Israeli state" in her "neo-colonial" enemies list for its supposed "pink-washing," claiming that:
[T]he idea that Palestinian queers are being saved by Israel . . . ignores the occupation and the many years of solid work done by Palestinian queers such as Palestinian Queers for BDS [boycott, divestment, sanctions].
It's hard to imagine that groups like Palestinian Queers for BDS are succeeding in helping their gay compatriots so much as engaging in self-preservation by attacking the preferred enemy, Israel.
Huma Dar, a Ph.D. candidate in South East Asian studies at UC Berkeley, compared "Israeli occupation" to "Indian Occupation" in her jargon-ridden presentation, "Latent and Manifest Islamophobia in Indian Occupied Kashmir: Queerphilic Imperialism and Hindu-homonationalism." Echoing anti-Israel rhetoric, she denied that Islamism has any relevance to either conflict:
Akin to the Palestinian situation, the struggle for Kashmiri independence is not a religious or theological matter, but a political one of indigenous people's rights to territory and sovereignty. India, like Israel, has attempted to frame it as a fight against Kashmiri Muslims . . . riding on the coattails of a wave of global Islamophobia.
Dar accused India of engaging in "queerphilic imperialism" by "projecting queerphobia onto the Kashmiri Muslims" and of "pinkwashing the Indian occupation akin to the Israeli occupation." With all these "occupations" allegedly engaging in "pink-washing," one would think that gays in the Muslim world were safe, when in fact persecution and capital punishment are common.
The day's final panel included Zahra Billoo, executive director for the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has been linked by the United States government to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Her presentation, "California Muslim Youth Experiences with Bullying, Harassment and Religious Accommodation in Schools," was based on CAIR's own "statewide survey," yet she was unable to report on any widespread persecution. Despite citing isolated instances of "bullying" in schools, her own data forced her to acknowledge that the "complaints are not coming," leading her to lament that:
It troubled some of our partners and allies, who said, "well, these bully figures are not as high as we think they should be."
Instead, they found that "the figures in the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] community are far higher." "At the federal level these complaints are handled by the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights," Billoo added, before launching into a gratuitous tirade against pro-Israel activists concerned for the safety of Jewish students on campus:
And as a side note, this office is used by pro-apartheid Israel activists attempting to silence human rights activists on campus calling attention to that nation state's racism and violent policies—but that's a separate conversation.
Apparently, bullying is only a concern when Muslim students are on the receiving end.
It turns out pushing "Islamophobia" trumps addressing myriad human rights challenges afflicting the Muslim world. More on this tomorrow.
Berkeley resident Rima Greene co-wrote this article with Cinnamon Stillwell, the West Coast Representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Part Two of this article will appear in our next issue.