Middle East studies professors responded to the attacks by Islamic terrorists in Paris earlier this month not with rigorous, informed analysis or even unadultered sympathy for those gunned down in the offices of Charlie Hebdo and a kosher market. Their reaction was instead precisely what one has come to expect from academics more concerned with shielding Islam from blame and shifting responsibility for its adherents' actions to the West than with the disinterested pursuit of truth.
University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole accused the Bush/Cheney administration and the Iraq War of "radicalizing" terrorist brothers, Sharif and Said Kouashi:
Maybe the staff at Charlie Hebdo would be alive if George W. Bush and Richard Bruce Cheney hadn't modeled for the Kouashi brothers how you take what you want and rub out people who get in your way.
In Cole's conspiracy-mongering imagination, attacking the magazine was "a strategic strike, aiming at polarizing the French and European public" by playing "into the hands of Marine LePen and the Islamophobic French Right wing," provoking "European society into pogroms against French Muslims," and bolstering "al-Qaeda recruitment."
University of California, Riverside creative writing professor Reza Aslan claimed that an "anti-Muslim backlash" had created "tension among the Muslim population in Europe and non-Muslim population," leading "a lot of young Muslims" to "feel angry, perhaps, threatened, enough to actually take up violence." His equivocating caused the interviewer to stress, "in no way are you saying that violence is ever right in this particular situation; you are explaining the conditions that precipitated this."
Omid Safi, director of Duke University's Islamic Studies Center, opposed treating "this as a freedom of speech issue" because, he argued, "French society, like many other European societies, is awash in a wave of anti-immigrant xenophobia." He excoriated the French for using the "freedom to offend" to target "again and again communities that are marginalized and ostracized." He then blamed colonialism:
The traumas of the French Muslim population today are linked to and an extension of the violence inflicted by the French on Muslims colonized for decades.
True to form, Safi split hairs in objecting to the media's use of the term "Islamists" to define the perpetrators:
If we define being an Islamist as someone who's committed to establishing an Islamic state, there is no proof of that commitment on the part of the shooters. It seems more prudent to simply call them what we know they were: violent criminals.
Islamic terrorism, however, is merely a means to the same end.
Other academics followed suit. Hofstra University Islamic studies professor Hussein Rashid, claiming that Muslims in Europe "feel like they are besieged" and view satirizing Islam "as bullying," concluded that, "it is not so much about religious anger, as it is about vengeance." Ingrid Mattson, who chairs Islamic studies at Huron University College in Ontario, tweeted that, "The attack on #CharlieHebdo is not about Islam vs the West. Many Muslims have had their heads taken off by fanatics who detested their views," as if the Paris terrorists were motivated by Muslim-on-Muslim violence.
Meanwhile, Khaled Fahmy, a historian at the American University of Cairo who has taught Islamic studies at New York University, argued that religion was "just a veneer" for resentment against "colonial powers" and Western "Orientalist" condescension. "It is the nonviolence that needs to be explained, not the violence," he asserted. Taking the willful blindness even further, M. Steven Fish, a political scientist at the University of California, Berkeley stated, "Is Islam violent? I would say absolutely not. There is very little empirical evidence that Islam is violent."
Hatem Bazian, director of the apologetic Islamophobia Research & Documentation Project at the University of California, Berkeley, maintained that the attack "has nothing to do with Islam in general" and presented a laundry list of "racism, discrimination, bigotry, Islamophobia, [and] anti-Semitism" as the culprits. Claiming that, "it is utterly wrong to assign blame to Islam of old and assert that this is the pre-modern imposing itself on the modern world," Bazian made an obscene charge against critics of radical Islam:
[T]he Islamophobic industry in Europe and the U.S. are happier the more such murderers in Paris, Yemen, Iraq, and Nigeria authenticate with violent actions their distorted and racist views of Islam and the Prophet.
Mark LeVine, a history professor at the University of California, Irvine, joined the chorus of denial:
[U]ltimately the violence against Charlie Hebdo is not about Islam per se; it's about a contemporary world system that is particularly adept at grinding down whatever decent values exist in Islam and other faith systems (and in liberal capitalism as well).
Noting that "the Charlie Hebdo attackers are reportedly of Algerian descent and the third from Senegal," LeVine declared, "Where does the story begin? Quite simply with colonialism."
Muqtedar Khan, a political scientist at the University of Delaware, acknowledged the terrorists' ideology, but made an intellectually vacuous argument of moral equivalency by referring to, "the twin threats to us all – Islamophobia in the West and Muslim radicalism everywhere." Khan worried that "Muslims in the West, who live as weak and marginalized minorities, will now be confronted with more Islamophobic discourses, policies and hate crimes," which, he predicted, "will lead to more radicalization, more despicable acts, and then another stronger backlash."
University of California, Los Angeles law professor Khaled Abou El Fadl bemoaned the "radicalizing role" of France's "particularly exaggerated racial and ethnic problem," claiming that the "French government has an obligation to identify areas where people might be particularly vulnerable," such as "artists, or at synagogues, or a mosque targeted by white racists." Obfuscating further, he stated:
Times of crime and murder are not the time to quibble over whether freedom of speech is a Western value or a Christian value or a Muslim value.
University of California, Los Angeles English professor Saree Makdisi objected to the "binary structure" and the "colonial and post-colonial conflict" allegedly "looming behind the whole Charlie affair":
"We" in the West are rational, good, modern and free (just don't bring up the sordid legacy of colonialism, slavery, religious wars, etc.), while "they" are backward, bad, irrational and violent.
Instead, he touted the platitude, "Every culture has its mix of tolerance and intolerance, right and wrong, freedom and its absence."
Echoing President Barack Obama, Oxford University Islamic studies professor Tariq Ramadan employed the vague term, "violent extremism," which, he claimed, is "not only a Muslim business." Rather than express sympathy, Ramadan accused Charlie Hebdo's editors of "target[ing] Muslims" for the purpose of "making money," adding, "It has nothing to do with courage."
Similarly, former DePaul University professor Norman Finkelstein claimed that, "Charlie Hebdo is sadism. It's not satire," and equated it with Der Stürmer, a weekly newspaper in Nazi Germany notorious for its anti-Semitic caricatures:
So, two despairing and desperate young men act out their despair and desperation against this political pornography no different than Der Stürmer, who in the midst of all of this death and destruction decide it's somehow noble to degrade, demean, humiliate and insult the people. I'm sorry . . . I have no sympathy for [the staff of Charlie Hebdo].
Georgetown University history professor Abdullah Al-Arian held Western civilization responsible—"from Voltaire and the Enlightenment to the present"—for "anti-Muslim cultural production," "the rise of a pervasive Islamophobic atmosphere," and a "wave of anti-Muslim terrorism." Ignoring centuries of Islamic aggression and supremacism, he maintained that "the abhorrent violence by some Muslims is a recent phenomenon."
Columbia University Iranian studies professor Hamid Dabashi made an ahistorical analogy by likening "the current wave of Islamophobia in Europe" to "classical European anti-Semitism." Denouncing Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu's inclusion in the Paris unity rally following the attacks, Dabashi offered this odious comparison:
I leave it to you to ponder the bizarre irony of Zionist propaganda partaking and exacerbating this Islamophobia—or is it an irony—where Zionism to Judaism stands like Islamism to Islam.
One might expect acts of unadulterated evil like the massacres in Paris to be met with unqualified condemnation from the American professoriate. But obfuscation, moral relativism, apologetics, and anti-Western bigotry are the strong suits of today's Middle East studies establishment. Islamists seeking to forbid criticism of radical Islam and undermine Western law and culture can count on their allies in academe.
Cinnamon Stillwell is the West Coast Representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.