Jonathan Brown, a Georgetown Islamic Studies professor, was accused of condoning slavery and rape following a lecture he gave at the International Institute of Islamic Thought.
Brown starts off his lecture, regarding slavery in Islam, acknowledging that slavery is a controversial topic, and read a paper he wrote for the majority of the lecture, to avoid "making a hyperbolic statement," and getting accused of "calling for slavery," which is what happened when Brown responded to questions during the Q&A portion of his lecture.
The lecture got an immense amount of backlash
Yesterday, the Georgetown professor published his own statementregarding the reaction to his position on slavery, revealing that his family has been bombarded with death and rape threats.
Brown defends his lecture asking "How are academics supposed to teach history if any discussion is assumed to be advocacy? The most complicated issues are also often the ones that we need to discuss the most. How can this happen if people are intimidated into silence?"
We spoke to Jonathan Brown to find out more:
It seems like you went into the lecture assuming you would receive some sort of backlash, how do you deal with that?
I knew the issue was sensitive. That's why I read the paper, so as to leave no room for misspeaking. But in Q&A, even if you're very careful, which I tried my best to be, you don't have time to prepare. There is a basic assumption that even a hostile listener will offer the basic charity needed for humans to communicate, but in this case the Islamophobes there were happy to ignore clear statements and cut others in half.
By the time things got to Alt-Right sites, my description of slavery in the Ottoman Empire as a type of investment became "Jonathan Browns says slaves are walking venture capital." Which is insane. How could that possibly make any sense?
Is it worth tailoring your papers or lectures to avoid aspects being taken out of context?
Yes. It is worth it. I also don't think I'd do Q&A on this topic again. Sorry for people who have questions.
It seems one of the main issues is that you are talking about slavery in Islam in a historical context, but that gets pinned as being your own opinion. Is that correct?
Yes, that is indeed what happened.
When asked about the proliferation of negative articles and opinions on his lecture, Brown said "Yep. Welcome to Trump's America."