Members of the Muslim community in the Inland Empire and Southern California are expressing outrage over a course offering made through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Cal State San Bernardino's Palm Desert campus, which they say blatantly disparages Islam and Muslims.
CSUSB canceled the course, "History of Islam: Mohammed to ISIS," taught by Edward Kodinsky on Tuesday, Feb. 25, said Jake Zhu, dean of the Palm Desert campus. It was one of several extension courses offered by the institute.
"We made the decision that was in the best interest of the university" to cancel the class, Zhu said, but declined to talk about how and why the course was allowed, and the vetting process for instructors who teach these courses. Sue Anderson, director of the Osher Institute at the Palm Springs campus, was also not available for comment Friday.
A student in Kodinsky's class who was outraged by the material contacted the Center for Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Cal State San Bernardino Feb. 8, roughly two weeks after the course began, said Ahlam Muhtaseb, the center's director and professor of media studies.
"The course material was not only racist and bigoted, but it also had a lot of misinformation about Arabs and Muslims," Muhtaseb said. "The content was absolutely factually incorrect and based on anti-Muslim propaganda material."
The slides, which were leaked by one of the students to the center and to the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Los Angeles chapter (CAIR-LA), a Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, portray Prophet Muhammad as a militant man and the religion he founded as one that preaches violence. It also states that lying and cheating for Arabs "is not really a moral matter, but a method of safeguarding honor and status," and that Muhammad used peace as a strategy to accomplish his ultimate goal — world domination.
One slide said: "When Muhammad made peace, it was never for the sake of peace. It was a strategic decision to wait until he could build up strength. Patience was one of his greatest strengths in his quest to conquer the world. It remains the cornerstone of Islamic strategy today."
The slides also quote anti-Muslim activist Brigitte Gabriel, founder of ACT for America, the group that organized anti-Sharia rallies in several cities nationwide including San Bernardino in 2017. Sharia is Islamic law as derived from the Quran and the traditions of Islam and anti-Sharia movement holds the premise that American Muslims are launching an attempt to establish Sharia law in the United States.
But what bothered Muhtaseb even more about this class, she said, was that the instructor teaching the class had absolutely no background in history, Islam or anything related to the Middle East. She said Kodinsky's bio page, which has since been taken down, showed he had a doctorate in metal processing. The center sent a letter to the university's president asking how a person with no credentials was allowed to teach this class. Muhtaseb said while the university did respond immediately to the letter, they allowed the class to continue for two more weeks and only canceled the very last class.
"This is serious," she said. "People get killed as a result of Islamophobic speech."
The very title of the class, which links the prophet to one of the worst extremist movements in human history, is deeply offensive to Muslims, said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR-LA.
"The slides (Kodinsky) used depict Muslims as violent and without morals, and use very racist trope you can imagine," Ayloush said. "He depicts Islam as inherently violent and on a mission to take over the world. This is not a class, this is a hate fest. It's a deliberate attempt to indoctrinate students with his agenda of hate."
Kodinsky did not respond to an email seeking comment about his instructional material.
Ayloush said he is pleased the university canceled the class. But he also said it's not enough. The university owes an apology to the community and an assurance that such a course would not be permitted again by clarifying its vetting process for instructors who teach extension courses, Ayloush said.
"This is not about inconvenience or hurt feelings," he said. "This is defamation in the form of bigotry that dehumanizes Muslims. It's this type of dehumanization that has led to attacks against black churches, Hindu and Sikh temples, synagogues and mosques."
Zhu said there is no plan at this time to issue a public apology and that he will talk to university administrators to determine if such an apology is appropriate or necessary.
The course material was a blatant attempt to portray Islam as "intolerant, anti-Semitic, predatory and expansionist," said David Yaghoubian, professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic History at Cal State San Bernardino.
"(Kodinsky) also makes Islam look like the source of anti-Semitism, which is not rooted in historic fact," Yaghoubian said. "This is part of a conscious effort to shift the violence and guilt of the Holocaust over to Muslims."
Muslims in the area find this class offering "upsetting," said Mona Kadah, who works as an interpreter in the medical community for Arabic families.
"We have enough Islamophobia going on," she said. "We don't need it from a reputed university. How can you link the names of prophets with terrorist groups and call it an educational class? I'm glad they canceled the class."
The class has "no place ethically or intellectually on campus," said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino.
"When we have a person (without credentials) promoting contentions that are spread by bigots, that has no place in the classroom," he said. "The content of this class is condemnable and I've made my feelings on this matter very clear to the university."