Imagine yourself as the proud parent of a Georgetown University student enrolled in a class taught by Professor John Esposito, the eminent author of more than two dozen books, Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, the founding director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, and formerly a leading consultant on Islamic issues for the Clinton State Department. What a seemingly great opportunity for your son or daughter to learn about Islam, a topic whose contemporary relevance cannot be overstated.
But alas, soon thereafter you learn that at various times in his career, Professor Esposito has: characterized Hamas, the Palestinian terror group, as a community-focused organization that, in addition to its political activism, engages in such productive activities as "cheese-making and home-based clothing manufacture"; portrayed Yasser Arafat's call for jihad as but a social initiative comparable to starting a "literacy campaign" or a "fight against AIDS"; called a fellow professor with links to the Islamic Jihad organization a "consummate professional" rather than a supporter of terror; condemned attempts to associate militant Islamist movements "with radicalism and terrorism"; and blamed American foreign policy for the September 11 al-Qaeda attacks. Imagine further how you might feel upon learning that your child's professor not only deems it unjustified to criticize Shari'a, or Islamic law, but actually minimizes the fact that those nations governed by Shari'a are, by and large, totalitarian regimes that export terrorism and rank among the world's worst offenders of human rights.
Thanks to "Campus Watch," the new Website founded by Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes, facts like those in the preceding paragraph can no longer be hidden from the public. Unafraid to state thorny but vital truths about terrorism, radical Islam, and Middle Eastern affairs, Dr. Pipes may be our country's most important commentator on these crucial issues. Under his leadership, Campus Watch is comprised of American academics who monitor and bring to public attention what is being taught in the Middle East Studies programs of our nation's colleges. Wherever there is anti-American bias, or pro-radical Islamist bias, Campus Watch will shine the light of day upon it for all to see.
Dr. Pipes points out that the vast majority of Middle East Studies professors subscribe, in varying degrees, to the Blame-America (and Israel)-First philosophy. He attributes this bias to two principal causes: First, academics seem generally to dislike America, its allies, and its foreign policy while having remarkably little to say about the dangers of militant Islamic terrorism. Second, Middle East Studies in the United States "has become the preserve of Middle Eastern Arabs who have brought their views with them." In response to this second point, one critic accuses Campus Watch of objecting to the notion that "Arabs or people of Arab descent should be allowed to study themselves." But such criticism is mere obfuscation. The concern of Campus Watch is not to regulate who is studying what, but rather to ensure that truth and not propaganda is being taught.
The Campus Watch mission is vitally important because of what Dr. Pipes calls the "extensive but subtle influence" academics have on the way America thinks about the Middle East. Because their opinions are regularly featured in the print and electronic media, they are perceived as experts with something valuable to teach us. In short, we follow their lead. Consequently, they define the parameters of what is taught in American classrooms not only at the university level, but in high schools and grade schools as well.
For instance, if their prevailing wisdom holds that radical Islam is no more menacing than Roman Catholicism or the Jehovah's Witness sect and that to suggest otherwise is evidence of religious bigotry those convictions will filter down from the minds of professors, through those of teachers at the secondary and elementary levels, and eventually into the worldview of their students. As one Campus Watch article explains, "For years, too many university specialists ignored the militant side of Islam or denied that it existed. They claimed that the extremist Islamic threat was an illusion, manufactured by bigots looking for a new villain to replace the defunct Soviet empire. Just six months before the Sept. 11 attacks, one university expert criticized the ‘terrorist industry' for scaring Americans with ‘farfetched horrible scenarios.' " Without a doubt, prior to 9-11 few Americans possessed any better understanding of radical Islam's danger than did that professor.
Another Campus Watch article reveals that even now, taxpayer dollars are subsidizing courses that teach American elementary and high-school teachers about the Middle East by assigning them the writings of such authors as Arundhati Roy (who asserts that the Taliban's sins pale in comparison to the genocidal actions of the US military in Afghanistan); Robert Fisk (who, after being stoned and nearly beaten to death by a group of young Afghans, blamed their brutality on the United States and the ill will it had cultivated abroad); Tariq Ali (who deems President Bush a violent fundamentalist in the mold of bin Laden); and Edward Said (a bitter critic of American foreign policy in the Mideast). Such a reading list virtually assures that many American teachers will fail to give their students a realistic appraisal of the dangers posed by militant Islam.
The depth of anti-American sentiment in American higher education is indeed astonishing, manifesting itself in myriad ways. Most notably, Middle East Studies professors reserve their principal criticisms not for Arab or Muslim nations, but for the US and Israel. When lecturing about the Muslim world, such instructors condemn not even the ugly concept of jihad. A Harvard professor of Islamic history, for instance, portrays jihad as "a struggle without arms." The Harvard Islamic Society's faculty adviser defines true jihad as nothing more fearsome than an effort "to do good in society."
Such attitudes are typical of nearly all North American universities. "Almost every Middle East specialist hides the truth about jihad," states one article on Campus Watch, "and almost every campus drips contempt for the US war effort." As one professor puts it, "The best way [for Americans] to begin a war on terrorism might be to look in the mirror." In other words, jihad is not terrorism, but America's response to jihad is. Professors focus almost exclusively on America's alleged transgressions, yet fail to direct their students to read what Dennis Prager calls "the hate-filled texts that are published daily throughout the Arab world, [or] the hate-filled sermons that are preached every week in the Muslim mosques in the Middle East and Iran." Thanks to Campus Watch, we know this now.
Students tend to follow the ideological lead of their professors. Thus it is hardly surprising that UCLA's Muslim student newsmagazine asserts that racism is "deeply rooted in the very foundations of American society"; and that the US military action in Afghanistan far from decimating terrorist networks succeeded only in "once again rob[bing] the world of its innocent lives." Most disturbing is that this publication is financed not by those who produce it, but by the tuition dollars of other UCLA students. Thanks to Campus Watch, now we know.
This past June at Harvard University, a faculty committee chose Muslim American Zayed Yasin, former president of the Harvard Islamic Society, to deliver one of three student orations at the commencement ceremony. Titling his talk "American Jihad," Yasin informed his audience that "jihad is not something that should make someone feel uncomfortable," but should rather be thought of as a personal struggle "to promote justice and understanding in ourselves and in our society." Though Yasin said nothing about the fact that for non-Muslims throughout history, jihad has meant war, enslavement, and slaughter, a Harvard dean called his talk a "thoughtful oration" and "a light of hope and reason in a world often darkened by distrust and conflict." We can only wonder how the listeners would have felt had they known that Yasin, like numerous other Muslim students attending American universities on student visas, had previously raised money for the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, a militant Islamic group disguised as a charity, which was closed down by President Bush. Thanks to Campus Watch, we know that now.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was recently scheduled to speak, at Concordia University in Montreal, on the topic of the current war against terrorism. But the event was cancelled when a thousand anti-Israel demonstrators staged a riot and prevented Netanyahu from even entering the campus. Similarly, in November 2000 hundreds of raucous demonstrators prevented Netanyahu from speaking at UC Berkeley. Again, thanks to Campus Watch, now we know. In fact, Daniel Pipes himself is no stranger to threatened violence. Whenever he speaks at college campuses, he needs security to protect him from those who would forcibly silence him. He faces intolerance of the ugliest nature, yet his critics accuse him of the very transgression of which they themselves are guilty.
Last month, Palestinian academic Rashid Khalidi called Campus Watch a "noxious campaign . . . intended to silence . . . perfectly legitimate criticism, by tarring it with the brush of anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism, truly loathsome charges, [revealing] the lengths that these people apparently feel impelled to go to in order to silence a true debate on campus." But if the truth be told, Campus Watch only opens the debate that Khalidi and his ilk have heretofore conspired to keep closed.
Other critics have called Pipes a "McCarthyite" who is "hostile towards Middle East Studies programs on campus." Palestinian academic Edward Said calls Pipes one of several "anti-Muslim pundits" who seek to "make sure that the ‘[Islamic] threat' is kept before our eyes, the better to excoriate Islam for terror, despotism and violence, while assuring themselves profitable consultancies, frequent TV appearances, and book contracts." Clearly, such unfounded assertions about Dr. Pipes' motives in no way address the substance of his work. Thus he asks his critics, quite legitimately, "Exactly how can we critique you in a way that's acceptable to you?" If scholars like Khalidi and Said deem it unacceptable to have their words and views publicly scrutinized and challenged, it is only more evidence that Campus Watch is performing a vital service.
John Perazzo is the author of The Myths That Divide Us: How Lies Have Poisoned American Race Relations.