Northeastern University professor Shahid Alam has aroused controversy this week by likening the 9/11 killers to the Founding Fathers. After recounting some details of the establishment of "a sovereign but slave-holding republic, the United States of America," Alam declared: "On September 11, 2001, nineteen Arab hijackers too demonstrated their willingness to die – and to kill – for their dream. They died so that their people might live, free and in dignity."
Alam's words were published widely on the Internet. When challenged by an email, Alam replied with an anti-Semitic sneer: "Why is it that the only hateful mail I have received is signed by Levitt, Hoch or Freedman?"
Then Alam published a follow-up piece in Counterpunch, "The Waves of Hate: Testing Free Speech in America." In it, he portrayed himself as a heroically misunderstood figure, testing the limits of free speech in Amerikkka while "hate websites" (he named my jihad news and commentary site, www.jihadwatch.org, and the popular Little Green Footballs, among others) pestered him with "orchestrated attacks--many of them death threats..."
As for "orchestrated attacks," Professor Alam would have a hard time finding a conductor, much less an orchestra, with any connection to Jihad Watch. Nor is he the first Muslim to accuse someone who quoted him of "hate" simply for the act of reporting what he actually said.
Of course, in his second piece Alam pointed out that he had drawn distinctions between the colonists and the jihadists: "the parallels are not exact. The colonists did not deliberately target civilians; the nineteen hijackers did." But of course then came the qualifiers: "In their war of independence, the Americans may not have targeted civilians, but they did commit atrocities, and they did inflict collateral damage on civilians." And of course there was that little matter of the American Indians.
Alam seemed surprised that people would take exception to his analogy: "I have since been wondering why my suggestion that al-Qaeda--like the American colonists before them--was leading an Islamic insurgency has provoked such a storm of vicious attacks."
After retailing some of the differences, he complains: "But this cannot obscure the fact that both were insurgencies, even though al-Qaeda for now uses different methods. I might add, more abhorrent methods. But this is not the first time that insurgents have used such methods. The Zionists did so against the British and more massively against the Palestinians; several of them went on to lead Israel. So did the Irish, the Algerians and South Africans. Nelson Mandela, once jailed as a terrorist, is now the greatest world statesman."
But of course, none of that, despite Alam's showy bewilderment, made his comparison contemptible. What did, in case anyone missed it, was his utter lack of a moral compass. Of course, Alam, being a good Saidist, would probably dismiss as "Orientalist" any suggestion that the jihadist imperative is morally flawed, or, if he imbibes the fashionable relativism of the academy, would deny that it can be judged at all.
But in the real world we know how to distinguish Jesus from Hitler, and the Sharia from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Alam's assumption that an Al-Qaeda victory would bring freedom and unity to the Islamic world assumes a society that consigns women and non-Muslims to all manner of misery, and puts a straitjacket on free inquiry, freedom of conscience, and the human soul.
Al-Qaeda and the rest see the implementation of Sharia as the goal of their striving, which in itself places them on the other side of the moral divide from the men who fought and died to secure "liberty and justice for all," however imperfectly these principles were applied after their victory. Yes, Professor, Al-Qaeda is fighting for freedom as they see it. So were the Nazis, striving to free Germany from the so-called "Jewish threat" and the encirclement of hostile powers. But someone who wrote in 1938 about the Nazis' returning dignity to the German people would have deserved the condemnation of free men, just as Shahid Alam deserves that condemnation now.
Should he be hounded and threatened? Of course not. I would like to see a return of moral sensibility to the academy, so that his case would be examined just as Nazi sympathizers were scrutinized in the 1930s. But in the meantime, let him talk. The more he does, the more I hope he will help awaken Americans to what we have allowed to happen to American universities, and what we are up against in general.