Middle East studies in the News
Moderate Islam should not be ignored
by Ilan Benjamin and Tammi Rossman-Benjamin
Militant Islam poses a serious threat to the entire world. As early as 1998, the imam and religious scholar Khaleel Mohammed, an assistant professor of religion at San Diego State University, described the way in which xenophobic interpretations of the Koran are being used to legitimize the anti-Semitic and anti-Western animus of Osama bin Laden and others like him.
On April 21, Mohammed lectured at UC Santa Cruz on the Islamic view of Jews, Judaism and Israel. He was invited by a group of university faculty and members of the Santa Cruz community who wished to redress the imbalance of ideas presented on the UCSC campus.
Mohammed explained his view that the Koran itself emphasizes religious tolerance of Jews and their God-given right to the land of Israel. Centuries later, politically motivated interpretations begin to portray the Jews as "infidels" and enemies of God, and call for violence against them. These latter-day interpretations are used to rationalize the most militant forms of Islamic belief and practice today.
Professor Mohammed advocated a return of Muslims to the earlier, more tolerant Koranic traditions and concluded that there can be no peace in the Middle East until Muslims reject anti-Semitic teachings and accept the right of the Jews to a state in their ancestral homeland as specified in the Bible and the Koran.
Khaleel Mohammed is a courageous man. His critical analysis of contemporary Islam puts him at odds with most Muslims around the world. Scholars such as Mohammed are rare in the Arab world because those who dare to challenge the prevailing understanding of Islam may be targeted for assassination and must flee to the West.
And yet even in America, and especially at our universities, where it is the responsibility of scholars to analyze and often challenge deeply rooted ideas, few voices of moderate Islam are heard. In part, this is the result of money wielded by Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. As reported by Lee Kaplan in FrontPageMagazine.com (April 5), the money that Arab governments and citizens are pouring into our universities in the form of gifts and endowments is astounding — $5 million was donated to UC Berkeley's Center for Middle East Studies from two Saudi sheiks linked to funding al-Qaida; $20 million to the University of Arkansas; $11 million to Cornell; $8.1 million to Georgetown. Other recipients of Arab government largesse include UC Santa Barbara, UCLA, USC, American University, Columbia, Duke, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Princeton, Rice, Rutgers, Syracuse, Texas A&M and the University of Chicago.
But there is another reason why Mohammed's scholarship, which speaks directly to the serious threat that militant Islam poses for the entire world, is not being given the fair and objective hearing it deserves at universities around the country. In the current climate of political correctness that pervades so many of our college campuses, Mohammed's call for a return to a more tolerant and authentic Islam has, ironically, itself been labeled as a racist attack on Islam, and his important and timely message ignored.
This was the case when Mohammed came to speak at UCSC last month. Of the 10 university departments, colleges and research groups that were asked to co-sponsor Mohammed's talk, not one agreed; one explained that Mohammed was too controversial, even though all 10 academic units had previously co-sponsored numerous talks and events vilifying America and Israel. Also, in the weeks leading up to his visit, fliers announcing his talk were systematically torn down or obscured by fliers of a Muslim student group, denouncing Mohammed and disputing the legitimacy of his scholarship.
No one who keeps abreast of world events can deny the alarming rise in worldwide violence committed in the name of Islam. Whether or not one accepts Mohammed's thesis of a direct relation between distortions of the tenets of Islam and the heinous acts perpetrated in its name, at the very least his scholarship deserves to be heard, discussed and debated at our institutions of higher learning. When universities such as UCSC ignore or marginalize scholars like Mohammed, choosing instead to promote those who deny the existence of any relation between Islam and world terror, all whose tax dollars fund the university, and whose children are educated there, should speak up loudly and clearly.
Ilan Benjamin is a professor of chemistry at UC Santa Cruz. Tammi Rossman-Benjamin is a lecturer in Hebrew at UC Santa Cruz.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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