Middle East studies in the News
Veracity, Mendacity – and Islam [incl. John Esposito]
by Bruce Bawer
The recent arrival in my mail of a book entitled Islam: Critical Essays about a Political Religion has prompted a number of thoughts. Edited by Sam and Wim van Rooy and published late last year, it is a massive compendium, just under 800 pages long. It is in Dutch. (The title is actually De Islam: Kritische Essays over een Politieke Religie.) And it is richly comprehensive, with thirty-four essays on such subjects as the Islamization of Europe, Islam in India, the term "Islamophobia," jihad in Africa, dhimmitude, apostasy, the myth of Andalusia, taqiyya, Islam and the West, sharia law, Islam's "fellow travelers," Jews under Islam, Christians under Islam, Islam and women, Islam and slavery, Islam and fascism, and Islam vs. democracy.
The authors are mostly Dutch and Flemish writers with considerable expertise in their subjects, plus a sprinkling of well-known international figures as Ibn Warraq and Bat Ye'or. I have not yet read every word of the book – and given my spotty Dutch I may never do so – but one thing is absolutely clear: this is most definitely not a product of the Islamic Studies propaganda factory. It is not the sort of book, in other words, in which you would be likely to find the work of John Esposito, the king of Islamic Studies in the U.S., who is a reliable apologist for Islam and whose Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University is, in fact, funded by (and named for) his good friend and benefactor, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal of Saudi Arabia. Nor is this book the sort of soft-focus feel-good material churned out by popular writers like Karen Armstrong, who (it must be admitted) does a truly brilliant job of soft-pedaling the darker sides of Islam and emphasizing its warmly spiritual aspects, so that when you think of the religion you don't picture a jihadist lopping off somebody's head but a beautiful woman in a sensuously loose veil meditating at sundown under an olive tree while sipping coffee and nibbling on delicious figs.
No, the writers of this book are not propagandists for Islam. Instead, they are mostly generalists, journalists, independent scholars, or professors in non-Islamic disciplines who have developed an expertise in certain aspects of Islam. And they tell the truth about it. No, women are not equal under Islam. Yes, apostasy from Islam is a capital crime. No, Jews and Christians in medieval Andalusia did not live in perfect harmony with their Muslim overlords, but were systematically treated as inferiors, afforded limited rights, and subjected to a special tax. As Sam van Rooy writes in his introduction, the overarching purpose of this book is to dispel myths, dissolve naïveté, and challenge the absurd and historyless notion of Islam as a religion of peace. In short, this book is the real thing – a substantial education in the hard facts of Islam written by people who are free of the kind of institutional and ideological restraints that keep many a certified "expert" in the subject from telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about Islam.
The first of the two important points to be made here is that this book is far from alone. In the years since 9/11, while Islamic Studies professors have continued to whitewash the religion of peace, responsible-minded men and women outside of the Islamic Studies racket have taken up the job of truth-telling, publishing a number of substantial, and in some cases encyclopedic, volumes about Islam. Some of these authors have educational and professional backgrounds in areas entirely unrelated to Islam, but after the outrage of 9/11 felt driven to engage in a fast-track process of self-education about the belief system that had motivated bin Laden and his operatives. One thinks, for example, of Andrew Bostom, a physician and professor of medicine at Brown University who in the last few years has somehow found the time to produce massive, definitive books about the history of jihad and the legacy of Islamic anti-Semitism.
The second of the two important points to be made here is that while books like the van Rooys' and Bostom's do indeed exist – not only in English but in a number of major Western languages – ignorance and outright duplicity about the basic facts of Islam still reign supreme throughout the West. That insipid cliche about Islam as the religion of peace persists. An assortment of inane claims about the Koran – for example, that it forbids killing and that it prohibits compulsion in religion – persists.
And why do they persist? Because they are encouraged and promoted by Islamic Studies programs, by craven politicians, and by the mainstream media. I will never forget a TV interview I saw a couple of years ago in Norway. A Muslim woman politician told a female reporter that men and women are completely equal under Islam. The reporter smiled and nodded and went on to the next question. Or think of the 2008 lecture in which the Archbishop of Canterbury argued for sharia as an inevitable and benign addition to Western jurisprudence. And who can forget President Obama's famous June 2009 speech in Cairo celebrating Islamic history and civilization, in which nearly every sentence was either an outrageous exaggeration or an outright falsehood?
The kind of blatant untruths about Islam that President Obama served up in Cairo are cultural-elite mantras. Some of those who recycle these lies are ignorant enough to think they are true. Others know better. But they have decided that when it comes to the subject of Islam, ideology matters more than truth. "Respect for difference" matters more than truth. Such is the essence of multiculturalism. For a good multiculturalist, the ultimate virtue is not embracing the truth but looking away from it in the name of cultural sensitivity. If one encounters evil in some non-Western culture – especially Islam – one must turn a blind eye to it. And one must call day night and night day: one must equate blatantly mendacious, whitewashing cliches about Islam with seriousness, intelligence, and open-mindedness, and equate frank, unvarnished accounts of Islamic theology, history, and culture with ignorance and bigotry.
Imagine how different things could be! Imagine if politicians, academics, and mainstream journalists actually began discussing Islam in a spirit of objectivity and intellectual responsibility. Imagine if books like the van Rooys' and Bostom's were prominently and favorably reviewed, made required reading in university courses, and became the sources of common wisdom about Islam for us and for our posterity. Alas, what is really happening – even though such solid compendiums of objective information are readily available – is that all too many members of the next generation, if they are "learning" anything at all about Islam, are "learning" it from slippery propagandists like Esposito and Armstrong. This is, not to put too fine a point on it, an intellectual travesty, an educational scandal, and a cultural disaster. And it does not bode well, needless to say, for the prospects of what some of us still like to think of as the Free World.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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