Middle East studies in the News
Centers for Islamic Studies: A Cold-War-Style Influence Operation? [incl. John Esposito]
by Oleg Atbashian
The launch of a new Center for Global Islamic Studies at the extremely leftist University of Florida in Gainesville may have been planned as a purely academic affair, but the announcements in the local and national media, including AP and Fox News, exhibited more than a purely academic interest in this event. To compare, one doesn't often see national media announcements about, let's say, a local center for the study of viruses — unless the virus is Ebola. And just like with any news about Ebola studies, any news about studies of Islam attracts attention from the general public, who want to know if there's a hope for the cure, containment, and safety from danger.
Unfortunately, these may not be the kind of Islamic Studies that answer those hopes. The Center opened on September 18th with a conference on "Global Islam and the Quest for Public Space," headlined by none other than Georgetown professor John Esposito, a known apologist for radical Islam and founding director of the Saudi-sponsored Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.
A small group of protesters picketed the event outside the Pugh Hall on the university campus, with a dozen creative posters and a vinyl banner pointing out that John Esposito and the leader of ISIS both hold PhDs in Islamic Studies: "Same goal, different tactics." The video of the protest can be seen online.
The protest organizer, Randy McDaniels of ACT for America and the Counter-Terrorism Advisory Group, stated that our students certainly need to study Islam, as long as such studies are based on scientific objectivity and critical analysis. But the presence of John Esposito as the keynote speaker indicated that the new Global Islamic Studies Center was likely to go the way of many other universities, opening their doors and exposing our children to political Islam under the guise of education, with programs funded by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other state sponsors of Islamic fundamentalism.
While many among the leftist faculty and the students were visibly upset with the protest, complete with occasional angry obscenities, a few others were interested in the message and asked for a flyer. Some of them asked, "What's wrong with having an Islamic Studies Center, even if it's financed by foreign money?"
The short answer would have been to compare such a project to active measures undertaken in America by the KGB during the Cold War — except that, unfortunately, most American students aren't familiar with this term. Their knowledge of the Cold War has been thoroughly sanitized by the leftist faculty, especially if the professors are Marxists who used to root for the other side. The resulting perceived absence of the Soviet subversion, propaganda, disinformation, and other influence operations inside the U.S. and around the world creates the impression of an ideologically neutral world, in which America's response to protect liberty can very easily be misconstrued as imperialist aggression against the innocent.
Ignorance about the enemy leads to confusion about one's own nation's role in the world, regardless of the historical era or the current adversary. Whether we admit it or not, we are now in a new global conflict that has many parallels with the Cold War; it is often fought by similar means and sometimes even by the same actors.
Now, just as it was then, we're up against a supremacist collectivist ideology whose goal is to establish a totalitarian utopian society on a global scale. The two deadly pipe dreams — global communism and the global caliphate — may have their differences, but in practical terms they both view the United States as the main obstacle in their quest of world domination. There is no reason why one can't learn from the other's vast experience in subverting this country.
Both foes have made claims that they stand for peace. The problem is that Marxists understand peace as the absence of opposition to socialism, just as the Islamist supremacists understand peace as the absence of opposition to Islam. Eventual peace will theoretically ensue once they subjugate the rest of the world to their totalitarian rule.
In both cases, tolerance is a one-way street: everyone must be tolerant of their "superior" views, while they retain the right to self-righteous intolerance of the "inferiors." Both ideologies generate a variety of wild-eyed conspiracy theories as a means to retain loyalty, boost morale, recruit new members, and demoralize their opponents.
The Soviets didn't necessarily hate Americans or wanted to kill them off; they only wanted to "convert" our economic and political system for our own good. Likewise, the Islamists feel morally justified: they don't view terrorism as the murder of innocents, but rather as a collective punishment for being foolish in resisting Islam. This makes mass murder a moral virtue, absolving them of all sins and encouraging them to keep punishing us, "the inferior fools," until we see the light and either convert or accept their supremacy. They'd rather convert than kill, so if we force their hand, it's "our own fault."
Now, just as it was then, the U.S. is being drawn into fighting regional proxy wars while maintaining a semblance of dialogue with the main instigator, who remains visibly uninvolved but is pulling the strings of a vast network of loosely affiliated non-governmental groups, from registered non-profits to armed gangs of cutthroats. The seeming lack of affiliations, in both cases, is usually a cover for a centralized, coordinated effort.
Cold War spy thrillers may show some exciting action, but the fact is that espionage wasn't even the main focus of the KGB operations in the U.S. According to retired KGB Maj. Gen. Oleg Kalugin, the heart and soul of Soviet intelligence was "not intelligence collection, but subversion: active measures to weaken the West."
The KGB maintained an extensive, sophisticated network of agents in the media, academia, government, and the cultural establishment. Acting on strategies designed in Moscow, they led a relentless, coordinated attack on this country's institutions, often quite effectively demoralizing the population, undermining people's confidence in America's political and economic systems, spreading rumors, falsehoods, and conspiracy theories, influencing politicians, swaying public opinion, promoting some public figures and discrediting others, creating a positive image of the USSR, and so on.
Fast forward to the fall of the USSR. What happened to these strategies, this system, its networks, and its methods? Did they just disappear? Not really. The KGB was never dismantled; it was renamed into FSB and one of its former lieutenant colonels, Vladimir Putin, is now running the country, using the old KGB network just as effectively to spread disinformation and to promote his imperial agenda.
Even more disturbingly, this system has now replicated itself, producing an even more dangerous and aggressive clone.
In 1960, the Soviet government had set up the so-called Patrice Lumumba People's Friendship University in Moscow, offering free higher education to students from the Third World, many of them from Muslim countries. In addition to regular student curriculum, the goal was to train and recruit agents who would then spread the ideas of Marxism in their home countries, and if possible, conduct active measures designed by their Moscow handlers.
To be exact, the university received its African name in 1961. Patrice Lumumba was a pro-Soviet Congolese prime minister who earlier that year was removed from power in a coup d'état and shot by a firing squad. The international Left quickly made Lumumba into a martyr of anti-imperialist struggle; what they won't mention is that the coup and the execution were a drastic response to Lumumba's plans of bringing the Soviet troops to the Congo and potentially staging a major military conflict in Africa, similar to the wars that the USSR fought in Korea, Vietnam, and later in Afghanistan. In this regard, the school's name was rather symbolic.
According to KGB Major Vasili Mitrokhin, who defected to the West, "The University's first vice-rector and a number of its staff were KGB officers who used the student body as a recruiting ground for Third World agents." The students were trained in the art of propaganda, infiltration, and influence operations. More specialized training, such as terrorist activities, was provided at locations in Baku, Odessa, Simferopol, and Tashkent.
Carlos the Jackal, the notorious Marxist terrorist from Venezuela, who joined Palestinian terrorists and later converted to Islam, was one of the graduates, even though the school insists that he was expelled. A BBC News article titled Carlos the Jackal — three decades of crime puts it this way:
Grand Ayatollah and the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, is listed among notable graduates on the University's Wikipedia page, although he vehemently denies it. Another graduate is Timoleón Jiménez, the leader of FARC — a communist guerrilla army in Colombia, which is funded by drugs, kidnappings and extortion.
Other notables include the President of Honduras, the President of Namibia, the President of the Central African Republic, a former President of Guyana, a former Jamaican MP, a leader of the Sudanese Socialist Democratic Union, and — of all people — Anna Chapman, a Russian intelligence officer.
Most importantly, the list of graduates includes today's Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Chairman of the PLO and President of the Palestinian National Authority, who received his Ph.D. in Moscow in 1982 after completing a thesis partly based on Holocaust denial.
In a 2004 interview with FrontPage Magazine, Ion Mihai Pacepa, former acting chief of Communist Romania's espionage service, described the KGB role in setting up terrorist networks around the world and particularly in the Middle East, as well as persuading Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi to join the terrorist war against the US, with the added benefit of using Iraq's and Libya's huge intelligence services that were being run by the KGB advisers and extended their tentacles to every corner of the earth.
"In 1964 the first PLO Council, consisting of 422 Palestinian representatives handpicked by the KGB, approved the Palestinian National Charter — a document that had been drafted in Moscow," Pacepa continues.
The entire story of the Palestinian "liberation," which has provoked a tidal wave of global Islamic extremism, has recognizable marks of a manufactured influence operation. That includes media coverage in the Western press, which regurgitates regularly produced and coordinated disinformation. A lot of this dirty work was done initially by the Middle Eastern graduates of Patrice Lumumba People's Friendship University in Moscow, many of whom are still active in the field.
The school still functions today, having dropped Lumumba from its name and calling itself The Peoples' Friendship University of Russia. Its page claims that as of now, more than 97,000 of its graduates work in approximately 170 countries around the world.
Granted, not all of the graduating engineers, doctors, or agricultural experts have become KGB agents or even Marxists, but how many of them have? Even a small percentage of the total 97,000 means that thousands of agents with the knowledge of propaganda, infiltration and influence operations are currently active in the world today, particularly in the Middle East. If in the past some Muslim students may have embraced Marxism, they no longer do now. Even Carlos the Jackal has now converted to Islam. Today's Next Big Thing is the Muslim Brotherhood, and that's where all the action is.
The astounding sophistication and effectiveness of the Muslim Brotherhood in setting up networks of various front groups, infiltrating the Western establishment, spreading disinformation, swaying public opinion, promoting some public figures and discrediting others, creating a positive image of their ideology, and other influence operations are the evidence that the thousands of trained experts in these fields didn't just disappear. Even if they aren't being run from Moscow today (some may still be), they are still using their knowledge and skills, as well as teaching a new generation of Islamic supremacists the intricacies of active measures. If the methods and techniques are effective, they don't get abandoned.
Given the history, what are the chances that the new Center for Global Islamic Studies at the Florida University, "christened" by a Saudi-financed, PLO-loving Georgetown professor, won't be turned into yet another center for the Muslim Brotherhood's influence operations on American soil?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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