Middle East studies in the News
The School of Pro-Islamic Studies
Just about every Australian university now has its Islamic studies centre, relentlessly spreading the word that Muslims are the nicest people around. If a minority of them aren't so nice (suicide blasts, beheadings) it's of course the West's fault for being mean to Muslims historically or in failing to throw enough welfare at Muslim arrivals. Griffith University even sports a centre educating journalists on how to do Islam-friendly reporting of gory Allahu-Akbar events. Sydney University's law school has a course, "Muslim Minorities and the Law", using a textbook authored by the lecturers and calling for elements of sharia law to be recognised in the mainstream legal system—including polygamy and a lower age of consent.
Victoria's Deakin University is another case in point. On June 22 it put out a 140-page study,Islamic Religiosity and Challenge of Political Engagement and National Belonging in Multicultural Western Cities. As heading of the press release explained, "Muslim faith not at odds with Western beliefs, Deakin study shows".  It elaborated:
Public debate that paints a negative picture of Muslims and Islamic religiosity is at odds with the peace-driven lens through which much of [my emphasis] the Muslim communities view their faith ... The findings challenge the dominant public commentary that portrays Islamic beliefs as a potential security problem at odds with Western norms of democracy, secularism, liberty and individual rights.
Those hundreds of bollards now protecting Melbourne and Sydney pedestrian-ways must be to thwart homicidal Buddhists.
The study found that Islamism wasn't at odds with "Western norms of democracy, secularism, liberty and individual rights". The study leader, Professor Fethi Mansouri, who also holds the UNESCO Chair on Cultural Diversity and Social Justice, wants his study to promote "solidarity and understanding not fear and loathing".
His team set out to discover if Muslims' warmth towards their host community was enhanced by their public practice of Muslim faith rituals. The surveys covered "a broad cross-section of practising Muslims in the West", namely in Melbourne, Detroit, Lyon, Grenoble and, to a minor extent, Paris.
"Muslims in the West" is a bit of a stretch. The study involved only 384 Muslims in a three-country survey and interviews, including 237 who took a questionnaire online or face-to-face. When the US Pew Research Group surveyed global Muslim opinion between 2008 and 2012, it did 38,000 face-to-face interviews in eighty languages.
Mansouri says Muslims in the West want to be "good citizens and be just, open and caring people", demonstrating a need to "reshape public discourse and policy attitudes towards Muslim communities". His study "enables a better understanding between the West and Islam that could alleviate tensions and prevent outbreaks of violence by Muslim youth who feel disenfranchised by a dominant majority culture". But why don't alienated Hindu and Aboriginal youth also go on murderous rampages?
Other jarring notes in the Mansouri symphony include:
# Those coming to Australia from a Muslim-majority nation "often produced one of three responses: assimilation, incorporation or extremism". Mansouri doesn't define what he means by "extremism"—conceivably just intense religiosity—but the term is now the official euphemism for violent Islamism.
# "Official discourses predominantly emphasise dominant images of radicalisation among youth that places all young Muslims under scrutiny. This has the effect of producing anger and outrage, which are expressed in different ways in the cities that were the focus of this project."
# 8 to 10 per cent of the Muslim respondents in Melbourne, Detroit and three French cities said they followed sharia exclusively rather than national legal codes. Some respondents conceded that their sharia observances involved practices "often thought to be incompatible with domestic laws". But really, some Melbourne Muslims said, such sharia codes were essential in "promoting ethical behaviour as well as virtuous and participatory citizenship".
The study was silent on which aspects of sharia don't fit Western laws. At the mildest end, I could nominate female subservience and polygamy. The least Western aspects of sharia and its prescribed punishments might include honour killings, hand-loppings and stonings of rape victims.
The Deakin study raises questions about its methodology. First, for the five cities, the team mustered under 100 questionnaire replies each in Melbourne and France, and forty-eight in Detroit. These included online responses, which are generally considered lower-grade material.
Second, the team did four focus groups in Melbourne of half a dozen clients each. These people were selected for Deakin by Muslim organisations. In Grenoble they did one focus group of six clients and in Detroit, none.
Third, in the five cities, the team did a total of 115 interviews, or about thirty to fifty per country. The authors can at best only describe the interviews as "semi-structured" and claim they provide "rich qualitative data" (no detail on interview questions was appendixed). As icing on the cake, the team noted "ethnographic" inputs, namely "participant observation, visual methodologies" and "photo-elicitation techniques", whatever that means.
Fourth, "Survey participants were recruited with the assistance of partner organisations in each of the three cities." These partners I assume to be the twenty-five Muslim organisations plus imams credited by the study, whose PR goals would include approbation from the broader community. In France the selectors of people to take the survey included a group called the Collectif Contre l'Islamophobie en France, and in the US, an un-named group that had set up a think-tank to combat "Islamophobia".
Fifth, the 384 Muslim respondents seem remarkably well educated. Half were graduates and another 10 per cent had professional diplomas and certificates. Only a third had secondary schooling or less. A possible explanation arises when looking at the Melbourne cohort. Of those, twenty-two out of the ninety-six had masters, doctoral or professional degrees, and thirty-seven others were graduates. So 61 per cent of Mansouri's Melbourne sample were graduates or higher (in France the proportion was 38 per cent, in Detroit 40 per cent). At least five in the Melbourne group were members of the handily-located Islamic Society of Deakin University, which provided one of the four Melbourne focus groups.
Imams were a go-to source for partners. The study involved three imams in Melbourne, five in France and four in Detroit. Other partners in Melbourne included various mosques, the Islamic Council of Victoria, the Muslim Women's Centre for Human Rights, Dandenong City Council, Hume Islamic Youth Centre and Deakin's Islamic Society.
Created in academia's Left bubble, Mansouri's study makes eighteen references to "Islamophobia". Phobias are unreal fears; fear of Muslim terror is perfectly rational, given there were thirty Islamic attacks killing 157 people in the last week of June alone.
Much of the study concerns France. We learn from Mansouri that there is "an increasing rate of ethnically-motivated crime, and more specifically a sharp spike in Islamophobic incidents, evident, for example, in the weeks following the Charlie Hebdo attacks". This sentence seems to equate Islamists with AK47s killing and wounding twenty-three Charlie Hebdo workers, and some reprisal vandalism of mosques and some shots not targeted at people. No one was hurt in any of these "Islamophobic incidents".
The day after the Brussels suicide bombings on March 22 last year, when thirty-two people dead and 300 were injured, Mansouri, interviewed by ABC Radio's Religion Report, remarked that émigré Islamists were becoming "slightly more violent". He largely blamed second-generation youth alienation because of unemployment and poor housing:
What conditions did we have that produced young people who are really easily targeted by the ISIS message and narrative? Why do we allow our schools and local organisations and leadership structures to produce failed policies which are therefore tapped into by ISIS and al Qaeda?
Yes, we are seeing right now the ugly face of terrorism in Europe. In many ways perhaps we are normalising these terrible atrocities across a number of countries, not only within a few Western urban localities.
He acknowledged that some second-generation North African youth had problems integrating:
Really the picture we paint is one of a deep sense of alienation among youth, with shrinking possibility of educational outcomes and access to the labour market. Housing is extremely sub-standard and there is fragmented leadership in the community. Historical contacts with radical Salafists from the Arabian peninsula took root in Belgium and produced a new version among émigré Islam, more conservative, more radical, and now we are finding out it is becoming slightly more violent ... Unfortunately all the emphasis has been on law enforcement and much less on social integration.
One of the Mansouri study's co-authors is Deakin's Dr Amelia Johns, who did her PhD and a book, Battle for the Flag, on the so-called Cronulla race riots of 2005. She's an authority on"whiteness" among other things. Her academic jargon made her book for me nigh on unreadable, but I did notice her reference to Mansouri's view that the root cause of Islamic terror is our own sins of imperialism and colonialism:
As Mansouri and [co-author] Marotta remind us, terms of this discussion too often involve a reduction of Islam to a religious theology that is "intrinsically fundamentalist and intolerant and as such has a tendency to support terrorism" rather than considering the "global and root causes" of political Islamism that can be traced to western Imperialism and colonial projects, among other things.
But didn't Islam have its own centuries of imperialism and colonialism via the Saudis, Iranians and Turks?
As a lad I was immersed in the wartime tales of the French Resistance, so I was surprised to find via Mansouri's study that bearded Muslim men and hijab-wearing ladies now hold high the resistance banner:
In the French context, especially among the 18–24-year-old cohort, non-obligatory practices, such as wearing the hijab, a beard, or specific types of clothing, took on extra significance as visible signs of resistance to secular state policies and the Islamophobic gaze.
One of the twenty-five organisations involved with the Deakin study was the Collectif Contre l'Islamophobie en France. It has an "Islamophobia Observatory" monitoring anything offensive said or done against Muslims, as fodder for complaint and legal redress. The Observatory director is Abdallah Zekri, a prominent public figure with influence stretching to President Emmanuel Macron. But M. Zekri is not a shining example of the nice Muslims hailed by Deakin's Mansouri. Zekri expresses his contempt for integration and assimilation in France, and his primary loyalty to his native Algeria. On Al Janoubiya TV, he says social integration has failed because the government hasn't provided enough jobs and housing, and assimilation is a far worse option that destroys Muslims' original cultures and civilisations. Not mincing words, Zekri says, "I am not assimilable. I am a Muslim poison. If you want to assimilate me, whoever wants to assimilate me, if he eats me he dies."
One can sympathise with the study's travails in Detroit, the largest US city by Muslim population, with fifty mosques. The Detroit study could get only forty-eight survey responses and thirty-three interviews, making the exercise pretty useless.
The Muslim supporters in Detroit of the various factions in Syria were at daggers drawn (I hope not literally). African-American Muslim converts in the Nation of Islam further complicated the inter-suburban strife. "Participants noted that the community had to be vigilant," the report says guardedly.
The subjects were also traumatised by the corruption, racketeering and criminality of ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, an African-American Democrat. He stole millions while the city collapsed into bankruptcy. Kilpatrick is now doing twenty-eight years in prison.
The study illustrates the leftist bubble in which academics recycle popular myths. Mansouri writes, "President-elect Donald Trump has attempted to legislate a ban on Muslim immigration to USA." The facts are that Trump has sought only a ninety-day ban on arrivals from seven terror-prone countries while "extreme vetting" procedures are put in place against likely terrorists. The Trump proposal was country-specific, not Muslim-specific. I assume Mansouri will issue an appropriate correction.
The study also worked hard—without much success—to elicit tales of Aussie racism against Muslims in Melbourne. A twenty-two-year-old Dandenong woman called Saba, a Hazara from Afghanistan, encountered serious racism and bullying but said it was entirely from earlier-arriving ethnic groups. Aida, a Pashtun with a Dandenong market stall, laughed off a crass Aussie woman's insult—"Aida's overall positive experience of the Dandenong community enabled her to brush off incidents like these". One fifty-year-old Ghana-born man in Melbourne was chuffed that in his workplace there was a "well-being" room for himself—"I'm the only one"—that he uses for his prayers. The other workers took care not to schedule meetings that clashed with his prayer times.
The unstated issue in the study is, "Whose version of Islam is most authentic?" Mansouri picks the nicest version to Western ears. But the official version for the 75 million people of Iran, for example, is the late Ayatollah Khomeini's. As long ago as 1942, he wrote:
Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those who say this are witless. Islam says: Kill the unbelievers just as they would kill you all! ... Islam says: Kill them, put them to the sword! ... Islam says: Kill in the service of Allah those who may want to kill you! ... Islam says: Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to Paradise, which can be opened only for Holy Warriors!
Mansouri's report highlights one Muslim respondent saying that vested interests in the anti-Muslim industry had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, "by frightening people about Muslims and immigration and takeovers and creeping sharia and all those things". I note that this study scored at least $280,000 in Research Council grants and Mansouri's profile shows a career total of $2.2m in grants.
Tony Thomas's book of Quadrant essays, That's Debatable: 60 Years in Print, is available from the publisher, Connor Court.
 Centre for Muslim States and Societies. As a quick sample I googled UWA and got, "The Centre for Muslim States and Societies conducts research to provide a better understanding of the beliefs and practices of Muslim states and communities in the Indian Ocean region." The Centre for Middle East & North African Studies (CMENAS) at Macquarie University "was established as an alternative voice on matters related to the Middle East and North Africa. In the last two decades members of the Centre have intervened in numerous public discussions too often dominated by stereotypes, misrepresentations and ignorance towards the Middle East and North Africa, and prejudice against the various groups of people from this large region of the world."
 For example, "We need to be very responsible in the way in which we cover stories of certain individuals engaging in criminal activities."
 "Survey participants were recruited with the assistance of partner organisations in each of the three cities."
 The German Federal Employment Agency reports that 74 per cent of the 297,000 migrants who were registered as at June have no job qualifications or professional training at all, reports Die Welt. Nearly 40% had no secondary schooling.
 Johns is referring to Muslims in the West and the Challenges of Belonging, by Fethi Mansouri and Vince Marot. The MUP blurb reads, "Sensational reporting by the media has led to attitudes that racialise Muslims and frame them as potential threats to national security, placing them outside the circle of trustworthy citizenship...Muslims in the West and the Challenges of Belonging offers not only rigourous (sic) accounts of current difficulties, but also new thinking and deeper understanding about race relations and intercultural engagement in multicultural societies."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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