Smearing critics: Jonathan Brown

He occupies an influential position at Georgetown University, from which – as we’ve seen this week – he defends Muslims who own slaves, champions old Muslim men who marry little girls, and spews double-talk in an effort to cover up Islam’s unequivocal view of homosexuality as a capital crime. For years he’s routinely expressed opinions that would have gotten a non-Muslim fired from almost any major university in the United States. And nobody has stood up to him.

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Robert Spencer

Well, almost nobody. In fact, Robert Spencer, the author of several books about Islam, has repeatedly challenged Jonathan A.C. Brown‘s systematic lies. On January 30, Brown responded to Spencer’s critiques in a lecture at Gonzaga University, offering to debate Spencer anytime and claiming that he would “mop the floor with” Spencer. Spencer promptly accepted the offer via Twitter. Instead of trying to arrange a time and place, Brown replied with a personal insult: “my God you’re ugly.” At this writing, Brown has yet to issue a serious response to Spencer.

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Laila Al-Arian

Andrew Harrod, a writer for the Campus Watch website, attended the lecture with which we began this week – the one in which Brown whitewashed Islamic slavery. Or, in fact, he had tried to attend the lecture. In the article he wrote afterwards, Harrod reported that Brown had first observed him, Harrod, in the audience while preparing for the lecture with a fellow professor and “two veiled…assistants.” “Brown,” wrote Harrod, “became visibly irritated” on seeing him. Harrod had covered previous talks by Brown, and Brown has responded to Harrod’s criticism by calling his articles “stupid.” Brown slammed Harrod’s pieces and asked him if he intended to avail himself of the refreshments offered at the event. Brown’s colleague then asked Harrod to leave – a perfect illustration, argued Harrod, “of how he and his fellow Islamism apologists handle opposing views.”

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Sami Al-Arian

One last thing about Brown. He’s married to Laila Al-Arian, a producer for Al Jazeera television and the daughter of Sami Al-Arian, a former professor at the University of South Florida who was held in house arrest and then deported to Turkey in 2015 for aiding members of the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Al-Arian is definitely a figure worthy of attention by this website; but we’ll have to get around to him on another day.

Whitewashing gay murder: Jonathan Brown

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Jonathan A.C. Brown

We’ve heard Jonathan A.C. Brown, a convert to Islam and professor at Georgetown University, defend Islamic slavery and Islamic child marriage. What does he have to say about homosexuality? This is a tough one: for an American academic in the twenty-first century, openly opposing homosexuality is simply not tenable. But for a Muslim, it is the only view that is acceptable by God.

In one talk, he approached the subject this way: unlike their Christian counterparts, he insisted, Muslim scholars don’t see same-sex attraction as “unnatural.” In fact, they don’t judge attractions at all. No, they just judge actions – they rule on what people do, not what they feel. And, yes, under Islam “a specific act is wrong.” Which act? Why, the “act of Lut.” (Christians know him as Lot.) In other words, sexual intercourse between males. Under Islam, he acknowledged, that’s a “sin.” But he was quick to add that Muslim judges, out of the goodness of their hearts, strive to “err in mercy” rather than to “err in severity.” Which is to say that they strive to let offenders off in cases of insufficient evidence – strive to grasp onto whatever “ambiguities” they can find. “It’s almost like don’t ask, don’t tell,” he said. If you can keep it behind closed doors, you’ll probably get away with it. Of course, this claim is sheer nonsense, and by making it Brown is dropping down the memory hole countless amply documented cases of young men being hanged or stoned or thrown from the roofs of buildings for the crime of homosexuality.

Brown actually was invited to write about homosexuality for Variety, the Hollywood trade paper. After same-sex marriage became the law of the land in 2015, Variety published a special issue on the subject, containing dozens of articles and interviews. Brown was their Muslim authority. His contribution was a masterpiece of evasion, which danced around the topic at length before concluding with the following paragraph:

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Islamic tolerance for homosexuality

The issue of gay marriage in America is a tough one for Muslims. On one hand, it’s nigh impossible to construct an argument by which sexual contact between men, let alone anal sex, is considered permissible in God’s eyes. On the other hand, attempts to ban the Shariah in the U.S. threaten Muslims’ ability to have their own marriage contracts. Like gays, they want to be able to define marriage free from majoritarian cultural biases. So many Muslims are willing to support the rights of other Americans to shape marriage according to their particular beliefs. Muslims expect their beliefs and relationships to be respected in return.

As one reader commented: “That last paragraph made little sense. Are Muslims against homosexuality or are they not?” Another knew the answer: “Nice snow job.” A third asked: “Why is Variety running muslim [sic] propaganda?” And a fourth spelled out the facts: “The intellectual dishonesty of this article is just staggering. Why is this Muslim cleric [sic] not openly explaining that homosexuality is punishable by death according to the respective scholars of all sects in Islam?”

Why, you might ask, hasn’t anybody who knows the truth about Islam publicly taken on Jonathan Brown’s claptrap? Actually, somebody has. Or has tried to. We’ll wind up with that story tomorrow.

Championing child rape: Jonathan Brown

Jonathan A.C. Brown is a Muslim convert, a professor at Georgetown University, and a man who has made it his business to “explain” Islam – and, in particular, to justify some of its least justifiable aspects – not just to his students but to audiences around the world. During the last couple of days, for instance, we’ve looked at a 90-minute lecture he gave recently on Islamic slavery, an institution that he defended in a breathtakingly mendacious manner.

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Jonathan A.C. Brown

Brown has praised Muhammed ardently. “He was the best person in every situation,” Brown has said. “Jesus is always kind and forgiving. But sometimes you can’t be forgiving. You shouldn’t be; sometimes you have to be soft and sweet and sometimes you have to be direct and harsh; sometimes you have to be patient and at other times you have to act quickly. There isn’t always one rule that you can apply to your life that will tell you how to act. You have to be able to read the situation and act in the best way. The Prophet knew how to do that; that is inspirational.”

Brown opened one lecture about Muhammed by saying how much he hated having to expose Muslim audiences to negative Western characterizations of him – some attitude for a man who professes to be an educator. Brown reported, as if it were an objective historical fact, that a tree stump on which Muhammed supposedly sat while teaching his followers later made whimpering noises because it longed for Muhammed’s presence.

A quick search on You Tube takes us to other, briefer presentations about Muhammed. In one of them, he is asked by an audience member about Muhammed’s “marriage” to a six-year-old girl named Aisha – a marriage that was “consummated” when Muhammed was 53 and Aisha was nine.

Brown’s response to the questioner began in a curious way. “You seem agitated by this,” he said. “What makes you uncomfortable about it?” Brown made it clear that nothing about the matter made him uneasy. And until just a century or so ago, he argued, nobody else was bothered by it either. During Muhammed’s lifetime and for generations thereafter, a lot of non-Muslims criticized Islam and its founder on a great variety of grounds, sometimes making things up, sometimes focusing on actual details of his life. “His sex life was target numero uno,” Brown said. Infidels pointed to Muhammed’s polygamy and his marriage to his own daughter-in-law. But, according to Brown, nobody attacked him for marrying a little girl. Not until 1905 did one critic mention it, rather mildly and tentatively. Why? Because in pre-modern peasant societies, explained Brown, “everyone” married underage girls. People had sex drives and they acted on them.

koran“If you’re just living in a desert and you’re tending goats all day” and you have a normal sex drive,” asked Brown rhetorically, “why in God’s name would you not get married?” To suggest that an aging medieval goatherd should not marry a girl young enough to be his granddaughter, charged Brown, is “anachronistic” – we’re judging Muhammed by the standards of our own day. The problem here, of course, is that Brown wasn’t just trying to contextualize behavior that to us, in the year 2017, seems deeply immoral; he was exalting the actions of a man whom his own religion holds up as an example of human perfection, and suggesting that the problem lies not in that man’s conduct but in the so-called moral standards of our time. When viewed through the eyes of Allah, in short, Muhammed’s intercourse with Aisha is no crime but an act of great virtue – and if we can’t see it that way, the flaw lies in us, not in the Prophet.

And this, folks, is what they’re teaching at Georgetown University – which, don’t forget, is a Roman Catholic institution.

More of this tomorrow.

Praising slavery at Georgetown

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Prince Alwaleed bin Talal

During the last couple of weeks we’ve been looking at a bunch of Columbia University professors who’ve specialized in downplaying jihad, apologizing for the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and demonizing Israel and Western civilization. But Columbia isn’t alone. Georgetown University is one of America’s leading centers of Islamic studies. The campus boasts the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, founded in 1993 when the university accepted a $20 million from the eponymous prince, a member of the Saudi royal family. The prince himself personally picked out the Center’s first director, John Esposito, a longtime Saudi flunky, Islamic apologist, and author of several books, including The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? The book’s argument was that Islam represented no threat whatsoever to the West, and that those who maintained otherwise were bigots and fearmongers. The book came out two years before 9/11.

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John Esposito

Esposito is no longer director of the Center. It’s now headed up by one Jonathan A.C. Brown. In addition to running the Center, Brown holds a faculty position in Georgetown’s separate Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies (whose faculty includes several people who seem likely candidates for later attention by this site). Brown made headlines recently for a statement that deserves to be recorded here.

Brown, who is 39, is a born and bred American. Raised in Washington, D.C., he converted from Christianity to Islam in 1997. In addition to his position at the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies, he’s a professor at Georgetown’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and Chair of Islamic Civilization. He is also the author of several books and the editor-in-chief of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Law. In short, a leading figure in his profession, certified and credentialed by one of the top universities in the country. What Brown says about Islam, then, should not be viewed as coming from a marginal individual in the field.(He’s even been identified, from time to time, as “Sheikh Jonathan Brown.”)

Which brings us to a 90-minute lecture that Brown gave recently at the International Institute of Islamic Thought in Herndon, Virginia. The lecture was entitled “Islam and the Problem of Slavery,” and Brown prefaced it by saying that, given the sensitivity of the issue, he was reading from a written text and not speaking off the cuff, because when he does the latter, he can engage in hyperbole which “makes sense within the context” but when reported on in print can sound disturbing and spark criticism. Yet the lecture, as it turned out, sparked a great deal of criticism – and with good reason. The whole thing, which can be viewed here and read here, was a first-class example of sophistry and logic-chopping.

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Jonathan A.C. Brown

Asking himself “Is there slavery in Islam?”, Brown responded by saying that it’s hard to “pin down what we mean by slavery.” He took his audience on an imaginary tour to a prosperous Mecca home in the 1400s, where members of the family were luxuriating together in a comfortable room. One man served them tea; meanwhile, another was being struck by the master of the house. The man serving tea, Brown explained, was technically a slave, but he was the same skin color as his masters (a detail on which Brown places great emphasis), and was gradually buying his freedom back from his master. The man being struck by the master, meanwhile, was the master’s son, whom the slave pitied because he, unlike the slave, would never be able to buy his freedom.

Brown went on to contrast this supposedly benign kind of slavery with a much harsher image: “a crew of dark-skinned youths clearing brush in the hot sun, their legs shackled and all joined by chains. A light skinned man watches over them with a weapon in hand.” What are we looking at? Brown explained: Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio overseeing and a “chain gang” of “juvenile delinquents.” This, Brown argued, is far worse than Islamic slavery.

More tomorrow.

Joseph Massad: betraying gays

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Joseph Massad

We’ve been discussing Joseph Massad, yet another Columbia University professor whose “teaching” consists largely of spreading Jew-hatred, spouting contempt for the West, and whitewashing the history of Islam. In these regards, he’s of a piece with his colleagues Hamid Dabashi and Gil Anidjar, whose careers we’ve already looked at. But Massad has one attribute that makes him stand out amidst his fellow propagandists in Columbia’s Middle Eastern Studies department: he’s gay. Now, you might think that as a gay man he would appreciate the freedom that gay people enjoy in the Western world and would look upon Islamic culture, with its harsh treatment of gay people, more critically than men like Dabashi and Anidjar.

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James Kirchick

Nope. Massad first laid it all out in a 2002 article, “Re-Orienting Desire: The Gay International and the Arab World,” and then elaborated on it in a 2007 book, Desiring Arabs. Now try to follow this: as Massad sees it, homosexuality exists in all cultures, but gay identity is a Western construct, and campaigns for gay rights in Islamic countries are therefore acts of colonialism. As James Kirchick put it in 2007, Massad views “the case for gay rights in the Middle East [as] an elaborate scheme hatched by activists in the West.” The efforts of those gay activists (whom Massad dubs the “Gay International”) to bring gay rights to the Muslim world are, in his view, not benign but malignant – just one more aspect of the American and Israeli effort to crush Muslim culture, Muslim values, and Muslim morality. “Massad’s intellectual project,” comments Kirckick, “is a not-so-tacit apology for the oppression of people who identify openly as homosexual. In so doing, he sides with Islamist regimes over Islamic liberals.”

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Two of the 52 men arrested on the Nile party boat

Nor is Massad’s position purely theoretical. In 2011, when Egyptian police arrested 52 gay men on a party boat on the Nile and then proceeded to torture and shame them, parading them in public and showing them on television, Massad sided with the authorities, dismissing the 52 men as “westernized” persons who got what they had coming to them because of their fraternization with gay Western tourists. For Massad, the 52 men, being Egyptian, couldn’t really be gay, even though many of them explicitly said they were; in Massad’s lexicon, they were “gay-identified” – meaning that they identified not with their own culture, and with the categories that are a natural part of that culture, but with the colonialist Western enemy.

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Tom Lantos

Massad also condemned the U.S. congressmen Barney Frank and Tom Lantos, who threatened to stop U.S. aid to Egypt unless the 52 men were set free. Massad defended his position in the following way: “It is not the same-sex sexual practices that are being repressed by the Egyptian police but rather the sociopolitical identification of these practices with the Western identity of gayness and the publicness that these gay-identified men seek.”

One of the 52 men described their arrest as “our Stonewall,” a reference to the 1969 riot in New York’s Greenwich Village that is generally viewed as marking the beginning of the modern gay-rights movement. But Massad rejected this claim, saying that while the Stonewall rioters saw themselves as gay, the 52 Egyptian men did “not seek publicity for their alleged homosexuality, they resisted the very publicity of the events by the media by covering their faces in order to hide from the cameras and from hysterical public scrutiny.” As Kirchick observed, “Massad does not pause to consider that perhaps the reason why these men covered their faces was because of the brutal consequences they would endure if their identities became public, repercussions far worse than anything the rioters at Stonewall experienced.” Massad further maintains that very few Arabs who have sex with other men think of themselves as “gay” or support the idea of gay rights.

massadbokIndeed, as Kirchick underscores, all 418 pages of Desiring Arabs are predicated on this claim. But Massad offers no evidence to support it; he doesn’t take into account that to openly identify as gay or engage in gay activism in much of the Arab world would be to risk instant death; and he ignores evidence such as that presented in a 2002 article by Yossi Klein Halevi, who had interviewed a number of young Palestinian men who lived in Tel Aviv. All of the men engaged in same-sex activity, all identified as gay, and all had fled from Gaza or the West Bank, where they stood a very good chance of being imprisoned or murdered by their own families or friends, in order to be able to live in the safety of Israel.

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Martin Kramer

If you think a man who holds such repulsive positions should not be on the faculty of Columbia in the first place, the fact is that he has come close to getting fired. Accused in 2004 of harassing pro-Israel students, he was exonerated by a faculty committee, although its “findings” were widely viewed as a whitewash. When he was up for tenure in 2009, a battle ensued. Fellow Middle East scholar Martin Kramer wrote that “Massad does Columbia no credit”; after Columbia President Lee Bollinger signed off on Massad’s tenure, the New York Daily News called on the university’s trustees to block tenure. Jacob Gershman wrote in the New York Post that “Columbia’s trustees must decide: Do they attempt to clean up after Bollinger and stop this absurdity—or do they confer academic legitimacy on Massad’s ideas and agenda? Hesitant to insert themselves in an academic matter, the trustees would be wise to consider the consequences of silence.”

Gil Anidjar, serial liar

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Gil Anidjar

Yesterday we met Gil Anidjar, a professor at Columbia University who’s famous for his so-called “Hate” course. In 2005, Hugh Fitzgerald wrote that the “Hate” course was about two things. First, Europe’s creation of “the Other” in two forms, Arab and Jew. Second, Europe’s persecution of “inoffensive Arabs” and Jews, which, in Anidjar’s view, is the root cause of all current tensions between those two groups. “In other words,” wrote Fitzgerald, “Jew and Arab are equally victims – not of each other, except insofar as each ‘creates’ the other in imitation of the ur-villain Europe, that has ‘created’ both Jew and Arab as the enemy. In Gil Anidjar’s world, European history is replete with hatred – equal hatred – and persecution – equal persecution – of the Jew and of the Arab. This equality in suffering is central to his world view.”

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Columbia University

As Fitzgerald pointed out, the only problem with Anidjar’s concept of Jews and Arabs as equal victims of European prejudice is outrageously ahistorical. The Jews, a non-violent people, were in fact unfair victims, subjected to more than a millennium of hatred and oppression while trying to live peaceful lives in the midst of European societies. By contrast, the Arabs, “or rather the Muslims,” were an outside force, an enemy, that persisted in waging war against Europe “until finally Muslim power came to an end in 1492” in Iberia and 1683 in the Balkans.

Fitzgerald reminds us, moreover, that “for a thousand years, Arab raiders went up and down the coasts, not only on the Mediterranean, but as far north as Ireland and Iceland, and razed and looted whole villages, and kidnapped…about 1 million white Europeans (and killed many more) who were taken back to North Africa, enslaved, and forcibly converted.” Jews did no such things, needless to say.

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Ramallah, West Bank

Fitzgerald writes that Anidjar “fails to understand the threat that Muslims continued to pose, for roughly a thousand years, through these raiding and slaving expeditions,” all of them “impelled by the doctrine of jihad-conquest that is in Qur’an, hadith, and sira.” During those thousand-odd years, while Muslims were aggressors, Jews were universally victims of aggression. In Europe, they were tormented and oppressed by Christians; in the Maghreb and the Levant, including their own Holy Land, Muslim armies conquered Jewish communities in the same way that they conquered Christian communities, subjecting the inhabitants to slaughter, enslavement, or the systematic subordinate status known as dhimmitude. Is Anidjar, as Fitzgerald suggests, unaware of all this? We suspect not. Anidjar, we believe, is fully aware of all this history, and has chosen to replace the historical facts with his own fantasies in order to present Christian Europeans exclusively as colonial oppressors, to present historical Jews as the victims solely of Christian Europeans, to present modern Jews as calculating characters who, in the name of self-preservation, have sold out their own heritage in order to identify with the Western imperialists, and to present Arabs and Muslims as pure victims, then and now.  

In short, Anidjar is selling an outrageous set of historical whoppers – in Fitzgerald’s words, “a fiction, an ideological hippogriff, created only so that ‘the Arab’ may claim for himself, at the hands of Europe, a false victimhood, based on the real victimhood of Jews.” It is this set of lies that Anidjar has made a career of spreading throughout his tenure at Columbia University. That his propagandizing should be allowed to go by the name of teaching is nothing less than a disgrace; and that any of this should be happening at what is widely considered a great American university all but beggars belief.

Gil Anidjar: Ph.D. in hate

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Gil Anidjar

Last week we med Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian Studies at Columbia University who – well, just scroll down and you’ll see what he’s been up to over the years. Today we’re moving on to one of his colleagues in Columbia’s Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC). His name: Gil Anidjar.

Anidjar’s anti-Israel credentials are manifold. In 2009, he took part in a pro-Palestinian “teach-in” that called for “divestment from the Israeli occupation.” In 2014, he joined several other prominent professors of Middle Eastern Studies (including Dabashi) in pledging to boycott Israeli institutions of higher education.

From time to time, Anidjar has taught a course called “Hate.” The course’s premise is that European history can be understood as nothing more or less than a series of persecutions of “The Other,” notably Jews and Arabs, and that these persecutions are responsible for the hostility between those two groups.

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Columbia University

To analyze the relationship between Jews and Arabs in this manner, of course, is to reduce all relationships between non-Western cultures to – and to blame all the problems in those relationships on – Western imperialism and colonialism. This is, needless to say, a thoroughly ahistorical way of explaining the relationship of Jews and Arabs, or, if you will, Judaism and Islam. It erases the destructive role of violent Islamic conquest during the immediate post-Mohammedan era, which in today’s academy is (shall we say) an unwelcome topic, and replaces it with a generic, academically acceptable Orientalism on the part of Europeans.

Anidjar has also taught a class called “Semites: Race, Religion, Literature.” In it, he argues that Arabs are “the last Semites and the only Semites,” which is basically a slick way of trying to delegitimize Israel. Anidjar further argues that while Arab Muslims are still attached to their religion, Jews “have in fact become Western Christians,” and have thereby wiped out their own religious and ethnic identity – thus rendering them undeserving of their own nation.

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Jerusalem

What, then, to make of Israel? Isn’t it the ancient homeland of the Jews? Well, not as far as Anidjar is concerned. In his view, it’s nothing more or less than “a colonial enterprise, a colonial settler state.” In other words, an outpost of Europe, an inappropriate Western incursion into Arab territory.

By contrast, Anidjar fully rejects the idea that there’s anything whatsoever wrong with Islam: “Can anyone seriously claim,” he asks, “that the problem with Islamic countries is Islam?” While pressuring Columbia University to divest itself of any financial connections to Israel, Anidjar has urged his colleagues and students to align themselves more strongly with the Palestinian cause.

There’s more. In 2005, Hugh Fitzgerald wrote a savvy piece about Anidjar’s notorious “Hate” course. We’ll get to that tomorrow.