Islamic slavery defender is still at it — and he’s got allies

Jonathan A. C. Brown

He’s at it again. In March, we met Jonathan A. C. Brown, a Muslim convert and current head of Georgetown University’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding – which is, in effect, a fully paid-for propaganda arm of the Saudi royal family. Our story focused on a February 7 lecture by Brown entitled “Islam and the Problem of Slavery.” It was a masterpiece of evasion, euphemism, exculpation, and prevarication. Brown pulled out all the stops in his effort to defend and normalize slavery under Islam.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal

For example, Muslim masters treat their slaves well – often better than their own sons! A slave in a rich Arab household is better off than a member of an Arizona chain gang! Some slaves in the Ottoman Empire actually lived well, wielded power, and enjoyed respect! He claimed (providing no evidence) that Muslim slavery has never been “racialized” and that it’s “kinder and gentler” than antebellum slavery in the U.S. South. Besides, calling a slave a slave is really incorrect, because slaves do get paid in the form of food, clothing, and shelter! Anyway, what does “slave” really mean? What do we mean when we speak of one person “owning” another? Isn’t it all relative? Aren’t we all part of a complex network in which each of us has power over others and others have power over us?

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian

It was a breathtaking display, a stunning defense of the indefensible. And it stunned some members of his audience. During the Q & A, Brown out did himself, stating explicitly: “It’s not immoral for one human to own another human.” He compared slavery to regular employment and to marriage. (He had a point: under Islam, marriage is ownership.) Brown even said it was O.K. for slave owners to rape their slaves. “Consent isn’t necessary for lawful sex,” he maintained, explaining that “consent is a modern Western concept.”

Looking into Brown’s background, we uncovered other, equally interesting statements by him. In one lecture, for example, he defended Muhammed’s marriage to a six-year-old girl, dismissing concerns about it as ridiculous – back in those days, he insisted, “everyone” married children. Asked in 2015 by Variety, the showbiz publication, to provide an Islamic perspective on same-sex marriage, Brown served up a masterwork of doubletalk, doing his best to avoid stating the plain and simple fact that his religion isn’t just opposed to same-sex marriage – it calls for the coldblooded murder of gay people.

Andrew Harrod

When challenged by critics, Brown lashed out, accusing them of Islamophobia. Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian of Foreign Policy magazine even rushed to his defense.

Now he’s in the headlines again. On April 14, journalist Andrew Harrod, who had already been expelled (on Brown’s orders) from Brown’s February 7 defense of Islamic slavery, reported that on March 16 he had been thrown out of another Georgetown event, the so-called Peace Requires Encounter Summit. Harrod explained the premise of the event: it “ostensibly sought to ‘build relationships’ – apparently only with those approved by Islamic supremacists” The co-sponsors of the summit “included the Muslim Brotherhood-derived Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the Franciscan Action Network (FAN), and Unity Productions Foundation (UPF), a producer of pro-Islam films.” Harrod had been legitimately invited to the summit by a UPF representative, Daniel Tutt of Marymount University, but when Brown glimpsed him at the event, he “demanded that I leave.” Brown them summoned Tutt, who “obsequiously acknowledged his mistake in having invited a ‘noted Islamophobe’ who had ‘slandered’ Brown.”

The net widens. We know who Jonathan Brown is. But who is Daniel Tutt? Answers tomorrow.

Bethany Allen: defending a slavery defender

Jonathan A.C. Brown

We saw yesterday how Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, with the surprising (and dismaying) support of Foreign Policy magazine, served up a disingenous apologia in mid March for Jonathan A.C. Brown. Brown, an Islamic convert who is head of the Islamic propaganda factory at Georgetown University known as the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (it’s named for the Saudi royal who bankrolled it), had given a lecture in February in which he made the mistake of telling a little bit too much truth about his adopted religion. Islam, he made clear, thinks slavery is O.K. And so does he. Allen-Ebrahimian’s attempt to rehabilitate Brown consisted of two parts: a wholesale misrepresentation of his lecture (he was actually criticizing slavery, Allen-Ebrahimian insisted, not supporting it) and a thoroughgoing slander of Brown’s critics (who, she explained, are nothing but Islamophobes). She focused especially on Robert Spencer, an informed and articulate critic of Islam and the proprietor of the Jihad Watch website.

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian and her husband

On March 22, Spencer shot back. “Foreign Policy magazine has published a lurid fantasy,” he wrote, summing up Allen-Ebrahimian’s argument as follows: “a sinister and well-heeled cabal of racist, bigoted ‘Islamophobes’ have smeared a thoughtful, mild-mannered academic, Professor Jonathan Brown of Georgetown University, and opened him up to death threats, as part of a larger endeavor to do nothing less than deprive Muslims of the freedom of speech.” Spencer’s reply: “In reality, just about the opposite is true, and this Foreign Policy article is a sterling example of the victimhood propaganda that the establishment media uses in order to cover for its own and deflect attention away from unpleasant realities of Islam.” Spencer went on:

“Brown’s attempts to explain the faith,” we’re told, “have made him a hate figure for the American right. A flood of articles accuse him of being an apologist for slavery and rape.”

No, his “attempts to explain the faith” didn’t make him into a “hate figure.” His acting quite clearly as an apologist for slavery and rape did that, if he is actually a “hate figure” at all.

Rejecting Allen-Ebrahimian’s absurd claim that Brown had “addressed slavery in Islam, hoping to combat the idea that Islam could ever condone the subjugation and exploitation of human beings,” Spencer pointed out that “Brown did not combat the idea that Islam condoned slavery. He said: ‘I don’t think it’s morally evil to own somebody.’ He also condoned rape of the female non-Muslim war captives: ‘Consent isn’t necessary for lawful sex.’” Spencer linked to a video of Brown’s lecture and encouraged readers to watch it and see for themselves. As for Allen-Ebrahimian’s claim that Brown was the target of some far-right Islamophobic cabal, Spencer noted that “it was a fellow Muslim, Umar Lee, who first blew the whistle on Brown’s apologetics for slavery and rape.”

Spencer also expressed doubt about Allen-Ebrahimian’s claim that Brown had received death threats. (“There are so very many fake anti-Muslim hate crimes, and it is the Left today, not the Right, that is thuggish, hateful and violent. Unless Brown publishes specifics of threats he has received, and reports them to law enforcement, as I myself have done many times with death threats I have received from his coreligionists, his claim warrants extreme skepticism.”)

Robert Spencer

What about Allen-Ebrahimian’s assertion that he and others were out “to marginalize any Muslim who speaks out”? Spencer reminded readers that Brown’s critics were hardly in a position to “marginalize” anybody. After all, it is Brown, not most of his critics, who enjoys a plum job at a respected university and can count on powerful publications such as Foreign Policy and the Washington Post to come to his defense. Also, while Brown’s critics were only responding in a civilized way to a set of barbaric pronouncements by Brown – quoting him verbatim, posting the video of his lecture, and calling him out on the things he had actually said – Allen-Ebrahimian was slickly misrepresenting Brown’s statements and his critics’ statements as well as impugning the latter’s motives.

And of Allen-Ebrahimian’s characterization of Brown as a “normal American Muslim”? No way: “His father-in-law, Sami al-Arian, is a convicted jihad terror leader.” Interesting to know. In her conclusion, Allen-Ebrahimian had been pleased to report that Georgetown University “had remained very supportive” of him. Of course it had! As Spencer neatly put it: “Georgetown gets far too much Saudi money” to do otherwise.

Foreign Policy: a despicable whitewash

Jonathan A.C. Brown

Back in March, we spent several days examining Jonathan A. C. Brown, a convert to Islam who runs Georgetown University’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and teaches in Georgetown’s Department of Arab and Islamic Studies. In particular, we paid attention to a February lecture by Brown entitled “Islam and the Problem of Slavery,” in which he did a masterful job of whitewashing his adopted faith. His lecture professed to address the question: “Is there slavery in Islam?” The answer to this question is clear: Yes. But Brown served up one ridiculous qualifier after another.

What, after all, he wondered aloud, do we mean by slavery? The line between a slave and some paid employees, he suggested, is not a clear one. (Ridiculous.) In many ways, people are “slaves” to their spouses and others whom they love. (Also ridiculous.) Slaves in Muslim households have traditionally been treated much better than prisoners on American chain gangs. (Prove it.) Unlike antebellum slavery in the American South, Muslim slavery has never been “racialized.” (An outright lie.) During the days of the Ottoman Empire, many slaves were well-treated and widely respected. (Again, prove it. And even if true, so what?) Brown waxed philosophical: “What does ownership mean?” “[W]hat does freedom mean?” After his talk, Brown entertained questions from the audience, and in reply to one of them he stated quite clearly: “It’s not immoral for one human to own another human.”

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian

Deservedly, Brown’s lecture drew widespread attention and condemnation. But others have rushed to his defense. Enter Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, who, writing on March 16 under the aegis of the respected journal Foreign Policy (where she is an assistant editor), presented the reaction to Brown as an example of Islamophobia. The title of her piece was “The Making of Islamophobia Inc.,” and under the title was this summary: “A well-funded network is trying to strip the right to speak away from American Muslims and fanning the politics of fear.” Allen-Ebrahimian argued that while Brown’s work is largely “aimed at making Islamic thought more accessible to general audiences,” his “attempts to explain the faith have made him a hate figure for the American right.” In his February lecture, she claimed, Brown had “addressed slavery in Islam, hoping to combat the idea that Islam could ever condone the subjugation and exploitation of human beings.”

Robert Spencer

In response, according to Allen-Ebrahimian, right-wingers had come out in force, misrepresenting Brown’s arguments. Brown, she lamented, “is the victim of an increasingly empowered industry of Islamophobia that constricts the space for balanced and open dialogue, sidelining the very Muslims who are doing the most to promote peaceful, orthodox interpretations of Islam.” Allen-Ebrahimian compared these critics of Brown to “the McCarthyites of the 1950s.” Singling out one of those critics, the Islam expert Robert Spencer, Allen-Ebrahimian actually suggested that Spencer’s writings had inspired the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik. She also cited such websites as the Daily Caller, Heat Street, and Breitbart, calling them part of “a self-reinforcing online ecosystem that churns out frenzied headlines and constructs alternate online biographies…in which normal American Muslims are painted as Muslim Brotherhood-linked, jihad-loving, rape-defending threats to the American way of life. Brown’s lecture lasted like chum in shark-infested waters.”

Fortunately, Allen-Ebrahimian’s reprehensible, mendacious screed wasn’t allowed to stand. Tune in tomorrow.

Freedom is slavery: Jonathan Brown

Yesterday we met Jonathan A.C. Brown, the head of Georgetown University’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. A 1977 convert to Islam, he’s been fiercely defending it ever since. Never before, however, has he made headlines like the ones he made recently after giving a lecture about Muslim slavery. His main point was to contrast that institution, which he painted as benign, to slavery in the pre-Civil War American South, which he fully recognized as malignant.

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Jonathan A.C. Brown

In his lecture, Brown served up a flurry of statements – supposedly statements of historical fact – that were plainly designed to muddy the waters about the subject at hand. At certain times and in certain places during the history of Islam, he argued, certain people were “technically slaves” but lived very well. Indeed, he insisted that in the Ottoman Empire, some people who were categorized as slaves wielded considerable power and enjoyed great respect. A slave in Mecca around the year 1400 “received no pay from his master, but the master paid for his food, clothes and shelter,” and “in this regard the slave was no different from the master’s own son.” (This could, of course, be said about most slaves in most places at most times in history.) Moreover, factory owners under Ottoman rule “preferred using slave labor because slaves would not leave for seasonal work elsewhere,” and those slaves were thus “more like wage laborers working for a set term in a master/servant relationship than slaves.”

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Georgetown University

All of which, Brown claimed, raises such questions as these: “Is it the label slave that matters or the reality…behind it?” “What does ownership mean?” “[W]hat does freedom mean?… Almost no human being is free of dependence on others and on society as a whole.” Everything, you see, is relative: “ownership, freedom and exploitation come in shades of gray. They exist on spectrums.” Any academic who dared to say such a thing about slavery in the antebellum American South would, we suspect, not keep his job for long.

Brown brought up the Muslim sex-grooming ring in Rotherham, England, whose members held hundreds of infidel girls as sex slaves. His claim: “the majority of offenders were actually white men.” This is sheer fiction – a bald-faced lie. He also maintained that “the legal right to own other human beings was abolished globally” decades ago. This, too, is a lie: slavery persists in many countries today, predominantly Muslim ones.

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Umar Lee

It’s no wonder Brown’s lecture made headlines – and caused outrage. One student who attended it, Umar Lee, wrote the next day that he had been shocked to hear Brown describing Muslim slavery “in glowing terms.” Commented Lee: “I thought the Muslim community was done with this dishonest North Korean style of propaganda.” While focusing on “the injustices of prison labor in America and a myriad of other social-ills,” Lee noted, Brown had avoided mention “of the rampant abuse of workers in the Gulf, the thousands of workers in the Gulf dying on construction sites, the South Asian child camel-jockeys imported into the United Arab Emirates to race camels under harsh conditions, or the horrific conditions of prisoners in the Muslim World (the latest news being 13,000 prisoners executed in Syria).”

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Slave children: an image from the Muslim world

Lee disputed one after another of Brown’s assertions: the idea that Muslim slavery “wasn’t racialized” is absurd; so is the claim that it was “kinder and gentler” than American slavery. Nowhere in Brown’s lecture did he mention “kidnappings, harems, armies of eunuchs, and other atrocities.” Lee and other members of the audience asked Brown questions after the lecture, in reply to which Brown offered even more sensational claims than he had during the prepared talk: “It’s not immoral for one human to own another human,” Brown remarked, explaining that “being an employee is basically the same as being a slave” and comparing slavery to marriage “because his wife held rights over him.” As for the widespread phenomenon of slave owners raping slaves, Brown told Lee that “[c]onsent isn’t necessary for lawful sex,” his reasoning being that “consent is a modern Western concept.” And when one member of audience apparently challenged him just a bit too much, Brown shot back with the indisputable fact that Muhammed himself had owned slaves. “Are you more morally mature than the Prophet of God?” Brown asked. “No, you’re not.” Well, that settled that.

Pretty outrageous. But, as we noted, this slavery lecture was far from the first time Brown had made public statements deserving of outrage. We’ll look at some of those 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.