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.

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.

Selling out the universities

Yesterday we started looking at the phenomenon of American universities taking money from tyrannical foreign governments. What’s striking about these stories is that so many of the universities involved don’t need the dough – they’re among the richest educational institutions on the planet. But they can’t resist the temptation to solicit cash even from the vilest of regimes.

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John L. Esposito

Take Harvard. It’s the richest college around. As of 2013, its endowment was $32.7 billion. This didn’t keep it, however, from taking money from the House of Saud to endow a Department of Islamic Studies. Georgetown and Berkeley both did the same.

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Esposito’s paymaster, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal

These deals, needless to say, always come with strings attached. At Georgetown, the Saudis paid to establish the Prince Alwaleed Center for Muslim–Christian Understanding. One of the conditions of this deal was that the Center be run by John L. Esposito, a longtime apologist for Islam who, in one critic’s words, is notorious for constantly making the argument “that Islamic radicals’ depredations stem from societal ills, not Islamic doctrine.” The agreements these universities have made with the Saudis ensure that their Islamic Studies departments aren’t offering their students an objective education in Islam but, rather, a double dose of pro-Islamic propaganda.

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The Sheikh Zayed Theatre at the London School of Economics

As Shaun Tan noted in a 2012 article, “Dangerous Liaisons,” it’s not just American universities that have morally compromised themselves by taking money from autocratic Islamic governments to fund Islamic Studies programs. As of 2012, Oxford’s Centre for Islamic Studies had taken $119 million from “a dozen Middle Eastern rulers,” the London School of Economics’ Centre for Middle Eastern Studies had received “$14 million from the UAE.” The UAE also paid $4 million to endow LSE’s Sheikh Zayed Theatre, “named after the UAE dictator whose foundation funds lectures and publications blaming Zionists for the Holocaust and the U.S. military for masterminding 9/11.” Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh both also accepted millions from the House of Saud, which in turn was allowed “to appoint members to the management committees of their Islamic Studies centers.”

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The cover of the book that Yale censored to placate its Muslim paymasters

In 2009, Yale provided an excellent example of the kind of compromises universities invite when they cash checks from unsavory governments. In that year, Yale University Press a book about the Danish cartoon controversy entitled The Cartoons that Shook the World. But not a single one of the cartoons was reproduced in the book.

Why? Because, as Michael Rubin explained in Commentary, “a top administrator intervened with the nominally autonomous Yale University Press to censor” the book. This intervention, Rubin noted, “coincided with Yale President Richard Levin’s outreach to Persian Gulf funders.”

What became of Levin’s “outreach”? Stay tuned.