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.

Hating Israel: Ben Norton

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Ben Norton

Yesterday we started acquainting ourselves with the work of Babyface Ben Norton, whose career as a pundit started three years ago but who’s already compiled a copious oeuvre. Much of it, as we’ve seen, consists of savage criticism of the U.S. and enthusiastic cheerleading for socialism.

Even more intense than Norton’s hatred for America is his animus toward Israel. In his articles for Salon and other outlets, young Ben has routinely repeated familiar anti-Israeli canards, echoed the propaganda of such vile groups as CODEPINK and Adalah and Jewish Voice for Peace, given ample and super-friendly coverage to the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement, accused Israel of war crimes (while ignoring Palestinian atrocities), described Israeli teenagers as “violently racist,” promoted the idea that Israeli Muslims live under an apartheid system, and accused Israel of torturing and raping Palestinian children.  

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 14: Steven Van Zandt performs live on stage during the second day of Hard Rock Calling at Hyde Park on July 14, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jim Dyson/Getty Images)
Steven Van Zandt

This past March, he gave Bernie Sanders a thumbs-up for heeding a call by Max Blumenthal and Roger Waters to skip the pro-Israel AIPAC conference. When Steven Van Zandt, the Springsteen guitarist and Sopranos actor, criticized supporters of the BDS movement as “politically ignorant obnoxious idiots,” noting that “Israel is one of our two friends in the Middle East,” Norton strung together the nastiest anti-Van Zandt tweets he could find into an article for Salon.

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Paris, the night of the November 2015 terrorist attacks

As much as he despises Israel, Norton loves Islam – and is quick to skewer any critic of it as a bigot and racist. He routinely cites the ridiculous “hate crime” statistics put out by the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Muslim Brotherhood front group that he invariably identifies as a “civil rights organization.” While “reporting” on allegedly far-right and neo-Nazi violence against Muslims in Europe, Norton has steadfastly ignored the far more prevalent problems of jihadist terrorism and other acts of Islamic brutality on that continent.

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Norton appearing on Al Jazeera

The only exceptions to this habit of silence about European jihad have been articles like “Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes Have Tripled in the U.S. since the Paris Attacks,” which mention acts of jihad only to focus on the supposed anti-Muslim backlash, and (even worse) articles like “After Paris, let’s stop blaming Muslims and take a hard look at ourselves,” in which he sought to shift attention from anti-Western jihad to the killing of fellow Muslims by ISIS, the Saudis, and others. (In the latter article, while neglecting to say a word in sympathy with the victims and their loved ones, Norton fretted that too much preoccupation with the Paris massacre would only benefit right-wingers like Marine Le Pen.) 

Similarly, while keeping mum about the terrorist attacks in such U.S. locations as Boston, San Bernardino, and Orlando, Nelson managed, back in May, to find a case of a white American woman who had purportedly assaulted a hijab-clad woman outside a Washington, D.C., coffee shop. Norton got a whole Salon article out of this incident.

Still more tomorrow.