Question: When is a professor not a teacher but a propagandist?
Answer: When he forces your intellectual hand, constraining you by means subtle or open to accept his point of view on a given issue. A genuine academic does not think for his students, but trains and equips them to do so. He is not afraid of, nor does he discourage, open disagreement with his points of view, for he is not trying to compel his students to reach certain predetermined conclusions, but rather to give them the means to evaluate competing ideas on their own, and to be able to sift truth from falsehood.
Your professor, Carl Ernst, William R. Kenan, Jr., Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, I am sorry to say, is not a teacher. He is a propagandist. He is not trying to train you to think, but to enlist you as a member of his ideological cadre. Yes, this is a harsh statement, but unlike Dr. Ernst, I support assertions I make with evidence. Here is the evidence.
1. In the syllabus for his course, “Introduction to Islamic Civilization,” Religious Studies 180, he recommends that you visit this site, Jihad Watch, as well as the site of the Chick Tract comic books.
The effect for which this is designed should be obvious — as obvious as if I had, in a course I was teaching, assigned various academic works and then said, “For next week, read Carl Ernst’s Following Muhammad and/or watch the Bugs Bunny feature ‘Hassan Chop.’” Jihad Watch is a news and commentary site about global jihad activity. Every assertion we make here is from news sources (usually from wire services) or verifiable from Islamic texts. Chick Tracts are comic books reflecting a paranoid, conspiracy-minded view of the world and purveying numerous falsehoods, such as the idea that the Vatican cooked up Islam as part of its fiendish scheme to control the world. By equating Jihad Watch and Chick Tracts, Dr. Ernst is manipulating you into thinking they’re two species of the same thing.
Now, probably Dr. Ernst does think that: that we are paranoid conspiracy mongers here, or something near to that. But note that he doesn’t offer you any evidence for this view at all. He just puts the two sites in proximity, and lets the juxtaposition do the work.
This is manipulation, not education.
2. Dr. Ernst offers, as evidence that I am not to be trusted as a source on Islam, this page, “Notes on the Ideological Patrons of an Islamophobe, Robert Spencer.” Note, in the first place, the characterization “Islamophobe.” No evidence is offered for it. Nothing from my books, nothing from this website, nothing at all. His use of this word is, again, manipulative and without substance, designed to propagandize rather than convince, much less to equip one to make his own judgment.
In reality, in my books and articles, and at this site, I explore the elements of Islam that jihadists use to justify their violent acts and make recruits among peaceful Muslims. This is not “Islamophobia,” this is the only reliable path to Islamic reform, since you can’t reform what you won’t admit needs reforming. Terror attacks in the name of Islam, justified by Islamic texts, take place on a virtually daily basis around the globe — and each one shows anew how desperately needed is this exploration and rethinking of the Islamic texts. But Dr. Ernst is not engaged in that effort, and he is not bothering to explain what he thinks is wrong with the way I’m going about it. He’s just throwing smear-words.
Note also that in the document, he doesn’t offer a single example of anything I say that is inaccurate. Instead, he expects you to dismiss me because he doesn’t like my publishers. This is an example of the logical fallacy of appealing to authority: he is suggesting that his own publishers (such as Shambhala) are more prestigious than those of his critics, and that therefore he is to be believed over them. Argumentum ad verecundiam and ad hominem attacks are two sides of the same worthless coin.
I have invited Dr. Ernst to debate, pointing out that he could thereby show me up as wrong and end my influence — which he obviously regards as baneful, and which extends to a great many people, as I have written two bestselling books and several others that did quite well. But he has declined, despite the obvious ease with which he no doubt thinks he could dispatch me in a debate about Muhammad and the influence of early (and Qur’anic) Islam on today’s jihad violence. Instead, he persists in using me as a slide, as Exhibit A of “Islamophobia” in his classes, while declining to substantiate a single one of his assertions. Well, this time the Exhibit is talking back from the slide.
This is no professor. This is a propagandist, and a shallow one at that.
UPDATE: I posted this as an example of the dishonest propaganda that passes for education far too often in universities these days. Carl Ernst, however, is no worse and no better than a host of others. I ask that you please not write to him, or to the President of the University of North Carolina. It will do no good, and — if your letter is intemperate — only confirm their prejudices. There is no point in writing to either one, as this situation goes far beyond these two men, and will not change without a major transformation within American universities in general.