University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill professor Carl Ernst flew to Tehran on Tuesday night to accept an award from Iranian Thug-In-Chief Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Even though Ernst reportedly "cringes" at some of Ahmadinejad's "policies," UNC-CH Chancellor Holden Thorp decided that this was an "academic honor," not a political one, and so had no objection to Ernst's trip. Ernst himself explained, "...it would have looked strange if I declined an academic award."
Thorp and Ernst seem anxious to stress that this is an academic, non-political award -- as if Tehran these days were crawling with disinterested academics who are in no way co-opted by the regime. Are Thorp and Ernst hopelessly naive, or do they believe that we are? In any case, they have little cause to worry that anyone will get upset about this in Chapel Hill, where the academic Left holds comfortable sway -- you know, the kind of people who thought it would be a great idea for Ahmadinejad to give an address at Columbia University and to present a Christmas message on British television. But meanwhile, has it even crossed Carl Ernst's mind that his work is useful to the Iranian regime, whatever the nature of this award, and that his traveling to Tehran to accept it is even more useful to them? Has this not occurred to him even after his trip to Tehran earlier this month, during which he made a "strong plea for improved academic and cultural relations between Iran and the United States"?
And would Carl Ernst really even be able to distinguish an academic award from a political one? After all, a genuine academic evaluates arguments on the basis of evidence. He does not work to predetermined conclusions based on ideological or political considerations. Ernst does not do anything like this. Consider (and I am sorry that I must use a personal example here, because the problem of Carl Ernst and the Middle East Studies establishment in American universities in general is far larger than me, and I have nothing to do with it) how he has dealt with my own work: see his "Notes on the Ideological Patrons of an Islamophobe, Robert Spencer."
Take, in the first place, the characterization "Islamophobe." He offers no evidence for it, much less any definition of this spurious, manipulative, politicized coinage. Nothing from my books, nothing from this website, nothing at all. His use of this word is without substance, designed to propagandize rather than convince, much less to equip one to make one's own judgment.
Note also that in the document, he doesn't offer a single example of anything I say that is inaccurate. Instead, he expects his readers to dismiss my work because Ernst dislikes my publishers -- on political grounds. 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.
Carl Ernst is no academic. He is a political and politicizing propagandist. Now he is also a willing tool of the vicious Iranian mullahcracy. And in Middle East Studies departments in universities all over the country, he is just one of many.
"Iranians honor UNC scholar: Ahmadinejad will present the award," by Yonat Shimron for the Raleigh News & Observer, December 25 (thanks to Joey Stansbury):
Carl Ernst, a UNC-Chapel Hill religion professor, is no stranger to awards. He has received close to a dozen over the years.
Yes, he is previously the recipient of Egypt's coveted Shaykh Muhammad Salih Bashrahil Prize for Outstanding Cultural Creativity, another prize awarded by a high-minded, non-politicized board of academic to one of their disinterested and deserving peers.
But when he was told he would be the recipient of the Farabi International Award given by the Islamic Republic of Iran, he paused.
The Farabi Award, named for a 10th-century Persian philosopher, is awarded to scholars by none other than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Although the Iranian president has no hand in selecting the winners -- they are chosen by a committee within the government ministry of science, research and technology -- he does hand out the plaques.
Ernst is a scholar of Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, and has traveled widely in Iran. But he has never met the president and, like most Americans, cringes at some of his policies.
So when he was notified that he was one of three Americans to win the award this year, he felt he needed to clear it with the university's top brass.
"I didn't want anyone to be surprised by this," Ernst said.
UNC-CH Chancellor Holden Thorp understood the dilemma.
"He said, 'This looks like an academic honor. Politics inserts itself into these things, and we understand that,' " Ernst said.
So on Tuesday night, Ernst left for Tehran. It will be his second trip this month.
When he was there at a conference earlier in December, he made a strong plea for improved academic and cultural relations between Iran and the United States.
"There was an incredibly enthusiastic response," Ernst said. "So it would have looked strange if I declined an academic award."
Ernst will be honored for a book he wrote in 1996 on Ruzbihan Baqli, a 12th-century Sufi poet born in what is now Iran. The book, which has been translated twice into Persian, is widely used in university courses there.
Saturday's award banquet is expected to last three hours. Ernst will share the stage with two other U.S. academics, William Chittick, a religion scholar at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and Miriam Galston, a lawyer at George Washington University.
More on them soon.
And finally, an announcement: I hereby award Carl Ernst the Jihad Watch Afshin Award, named after the ninth century Persian general Khaydhar ibn Kawus, a.k.a. Afshin, who won great victories for Islamic forces although he himself fought for them only for his own material advantage, and not out of conviction -- he was in fact a proud Persian who had contempt for the Arabs and the religion they had imposed upon Persia. (In awarding this prize I in no way mean to imply that Carl Ernst has any contempt for Arabs or Muslims, or that he fights for them only for his own material advantage.)
Thought experiment: would Ernst and Holden Thorp be as understanding about accepting an award from Jihad Watch, even though Ernst doubtless "cringes" at some of my "policies," as they are about Ernst's accepting an award from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?
Or are Ahmadinejad's positions, thirst for genocide, Holocaust denial, open Jew-hatred and all, more acceptable to Ernst than those of someone who wants to defend the West against Islamic supremacism and its denial of freedom of speech and freedom of conscience, and institutionalized discrimination against women and non-Muslims?