Northeastern University professor Shahid Alam, who has aroused controversy by likening the 9/11 killers to the Founding Fathers, strikes back at his critics in a Counterpunch piece, “The Waves of Hate: Testing Free Speech in America.”
It turns out that the good professor is a heroically misunderstood figure, testing the limits of free speech in Amerikkka while “hate websites” like this one and Little Green Footballs pester him with “orchestrated attacks–many of them death threats…”
As Charles Johnson of LGF pointed out to me, he characterizes our sites as hate sites, yet it is he he who responded to criticism with an openly anti-Semitic email. And as for “orchestrated attacks,” Professor Alam will have a hard time finding a conductor, much less an orchestra, with any connection to Jihad Watch. Alam is not the first Muslim to accuse someone who quoted him of “hate” simply for the act of reporting what he actually said.
But the main thing that has him exercised this time is that anyone took exception to what he wrote in the first place. After all, he said: “the parallels are not exact. The colonists did not deliberately target civilians; the nineteen hijackers did.” Yet what Shahid Alam giveth with one hand, he taketh away with the other: “In their war of independence, the Americans may not have targeted civilians, but they did commit atrocities, and they did inflict collateral damage on civilians.”
He seems surprised that people would take exception to his analogy: “I have since been wondering why my suggestion that al-Qaida–like the American colonists before them–was leading an Islamic insurgency has provoked such a storm of vicious attacks.” After retailing some of the differences, he complains:
“But this cannot obscure the fact that both were insurgencies, even though al-Qaida for now uses different methods. I might add, more abhorrent methods. But this is not the first time that insurgents have used such methods. The Zionists did so against the British and more massively against the Palestinians; several of them went on to lead Israel. So did the Irish, the Algerians and South Africans. Nelson Mandela, once jailed as a terrorist, is now the greatest world statesman.
He quotes Michael Sheuer’s characterizations of Osama and Al-Qaeda:
“(1) Osama bin Laden (OBL) is neither an evil madman or just a criminal–he is a highly competent, religiously motivated, charismatic leader who we had best take seriously.
(2) Al Qaeda is not a terrorist organization, but is rather part of and attempting to lead a global Muslim insurgency.
(3) OBL & Al Qaeda are not opposed to the U.S. because of “who we are,” (i.e. “we stand for freedom”), but because of what we do–because of specific aspects of U.S. foreign policy.
(4) The doctrine that informs OBL/Al Qaeda is that of DEFENSIVE JIHAD–they see the Muslim world under attack by the U.S., and call upon scripture to support defensive military action by all faithful mem-bers of the “umma” (the universal body of Islam).”
What Alam doesn’t seem to grasp — or wants us to think he does not grasp — is that all this is not what made his statements so offensive. I too think that Osama is not mad, but is highly competent and religiously motivated. I too understand the elasticity and subjectivity of the words “terror” and “terrorism,” which is why this site is called Jihad Watch instead of Terror Watch. I do disagree that Osama and Co. are wholly opposed to us because of what we do; I think they would be opposed to us in any case, because of the absolutist nature of the jihadist imperative to war against non-Sharia states — but this again is not what made Alam’s statements noxious. And I certainly agree that Osama and others like him believe that what they are fighting is defensive jihad.
No, none of that, despite Alam’s showy bewilderment, is what made his earlier article contemptible. What made it so, in case anyone missed it, was the utter lack of a moral compass. Of course, Alam, being a good Saidist, would probably dismiss as “Orientalist” any suggestion that the jihadist imperative is morally flawed, or, if he imbibes the fashionable relativism of the academy, would deny that it can be judged at all.
But out in the real world we know how to distinguish Jesus from Hitler, and the Sharia from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Alam’s assumption that an Al-Qaeda victory would bring freedom and unity to the Islamic world assumes a society that consigns women and non-Muslims to all manner of misery, and puts a straitjacket on free inquiry, freedom of conscience, and the human soul.
Al-Qaeda and the rest see the implementation of Sharia as the goal of their striving, which in itself places them on the other side of the moral divide from the men who fought and died to secure “liberty and justice for all,” however imperfectly these principles were applied after their victory. Yes, Professor, they are fighting for their freedom as they see it. So were the Nazis, striving to free Germany from the so-called “Jewish threat” and the encirclement of hostile powers. But someone who wrote in 1938 about the Nazis’ returning dignity to the German people would have deserved the condemnation of free men, just as Shahid Alam deserves that condemnation now.
Does that mean I think he should be hounded and threatened? Of course not. I would like to see a return of moral sensibility to the academy, so that his case would be examined just as Nazi sympathizers were scrutinized in the 1930s. But let him talk. The more he does, the more I hope he will help awaken Americans to what we have allowed to happen to American universities, and what we are up against in general.
UPDATE: See also Charles Johnson’s pointed and informative reply here.