Send us your syllabus. But be careful.
Be careful, those of you who for some strange reason have decided to take a course on Islam, or subjects related to Islam (e.g., a course on anything having to do with the Middle East, or India, or Comparative Religion, or World Politics Today), and you suspect that the instructor is an apologist in one form or another. That form may be the forme fruste of the disease — we are making Grand Rounds, for those of you who didn’t know — and manageable, just, but it may also be the full-fledged thing. And why should you have to endure a lower grade inflicted by a vindictive Muslim or Muslim-apologist grader? You shouldn’t.
One example. A few years ago someone I know took a course at Harvard on Islam. The graders were Muslims. On the final examination, the short-answer part of the exam consisted of a list of items that needed to be identified and discussed in a few sentences. One of the items was “Muhammad’s Night Journey.” So the student explained what this was, and where it was said to have happened, and that it was called the “miraj,” and what Muhammad actually did on his fabulous winged creature al-Buraq. But what the student did, that proved fatal to his grade on this question, and on the grades he received for the other questions, was his including the phrase “as Muslims believe” or “Muslims believe that”¦” When he went to complain about the entirely unjustified “C” he received on the exam — and a failing grade on that particular question — he was asked why he had written “as Muslims believe.” Well, he answered, they do believe it. But, asked the grader-instructor, are you implying that it isn’t true, that Muhammad did not make his Night Journey on Al-Buraq? The student was too stunned to answer. It was clear that the slightest calling into question of Muslim beliefs was going to be punished.
I urged that student to go to the President of Harvard and make a stink. He was graduating and chose not to. But he hasn’t forgotten what happened. And he told me that it has colored forever his view of Islam, and also his view of Harvard.
The moral of this story, not fable, is: Watch out. Faites attention. Ostorozhno. Your every phrase is indeed being watched, by Muslim teachers, for signs of any slight calling into question of the Received Islamic Version of Reality, and by their non-Muslim willing collaborators, for any signs of disrespect or doubt exhibited toward Islam.
Perhaps you think that despite all this, you may learn something. Yes, you will learn something, and if you come out un-indoctrinated on the other side, you may come out as the boy in the story above did, far readier and able to learn the grim truth about Islam precisely because he had been subjected to brainwashing.
The Middle East Studies Association, or MESA, or more accurately MESA Nostra, is the professional organization of teachers of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies in this country. In 1970 about 3% of its membership was Muslim; today it is about 70%.
As an organization, MESA has over the past two decades slowly but surely been taken over by apologists for Islam. Many of these are Muslims, and many are non-Muslims. The latter includes quite a few people who are married to Muslims, or who, to get along with their colleagues (and remember, the most political place in the entire universe is a university faculty, and that institution which, alas, Randall Jarrell failed to immortalize, if memory serves, the Departmental Meeting. Junior faculty owe everything to, and therefore must curry favor with, senior faculty. If that means signing an anti-divestment petition that has the mighty empire of Israel, fons et origo of everything that has ever gone wrong with the Muslim and Arab states and peoples, then so be it. Funny thing about being a trimmer, however, is that the mere act of signing something you really don’t believe helps to convince you that you really do believe it. Otherwise you would have to come to terms with your own cravenness, your own pusillanimity. And no one wants to do that.
Be careful. You may land in a course taught by one of these True Believers, who will brook no dissent.