What makes Stephen Coughlin a “Christian zealot”? Does Hesham Islam have any evidence of Coughlin’s holy-rolling in the corridors of power, buttonholing Gordon England or others in the Pentagon to insist on the Literal Word of God and how God’s Plan is, and must be, absolutely the Guide To Everything In the Universe? Of course not. By all accounts Coughlin exhibits not a single one of those features.
The most extreme “Christian zealot,” that easily-available figure of fun for so many Hollywood productions, that Bible-thumping Complete Literalist, for whom the Good Book explains everything, is — in the fanaticism and literalism departments — far less fanatical, far less literal in his application of his holy book to all situations, than are some of the most ordinary and mildest of Muslim Believers.
Coughlin’s mode of presentation may not endear him to his supposed superiors. But his real crime is quite other: it is his refusal to pretend that the behavior and attitudes and beliefs of Muslims should not be studied in the light of the texts and tenets of Islam. For, you see, we are all supposed to engage in an endless game of Let’s Pretend. It’s all so much easier that way. Let’s Pretend that for Muslims in those states and societies and families, who are suffused with Islam in a way that very few non-Muslims are capable of grasping, Islam does not matter.
But we can learn about Islam from two sources.
The first are the “defectors” from Islam, the apostates. Has Gordon England, has anyone in the Pentagon, invited in Wafa Sultan, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ibn Warraq, Ali Sina et al. to deliver lectures or simply to talk about Islam, its real nature, and what goes on in Muslim societies, and what kind of policies will work to weaken the Camp of Islamic Jihad, and what will not? Why haven’t they been invited? Why hasn’t Bush invited them to the White House? Why have not members of Congress held meetings with these defectors, and spread the word among their colleagues? Why?
The second source of solid information comes from the great scholars of Islam — Snouck Hurgronje, Henri Lammens, Joseph Schacht, Arthur Jeffery come to mind, and there are a hundred others. These people wrote before the days of the Great Inhibition, and were quite different, in their linguistic gifts, in their levels of learning, from the espositos and other MESA-Nostrans. Some of the latter group owes their funding, directly or indirectly, to Arab sources. Others, to get along, of course have to be sure not to offend their easily-offended Muslim colleagues, on whom they depend for hiring, promotion, and all those little things — courses to be taught, summers off, the whole back-scratching business of mutual book-blurbing and fellowship-references. For all that, one needs the “respect” of one’s colleagues.
A few decades ago 7% of MESA Nostra’s members were Muslims. Now they constitute close to 70% of the membership. Non-Muslims often depend, therefore, on that goodwill, on the ability not to offend those Muslim colleagues. Furthermore, those who enter the field of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies may exhibit, under the surface, certain pre-existing mental conditions. For example, take those who are smitten with “Arab culture” (the sociologist Judith Kipper became a pretend-expert on Islam after a life-changing trip to Cairo, so J. B. Kelly laughingly, scornfully relates). There are those who find that post-colonial discourse is just the ticket to tenure, a ticket to ride.
And then, according to Ibn Warraq, who has long experience in such matters, and who, because of his outward aspect, used to be taken for a true-blue Muslim and thus became the recipient of all kinds of confidences even of non-Muslim academics specializing in Islamic or Middle Eastern studies, there is a much higher proportion of people who exhibit all the symptoms of the mental pathology known as antisemitism, than in the general population. It would hardly be surprising that someone with such a mental makeup would be more likely to choose Middle Eastern or Islamic studies, and to find them and the atmosphere that now prevails in such academic circles accepting, and welcoming. And there is the bonus of not having to hide, but rather to proudly make use of, what might otherwise need to be kept quietly under wraps.