Jocelyne Cesari is “senior research fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University, and director of the Islam in the West Program at Harvard University.” In this piece she epitomizes what is wrong with academic discourse about Islam today: she doesn’t even mention the blazingly obvious reason for “the appeal of radical anti-Western groups like ISIS among European Muslims,” which she purports to explain in this piece: the European Muslims who embrace the Islamic State find its interpretation of the Qur’an and Sunnah, and its resultant call for Muslims to wage jihad for the sake of Allah, convincing on Islamic grounds.
Cesari, as part of the academic establishment in Middle East Studies, which marches in a dreary intellectual lockstep, and as a faculty member at two Saudi-funded universities, Georgetown and Harvard, cannot examine that possibility even long enough to dismiss it. If she mentioned it and asserted that these European Muslims were falling for a transparently false understanding Islam, as Barack Obama, David Cameron, and so many others have recently claimed, she would entangle herself in the same falsehoods and absurdities that make them look ridiculous today. But if she acknowledged that the Islamic State is basing its appeal upon understandings of Islam that have firm ground in Islamic scripture, tradition and law, she would be committing a mortal sin in the eyes of the Middle East Studies establishment, which has ruled out even examination of that possibility as “Islamophobic” and “hateful.” She does mention “the powerful presence of the Salafi version of Islam in the religious market of ideas,” but makes no effort to explain why its presence is powerful, and ends up apparently ascribing that power to the discrimination that Muslims supposedly face in Europe.
So all that is left for Cesari are the possibilities that European Muslims are drawn to the Islamic State because they are poor and deprived, which she dismisses in her opening paragraph, or that they embrace the Islamic State because European states are discriminating against Muslims and preventing them from integrating into European society. She ultimately chooses the latter option, despite its patent absurdity: European Muslims are not integrating into European societies not because those societies are “racist” and “Islamophobic,” but because Muslim leaders in Europe have denounced the possibility of assimilation and worked energetically to ensure that Muslim communities in Europe would remain separate and aloof from the larger society that those leaders hold in contempt as jahiliyya.
Jocelyne Cesari is, of course, not unique. She is just another establishment professor of Islam, of the type that American universities today hire by the pound in mass quantities. Her ridiculous analysis here is mainstream thinking in American universities today — which is one reason why the understanding of the jihad threat among government officials at all levels is so abysmally low.
“Europe Needs to Embrace Islam,” by Jocelyne Cesari, New York Times, August 29, 2014 (thanks to Thomas Pellow):
Counter to the common interpretation, the appeal of radical anti-Western groups like ISIS among European Muslims is not driven primarily by socioeconomic deprivation. In fact, three interrelated factors play a more significant role.
The first is the powerful presence of the Salafi version of Islam in the religious market of ideas. This is problematic because even as most Muslims in the West are not Salafis and the majority of Salafis are not jihadists, it happens that groups like Al Qaiada [sic] and ISIS have a Salafi background. It means that their theological view comes from a particular interpretation of Islam rooted in Wahhabism, an eighteenth century doctrine adopted by the Saudi kingdom. In the West, Salafis incite people to withdraw from mainstream society, depicted as impure, in order to live by strict rules. These reactionary interpretations do contain similarities with jihadist discourse.
The second factor in the radicalization of Muslim youth is the increase of discriminatory policies vis-à-vis Islamic practices in Europe, including the use of the hijab and regulation of mosque minarets, circumcision and halal food. All contribute to a growing sense among Muslims that they are not accepted as full members of European society. Anti-immigration and anti-Islamic discourse translates into discriminatory practices in employment, housing and political activities. It can be a factor in strengthening a defensive identification within Islam and therefore gives more leverage to any ideology that pits the West against Muslims.
Third, the collapse of all major ideologies in Europe — nationalism, Communism, and liberalism — has left room for new radical options. For some young Europeans, adherence to radical Islam provides a viable alternative ideology, comparable to that of radical leftist groups in the 1970s.
These factors reveal a lack of true integration of Muslims as European policies have prioritized socioeconomic measures. In other words, political efforts are needed to put an end to the ‘ghettoization’ of Islam, which is often depicted as alien and incompatible with Western core liberal values. It means that geopolitical issues like the “war on terror” should be disconnected as much as possible from Islam and its adherents and their practices. Europe, and to a certain extent the U.S., face a major political challenge, which is the inclusion of Islam within their respective national narratives. It is a huge symbolic task, equivalent to the undertaking that led to the integration of the African-American past and legacy into the dominant American narrative.