“Islamophobia studies” is the latest addition to the academic pantheon of politicized, esoteric, and divisive “studies” whose purpose is to censor criticism of differing views by stigmatizing critics as racist or clinically insane. The University of California, Berkeley’s recent Sixth Annual International Islamophobia Conference—organized by the Islamophobia Research & Documentation Project (IRDP)—was titled, “The State of the Islamophobia Studies Field.” The fact that this “field” doesn’t yet formally exist in the U.S. may explain why speakers the first day of the conference barely mentioned it. As in years past, the conference featured victimology, academic jargon, and anti-Western rhetoric.
The audience, including a number of women in hijabs (headscarves), ranged from twenty to fifty students and faculty members. Because the conference was preempted by another event, it had to shift between two venues. Adding to the confusion, the schedule was made available online only days before. While IRDP director and Near Eastern studies lecturer Hatem Bazian bragged at the outset that the conference livestream had garnered “seven thousand” viewers in 2014, this year, visual and audio problems often rendered it unwatchable.
In his introduction, Bazian apologized for these mishaps before launching into a glowing report about the alleged state of “Islamophobia studies,” which, according to the IRDP website, “has witnessed rapid expansion in the past fifteen years.” He claimed that the field had “come of age” in that there is “no longer . . . a debate over whether we should use the term or not” or if “it is real or not,” except for “those who really don’t want to confront Islamophobia” or “don’t want to deal with the reality of what has taken place.”
In fact, there is no consensus on the existence of “Islamophobia” in the U.S., particularly in light of FBI statistics showing Jews experiencing the highest number of religiously-motivated hate crimes, with Muslims a distant second. Conflating legitimate criticism of Islam and the myriad human rights abuses occurring in its name all over the world with an irrational fear or prejudice towards all Muslims further obfuscates the matter.
Undeterred by such concerns, Bazian proudly noted the “broad range of fields” represented at the conference in order:
[T]o create as large a conversation as possible about Islamophobia with the intention of expanding the academic material that is available for individuals and classrooms.
He alleged that, “This is part of a series of conferences taking part internationally,” including Paris, London, the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Switzerland, and eventually India. Then again, he said as much at the 2014 “Islamophobia” conference and, at the time, IRDP did in fact co-organize a number of such international ventures. However, at this juncture, a search yields no evidence for IRDP-connected international conferences this year.
Munir Jiwa, founding director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Islamic Studies and assistant professor of Islamic studies at the Graduate Theological Union, followed with the talk, “Frames and Scripts of Islamophobia.” Jiwa maintained that the U.S. and the U.K. view Islam through the “frames” of the September 11, 2001 and July 7, 2005 terrorist attacks, respectively, and lamented that, “This forgets the long history of Muslims in the West” and “Muslim contributions to Western civilization.” Referring to the alleged shortcomings of the latter—including, ludicrously, the Enlightenment—he made the ahistorical assertion:
Much like Colonial and Enlightenment ways of dividing the world: us and them. It’s as if the West just came up with all these great ideas on its own.
Jiwa complained that Americans see terrorism as “barbaric,” “out of the blue,” and “related to Islam, rather than the most warring nation in the world”—i.e., America. He was perplexed that, “the violence that Muslims do” is viewed through the prism of “religion rather than the socio-political context,” despite the fact that this perspective merely takes Islamic terrorism at face value. As for the Islamic State (ISIS), he found it “amazing that they think it has nothing to do with our being in Iraq,” as if every GOP candidate for president isn’t required to state his opinion on the invasion. He never mentioned ISIS’s atrocities, only “our responsibility in creating the context for that violence.”
Jiwa then denied the systemic problem of “Islamic patriarchy” by claiming that the “oppression” of Muslim women was viewed as “not because of geo-politics, [but] because of Islam.” He bemoaned that, “millions of our dollars are going into saving Muslim women,” an outdated allusion to the war in Afghanistan. Rehashing a joke he made at the 2012 “Islamophobia” conference, he suggested Afghan women save American women from the perils of the “beauty industry.” Turning to gay rights, he decried “how sexual minorities are deployed” as a test to determine “if Muslims are regressive or progressive.” Nowhere did he acknowledge the responsibility of Islam for the sorry state of women’s and gay rights in Muslim-majority nations, but rather blamed the West.
Later, Jasmin Zine, an associate professor of sociology at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, spoke about “‘Embedded Academics’ and the Construction of Islamist Youth Radicalism.” Based on her work “studying the 9/11 generation of Muslim youth in Canada,” Zine concluded that it was not jihadist ideology that led to their “radicalization,” but the “politics of empire,” “Islamophobia,” and the “racialized security industrial complex.” Engaging in a moral equivalency, she added the disclaimer:
I’m saying this not to create a space of innocence for violence or terror perpetrated by Muslim bodies, but rather to situate these acts within a broader historical context . . . such as the racial violence of colonialism, genocide, slavery, occupation, and apartheid.
On the subject of “embedded academics,” or those whose research aids the military or intelligence services in counterterrorism, Zine stated, “I’m interested in how academic research is used in service of neo-imperial goals.” Such goals, she contended, include “racial and religious profiling” and “using culture to apprehend for the purposes of domination and annihilation.”
Employing a term coined by Columbia University Iranian studies professor Hamid Dabashi in his book, Brown Skin, White Masks, Zine asserted that, “This work is supported by the ‘native informer,” adding that, “In Canada, we have Tarek Fatah, Irshad Manji, Raheel Raza who fall into that category.” Singling out liberal Muslim-Canadian writers and activists for condemnation revealed the radicalism of her core beliefs.
So, too, did Zine’s avowal not to become an “embedded intellectual.” Referring to the Canadian government’s Kanishka Project which, as noted at its website, “invests in research on . . . terrorism and counter-terrorism,” including “preventing and countering violent extremism,” she admitted that:
I’ve been asked to apply for this funding and I generally haven’t because it’s offered by Public Safety Canada [the national security branch of the Canadian government], the same people who are profiling our youth, who are keeping migrants away from our borders, who are limiting immigration.
If contributing to the public safety of one’s own country constitutes an “ethical dilemma,” as Zine described it, her conception of citizenship is profoundly flawed.
While this year’s conference may have failed to usher in the dawn of an officially recognized “Islamophobia studies,” it wasn’t for lack of effort. Soon after, IRDP announced the latest edition of its politicized bi-annual publication, the Islamophobia Studies Journal. Perhaps following UC Berkeley’s lead, Georgetown University recently launched the Bridges Initiative, a project of the Saudi-funded Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding devoted to “protecting pluralism – ending Islamophobia.”
The subject is all the rage in the field of Middle East studies and throughout academe, which is doing its utmost to silence critics of the Islamic supremacism, systemic social problems, and total chaos plaguing the region. If and when “Islamophobia studies” becomes a reality, we can’t claim we didn’t see it coming.
Berkeley resident Rima Greene co-wrote this article with Cinnamon Stillwell, the West Coast Representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. Stillwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.