“What we want to do today is debunk myths,” stated Atlantic Council President Frederick Kempe at the Washington, DC, organization’s October 20 event “Islamophobia: Overcoming Myths and Engaging in a Better Conversation.” Yet the panelists merely offered hackneyed arguments diverting attention from current Islamist threats, casting disrepute on an Atlantic Council once founded to stimulate civic engagement in transatlantic security.
Vuslat Doğan Sabancı, publisher of the leading Turkish newspaper Hürriyet, dismissed any legitimate concerns about Islamic doctrine by stating that “Islamophobia…stems from phobia, which is a fear of the unknown.” British religion writer and notorious Islam apologist Karen Armstrong similarly spoke of a “phobia, an irrational fear, it is not based on reason, it is based on a gut feeling.” Blurring distinctions between critiquing a belief system like Islam and ethnic prejudice, Kempe discussed the “line between security concerns and racism.”
For Sabancı, the “answer is very simple. Let’s get rid of the phobia…let’s get to know each other,” yet her appeal for intercultural dialogue contained limits evoking “Islamophobia’s” totalitarian nature. “Freedom of speech is the backbone of democracy, but it should not be exercised at the cost of attacking one’s dignity, it should not be exercised at the cost of attacking one’s faith either, because dignity is also a human right,” she stated. This rather unusual position for a publisher paralleled Dr. Mehmet Aydin, former head of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet). He warned that when “saying nasty things about the prophet” Muhammad of Islam, “you have to be very careful…we have to respect the values of other cultures.”
The panelists exhibited no such concern for European security measures amidst millions of Muslim refugees overwhelming Europe with various economic and terrorism worries. “This is going to take its place in history as the most disgraceful human act,” Sabancı stated with reference to Europe’s new zeal for border barriers. “It doesn’t seem long ago, does it, when we were cheering because the Berlin wall was being torn down,” Armstrong contrasted.
Armstrong evoked ominous historical analogies of epochs in which “there have been these explosions of hatred of certain groups, just think of the Crusades,” where Crusaders “slaughtered Muslims with great joy.” This common slander (see President Barack Obama) of Crusaders as mere bloodthirsty aggressors preceded her trite Nazism invocation while discussing the Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1989 fatwa calling for British writer Salman Rushdie’s death. At the time, she was “appalled by the way British intellectuals, the great and the good, segued away from a denunciation of the fatwa to an out-and-out denunciation of Islam itself. I said to myself, we have learned nothing in Europe since the 1930s.”
Armstrong’s imagination somehow juxtaposed justifiable outrage in the United Kingdom and elsewhere at lethal Islamic blasphemy doctrine with the subsequent 1990s eruption of the Balkans bloodbath. “There were concentration camps again on the outskirts of Europe, this time with Muslims in them,” she stated. Apparently unaware of any Balkan wars, including the Ottoman Empire’s jihad conquests, she superficially described the prior history of a region “where Muslims, Jews, and Christians had coexisted amicably for centuries.”
As usual, Armstrong had “very few good words to say for the British Empire,” particularly in the Middle East, where British policies “bear a considerable responsibility for a lot of the problems in the region today.” She criticized supposedly hypocritical leaders like Prime Minister David Cameron with their 2015 post-Charlie Hebdo massacre Paris free speech demonstrations after decades of supporting Middle East dictators. Yet their overthrow in Egypt, Iraq, and Libya has not advanced freedom.
Echoing Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s scandalous post-September 11, 2001 remarks, global jihad by groups like Al Qaeda also elicited Western guilt from School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Dean Vali Nasr. After 9/11, “Islamophobia, in a way, was a policy deliberately pushed from the very top of the U.S. administration” as indicated by President George W. Bush’s use of “Islamo-fascism,” Nasr stated. “Islamophobia was a way of passing the blame back to the Muslims, put Islam itself on trial for its responsibility in promoting terrorism rather than put U.S. foreign policy on trial for creating some of the problems.”
By contrast, Nasr celebrated Obama’s Muslim Brotherhood-pandering June 4, 2009, Cairo speech, whose “great success was that essentially he officially in Cairo, without saying so, abandoned Islamophobia as official American policy.” Obama “essentially said, this is about U.S. policy and I am going to put one U.S. policy on the table which is called the Arab-Israeli peace process.” How this moribund “peace process” with Arabs still resolutely rejecting Israel’s existence as a Jewish state would solve Shia-Sunni conflicts across the Middle East or end the Islamic State in Iraq and (Greater) Syria (ISIS), Nasr left unanswered.
Nasr’s response to an audience question concerning secularism suggested that Middle East instability had its own Islamic sources. “Secularism…has failed in every account, it has failed in economic development, it has failed in social development, most importantly it has failed in the one thing that matters to Muslims, which is to give them dignity and power on the world stage.” “Secularism’s fate was sealed in 1967 when it was beaten to a pulp by a small country that was built in the name of religion,” he stated while describing Israel’s dramatic defeat of Arab nationalist dictatorships. “Actually the promise of ISIS was the promise of empowerment,” he stated while describing ISIS’ appeal to Muslims worldwide.
The Atlantic Council’s “Islamophobia” panel does poor credit to an organization founded in 1961 to strengthen public interest in the affairs of NATO members. Armstrong and Nasr recalled more Cold War revisionism rather than confident policies that wore down Communism. Sabancı and Aydin’s free speech reservations reminded why Turkey has become such an uncertain NATO member under the anti-Western, revanchist, Islamist authoritarianism of Aydin’s fellow AKP member, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Perhaps influenced by foreign Turkish funding, the Atlantic Council is poorly serving the West in its current defense of freedom.
Cross-posted from the Religious Freedom Coalition.