“I have lots of relationships with Muslims. They have taught me compassion and peace,” stated Luther College Professor Todd Green during a January 22 presentation at McLean, Virginia’s Lewinsville Presbyterian Church (LPC). Here this self-proclaimed “scholar of Islamophobia” and “anti-Islamophobia activist” reiterated his fantasy that interpersonal relationships with Muslims can refute supposed “Islamophobic” prejudices arising from Western sins like imperialism.
Green, author of the 2015 book The Fear of Islam: An Introduction to Islamophobia in the West, is currently a Franklin Fellow at the United States Department of State, where Green “assesses and analyzes Islamophobia in Europe.” He has had ample opportunity to expound the book’s themes in various appearances in radio (see here, here, and here) and online, as well as public presentations such as at the 2016 Peacestock conference of the leftwing Veterans for Peace. He also writes for left-leaning publications such as the Huffington Post and Sojourners.
Without specific definitions, Green has concluded that “Islamophobia is an irrational fear, hostility, or hatred of Muslims and Islam” and is “one of the most acceptable prejudices in the United States today.” This presents a “cultural racism” in which “Muslims are essentialized; they are treated as a race,” he elaborated at LPC. Nonetheless, he has previously vaguely qualified that critical study of any such posited bigotry “is not an attempt to cut off critical conversations about Islam.”
Green has assessed that “imperialism is one of the main factors driving Islamophobia in the past and in the present,” resulting from historical “imperial tension and imperial competition” between Christians and Muslims. “In the seventh century when Islam came on the scene, it spread very quickly and Islamic empires developed quite quickly,” he has stated, while leaving unmentioned the Islamic supremacist jihad doctrine that propelled such conquests. With shifting power balances between Western and Islamic civilization across the centuries, Islamic empires gave way to the European colonialism that subjugated many Islamic lands.
Westerners colonizing Muslims, Green has argued, realized that “with imperial projects there must be some ‘other’, and this ‘other’ must be demonized and dehumanized in order for the imperial nation to galvanize popular support.” The “neo-imperialism” of rival Cold War superpowers followed European colonialism. Even post-Cold War, “much of U.S. foreign policy is incomprehensible apart from understanding that we are still engaged in the imperial project.”
Casting Muslims as passive victims of Western aggression, Green believes that such stereotypes influence Americans today who “have seen and continue to see Muslims in many parts of the world as obstacles to our imperial ambitions.” In the Huffington Post, he emphasizes the “history of Western interventionism in Muslim-majority contexts, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the U.S. exploitation of energy resources in the Middle East, the legacy of European colonialism.” The oft-debated question “Is ISIS [the Islamic State in Iraq and (Greater) Syria] Islamic?” is merely a “thinly veiled form of Islamophobia intended to heighten our fears of Islam while absolving the U.S. of its own responsibility in contributing to the rise to ISIS.”
“Religion is rarely the driving force behind terrorism,” Green’s article claims, befitting his oft-disproved analysis that socioeconomic disadvantage, not Islamic doctrine, lies behind jihadist violence. At LPC, he described Muslims joining ISIS because of factors like discrimination in Europe or oppression from Middle Eastern dictatorships, just as socioeconomic factors might influence Westerners to join rightwing movements. “White Christians have an empire to hide behind. Many of these young men joining ISIS don’t. When you are politically disenfranchised you will sometimes find other ways to find power.”
In identifying “Islamophobia’s” past and present purveyors, Green resorts to well-worn, hackneyed tropes. He embraces the fraudulent Edward Said’s Orientalism thesis that “knowledge about Islam coming from Orientalism was being distorted by the imperial project.” Past Western Islamic studies served not intellectual inquiry, but rather “knowledge for the sake of control” over Muslims.
Green today castigates “professional Islamophobes” supposedly motivated by pure malice, such as Pamela Geller, Daniel Pipes, Jihad Watch’s Robert Spencer, and Geert Wilders. “From the time they wake up in the morning to the time they go to bed at night, their job is to figure out ‘how can I better demonize Muslims today.’” While “Islamophobia” often appears among conservatives, it is “more dangerous in the way it manifests itself among those who claim to be liberal,” such as talk show host Bill Maher, Green noted at LPC. He meanwhile makes the common yet baseless claim that “Islamophobia” forms a well-funded “powerful industry,” while the “anti-Islamophobia side does not pay quite as well” for individuals like him.
Contrastingly, in Green’s estimation Islamic belief seemingly can cause no harm, as he rejects “misconceptions” that “sharia law is somehow incompatible with democracy or with the West.” “The overwhelming majority of Muslims” globally “really are trying to practice their religion that helps them and their fellow human beings flourish,” he has argued. At LPC he added that “I hate the language of ‘radical Islamic terrorism’” and its “simplistic understanding that Islam programs people to be violent.”
Islamic rule past and present thus raises few concerns for Green while he condemns the United States for having supported dictators like Iran’s shah. Like many academics, he whitewashes Islam’s often brutal, subjugated “status of dhimmis or protected minorities” for non-Muslims, stating that “for much of the history of Islam Christians and Jews were protected and lived in peace with Muslims.” Today Americans in the Middle East should “be very consistent when it comes to supporting democratic movements, even if that means risking losing an alliance with an autocratic government,” irrespective of such “democratic” results in 1979 Iran and 2011 Egypt.
More often than not, non-Muslims draw Green’s criticism. Writing in Sojourners, he approved of President Barack Obama’s regurgitation of the common canard that the Crusades were unjustified aggression, not a just war defensive response to jihadist conquests. “Obama did his best at the National Prayer Breakfast in February  to address the legacy of violence carried out in the name of Christianity.” Green also has falsely relativized that the “Bible has its fair share of violent texts” along with the Quran, thereby ignoring fundamental differences between violent verses in these two scriptures.
Green’s Huffington Post writings betray a less than stirring defense of free speech against jihadist censorship. Geller and Spencer’s 2015 Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, where security guards killed two Muslim assailants, merely exemplified “hate rallies that engage in Muslim-bashing under the pretense of defending freedom of speech.” Reviewing Iran’s 1989 blasphemy death sentence for British writer Salman Rushdie, Green mused that “minorities rarely have possessed the same opportunities to shape public opinion as those with political power or cultural capital.” Therefore, “Rushdie and some of his more outspoken supporters adopted a fairly uncritical approach to freedom of expression, assuming at times that this freedom benefits all members of Western societies equally.”
For Green, individual relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims are the antidote to what he has called a “perfect storm of Islamophobia” in a French television interview. He laments supposedly skewed media representations emphasizing Islam’s violence while “there simply are not enough strong relationships in the West between Muslims who are in the minority and the non-Muslim majority.” As one venue for interfaith outreach, he advocates the Muslim Brotherhood (MB)-derived Muslim Students Association (MSA), which he addressed in 2010 at Minnesota’s St. Cloud State University.
One of Green’s book interviewees, Muslim congressman Keith Ellison, currently under fire for his anti-Israel statements and extremists Islamist affiliations, presents for Green the kind of Muslim people should befriend. “If you have a really jaded, negative view of politicians and think that they are intellectually disengaged, you should have a conversation with Keith Ellison, and you will change your mind,” Green has stated about the Minnesota representative. Accordingly, Green’s wife and fellow leftist, Tabita, has written about how he took Luther College students from their Iowa campus on a field trip to Ellison’s Minneapolis mosque, where the radical imam Siraj Wahaj has been a featured speaker. Tabita also noted that the field trip included a visit to the Minnesota chapter of the Hamas-derived Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) “to learn about their civil rights work.”
Green’s tweets round out his Islamist sympathies. In one, he calls the radical, anti-Semitic Woman’s March on Washington organizer Linda Sarsour a “shining star in the battle against racism and bigotry” and therefore “#ImarchwithLinda.” In another, his CAIR and MSA affiliations apparently make him worry that “[d]esignating the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist org. will open the door to witch hunts aimed @ Muslim civil liberties groups.”
Yet even Green recognizes that interfaith relations with Muslims are not without their pitfalls. “You want to see a nonstarter happen,” he has indicated in his various appearances, including at LPC, then introduce the subject of “Palestine” between Jews and Muslims. Before tackling such hot topics, he recommends that interfaith groups undertake noncontroversial community projects like Habitat for Humanity homebuilding; “I tend to prefer more organic relationships to evolve,” he has stated. Apparently then, Jewish legal legend Alan Dershowitz should build a house with Ellison before deciding to leave the Democratic Party if he becomes the Democratic National Committee chairman.
Reality belies Green’s “getting to know you” thesis in which individual relationships with Muslims dispel reservations towards Islam that actually come from the faith’s hard facts, not imagined prejudice. Numerous Christians from Muslim-majority countries have impressed upon this author Islam’s oppressive nature towards non-Muslims, even though these individuals lack no opportunity to meet Muslims as Green bemoans in the United States. Likewise Europe’s significantly larger Muslim populations, recently increased by an influx of “refugees,” have done little to improve Islam’s popularity.
The arguments of Green, who by self-admission is by training a student of American and European religious history, not Islamic studies, might impress his fellow leftists as indicated by his largely positive reception at LPC. Paralleling the Obama Administration’s State Department, LPC has made an appeal to “Actively Support the Boycott of Products Made in Israeli Settlements” and is pro-LGBT. Yet individuals like James Lafferty, head of Christians Against Radical Islam (CARI), indicated during audience questions why skepticism is warranted. He recalled a local presentation 25 years ago by Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam once feted as a Muslim “moderate” and later killed in Yemen as an Al Qaeda supporter by a 2011 American drone strike. “He said many times exactly the same words I have heard tonight,” Lafferty noted.