“Aren’t you tired of writing your stupid articles?”
I recall Georgetown University’s Alwaleed bin Talal Chair of Islamic Civilization, Jonathan A. C. Brown, saying that to me on February 7 at Herndon, Virginia’s International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT). Brown’s brief angry remarks quickly led to my expulsion from his imminent lecture, “Islam and the Problem of Slavery”: an indication of how he and his fellow Islamism apologists handle opposing views.
I had entered IIIT’s conference room in a small office complex anxious to hear Brown, the director of Georgetown’s Saudi-funded Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU). Shortly before the lecture’s evening beginning, he and IIIT Director of Research and Academic Programs Ermin Sinanović were preparing at a speaker’s podium before empty chair rows while two veiled IIIT assistants readied for the lecture. After I had taken a seat in the back row, Brown became visibly irritated upon noticing this writer, who has covered his previous appearances.
Before reiterating his previously tweeted disgust at my “stupid” articles, Brown began by asking if I intended to enjoy the IIIT’s food, after my appetite had impressed him at several Georgetown events (the IIIT lecture offered no refreshments). He then mused whether he should photograph me while visiting an Islamist, Muslim Brotherhood (MB)-affiliated institution, observations that most certainly came to him from my reporting on a previous IIIT lecture hosted by Sinanović. Brown then indicated a willingness to speak before most anyone, but felt incensed by my presence at IIIT after my having supposedly “insulted” this institution, whereupon Sinanović asked me to leave.
Given Brown’s background, I was particularly interested in hearing him address the contentious topics of Islam and slavery. A Washington, DC, area native, Brown, like me, is from an Anglican background, but converted to Islam under the strong influence of a Muslim professor his freshman year at Georgetown, as he explained in a 2010 interview. She impressed him with “things that I had believed my whole life; the nature of God, the idea of reason, the idea that reason and religion are supposed to be compatible, religion should enhance your life, not make it difficult and not make you suffer.”
Brown’s admiration for Islam’s prophet Muhammad, who “was both idealistic and effective,” is puzzling to many non-Muslims. He
was the best person in every situation….Jesus is always kind and forgiving. But sometimes you can’t be forgiving. You shouldn’t be; sometimes you have to soft and sweet and sometimes you have to be direct and harsh; sometimes you have to be patient and at other times you have to act quickly. There isn’t always one rule that you can apply to your life that will tell you how to act. You have to be able to read the situation and act in the best way. The Prophet knew how to do that; that is inspirational.
Many would also question Brown’s assessment that the
reason why there is conflict between Muslims and Western countries is because Western countries are invading or occupying Muslims countries….Westerners depict Muslims as violent because the Muslims react against the invasions.
Brown married his fellow Muslim Georgetown graduate, Laila Al-Arian. This award-winning Al Jazeera television producer is the daughter of the University of South Florida Professor Sami Al-Arian. American authorities deported this Palestinian to Turkey in 2015 as part of a 2006 conviction for providing material support to the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Befitting Brown’s father-in-law (the family that wages jihad together stays together?), Brown, his Georgetown ACMCU colleagues Yvonne Haddad and John Esposito, and Sinanović support Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. All of them have signed a declaration of religious studies scholars with the usual BDS statements condemning Israel’s “colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967” and “discriminatory laws” similar to “South African apartheid.” The declaration’s demands also include Israel recognizing “rights of Palestinian refugees to return,” a measure that would demographically destroy Israel’s Jewish state.
Brown’s BDS support has caused him to oppose the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council (MJAC) recently launched by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the MB-derived Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). Given AJC’s opposition to BDS and Islamism, the MJAC interfaith effort has not received a warm welcome from his ilk. On Facebook, he has accordingly declared that “[a]fter receiving advice from people more knowledgeable than me on BDS,” he has concluded that “[p]artnering with the AJC would be a violation of BDS” so he “can’t support the MJAC plan.”
Brown’s Facebook page reveals more Islamist radicalism, like his pro-MB Rabia symbol Facebook profile. For him, this symbol popularized after the Egyptian military’s brutal 2013 crackdown on the MB indicates that “subverting progress towards more accountable government cannot be allowed.” Despite the MB’s totalitarian and violent legacy, his Facebook postings declare that “to use ‘the Muslim Brotherhood’ in the same sentence with Isis, terrorism or extremism cannot be tolerated.” Similarly, on Facebook he has posted “#IMarchWithLinda” in support of the “Women’s March on Washington” organizer Linda Sarsour, another Islamist BDS supporter who has tweeted “nothing is creepier than Zionism.”
Brown’s Facebook radicalism also has a domestic dimension when he posts that “Muslims in America should stand with Black Lives Matter,” another pro-BDS movement. “Muslims who don’t have the bandwidth to be supportive on this issue should remain silent on it,” he writes. While he condemns Israel, “white men should let African Americans speak for themselves and support them. They probably shouldn’t offer their opinions on issues regarding the African American community.”
I can only look forward to future encounters with Brown (and Sinanović, who once greeted me at a Georgetown event) with increased curiosity. Apparently, my merely critically reporting their views to a wider public (all the while enjoying various refreshments) has struck a nerve, making my presence intolerable. The next time I see these individuals at Georgetown University (with its open public access policy) or anywhere else, I will enjoy an extra sandwich on them.