Fast on the heels of the University of California’s anti-free speech “Battle of Berkeley”—in which hundreds of black-clad, left-wing, “anti-fascists” attacked Trump supporters in the streets—around five hundred students and scholars attended the weekend conference “Islamophobia & The End of Liberalism?”
The conference poster featured a righteously concerned Statue of Liberty embracing a young Muslim woman in a hijab as if to protect her from the xenophobic natives. The clear implication was that the Western liberal tradition requires open borders and that Muslims as people, rather than jihadis as ideologues, are threatened by fellow Americans.
The concept of “Islamophobia” was created as a political device to demonize critics of Islamic supremacism. At UC Berkeley, the fundamental question was whether “Islamophobia” represents a betrayal of the tradition of Enlightenment liberalism or its imperial, racist fulfillment. This query hovered over the eighth annual conference organized by Hatem Bazian, director of the University’s Islamophobia Research & Documentation Project (IRDP), who blasted what he called “Trumpism.” Surprisingly, the participants from universities around the world did not settle for a pat answer.
Adnan Husain of Queen’s University in Canada argued that the “liberal concept of multiculturalism” is undermined by contemporary forms of aggressive, white, Western “crusaderism.”
In a talk entitled “Liberal Islamophobia,” the University of Denver’s Nader Hashemi asserted that Hillary Clinton is anti-Muslim because she claimed during the 2016 presidential campaign that moderate Muslims represent a bulwark against “violent extremism.” In doing so, she allegedly reduced the American Muslim community to a foreign policy tool of the U.S. government.
Raja Abdulhaq, a graduate student in international affairs at Brooklyn College, asserted that the goal of white Western liberals was to transform Muslims into “carbon copies” of themselves.
Meanwhile, Long Island University philosopher Shaireen Rasheed maintained that the so-called “Western gaze” reduces Islam to a thing in need of reform, according to the standards of white Western cultural hegemony.
Thus, concerns over terrorism or Sharia law are reduced to attempts to control, formalize, and channel Western Muslim identities into alienating, indoctrinating, and inauthentic white liberal molds.
When one asks if terrorism and Islamic supremacism inspire Western anti-Muslim bigotry, the knee-jerk response is to accuse the questioner of “Islamophobia.” The problem, we are to believe, is not terrorism or the spread of Islamic supremacism into Europe. According to the general attitude of the conference, these are merely the natural responses of a people oppressed under the weight of voracious white, Western, racist, colonialist, imperialist aggression.
In other words, the real problem is not Osama bin Laden, but George W. Bush and Donald Trump.
What was perhaps most disconcerting about the conference was the tendency to embrace anti-Semitic anti-Zionism while claiming to oppose ethnic prejudice. A perfect example of this was the use of Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff to promote the event. Latuff specializes in demonizing Israeli Jews as violently inhumane creatures in much the same way the Nazis did with European Jews. It was akin to displaying racist caricatures of African-Americans while professing to fight racism.
Given the inclusion of UC Berkeley’s “IRDP” in Latuff’s signature, Bazian and other conference organizers knowingly endorsed his vile work. Their actions reveal their intent to legitimize anti-Semitism by using it at a UC Berkeley event ostensibly dedicated to fighting racism.
Ultimately, the “Islamophobia” conference contradicted itself in at least two ways. Foremost was the morally reprehensible act of espousing anti-Semitism, ostensibly in order to combat anti-Muslim bigotry. The other was its insistence that the larger Muslim world, comprised of 1.6 billion people—about one-quarter of the world’s population—are fundamentally victims of aggressive Europeans imperial excess. Centuries of Muslim imperialism aside, playing the victim card allows Bazian and his colleagues to continue their aggressions against the West under the guise of moral purity.
Michael Lumish is an analyst on the Arab-Israeli conflict and the proprietor of Israel Thrives. He holds a Ph.D. in American History from the Pennsylvania State University and has taught at Penn State, San Francisco State University, and City College of San Francisco. This article was sponsored by Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.