Nader Hashemi’s opening remark of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy’s (CSID) annual conference, held last month at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, DC, dripped with the sophistry and hostility that saturated the event. “There is a good presence here today, including members of the Islamophobic industry. Andrew Harrod, I see, is in the audience,” sneered the University of Denver professor of Middle East studies (MES) in reference to this author’s attendance.
Hashemi is nothing if not consistent in his antagonism toward critical inquiry. At last year’s CSID conference, he refused to answer this reporter’s query: “I can’t have a serious conversation with you about the Muslim Brotherhood and violence because [your question] is driven by a certain ideological agenda.”
Pot, meet kettle.
CSID has numerous Islamic supremacist associations, including its former vice chair and Georgetown University professor John Esposito, who kicked off the conference “The Trump Administration and the Islamic World” via Skype. Speaking before a ballroom with about eighty guests seated around tables, he repeated his well-worn but little-supported mantra that “fear of Islam has become normalized in popular culture, and indeed since 2015 has grown exponentially.”
Yet Esposito’s own comments undermined this claim, as he conceded that his and a National Security Council colleague’s predictions had flopped. “When we got in the field” of MES decades ago, he lamented, “we were sure that things would get better in the Middle East” with developments like a Palestinian peace settlement. But now “the Middle East is imploding.”
Willfully blind to Islam’s faith-based aggression and authoritarian political doctrines, Esposito mocked Trump Administration officials for ostensibly believing that “Islam is not a religion, it is dangerous political ideology.” He dismissed this as “inconceivable from a rational point of view” and drew superficial analogies with Judaism and Christianity. “Imagine that somebody said that Judaism is not a religion, Christianity is not a religion. We would find that this is xenophobe [sic], we would feel that this is explosive, we would say this is anti-Christian, it is anti-Semitic.”
Esposito fretted over recent American initiatives to declare the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). If approved, it could “impact…more mainstream Muslim communities in America in terms of being monitored, questioned.” A prime example would be the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an Islamist derivative of the MB’s Hamas affiliate, for which he has long been an apologist.
CSID’s senior program officer Mongi Dhaouadi and panelist Ahmed Bedier brought additional CAIR/nefarious connections to the conference. Dhaouadi is CAIR’s Connecticut chapter executive director, while Bedier founded CAIR’s Tampa, Florida chapter. In such company, Esposito worried that “if you ever were a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, somehow you belong to a terrorist organization. It sounds very much like a McCarthyite approach.”
Sharing the first panel with Esposito was his equally misleading Georgetown University colleague Tamara Sonn, whose professorship is funded by the MB-bastion Qatar. She decried the “confusion between Islam and terrorism” and belittled all too real jihadist/sharia threats in the academic jargon of the Copenhagen school of security studies’ “securitization theory.” A “securitization of Muslims,” she claimed, is a “successful speech act through which an understanding is constructed within a political community to treat something as an existential threat.”
Denying any specifically sectarian jihadist ideology, Sonn called on the audience to “compare the so-called Islamic terrorists’ complaints with those of non-Islamic terrorists; they are the same.” Her faulty “root cause” analysis optimistically held that “Muslims overwhelmingly condemn terrorism, but they also share political concerns with some terrorists” over such issues as Israel. She ignored that jihadist ideology from the very origins of Zionism has condemned the mere existence of a Jewish state in supposedly Muslim territory, long before any Israeli “occupation” began in 1967. “Until the formation of Hamas in the late 1980s, there were Palestinian groups resisting Israeli occupation and some were using terrorist tactics, but they were using secular ideologies, not pseudo-religious ideologies,” she argued unpersuasively.
Bracketing the conference on its final panel, the aforementioned Hashemi descended into simplistic rants against the Trump Administration. He condemned the unspecified “deep political incoherency, and also the complete moral bankruptcy, of Donald Trump’s approach towards the Islamic world.” He disdained Trump policy adviser Stephen Miller as a “disciple ideologically of the notorious right-wing Islamophobe David Horowitz.”
Hashemi proclaimed that “history will record that this election is a fundamental challenge to the type of democracy that we are used to in this country.” Of America’s democracy promotion abroad, he insisted that “you cannot support democracy abroad unless you have it at home.” Displaying the overconfidence of the self-described “resistance” to Trump, he predicted that “it is pretty clear we are heading towards impeachment,” concluding “in that sense, there might be an opening and cause for hope.”
Yale University Political Science Professor Andrew March struck the day’s single positive note during the panel on Tunisia. He claimed that Islamic “sharia is not something that is fixed,” but his record contradicted his optimistic assessment that Islamic law can accommodate free societies: he has previously defended Islamic polygamy and Islamic speech restrictions.
Dhaouadi lightened the atmosphere by convincing a reluctant Bedier to pose for a picture with this “notorious” author, but the conference disappointed. The participants defended the MB and its offshoots, insisted that Americans are “Islamophobic,” and whitewashed Islamic supremacism and terrorism. Likewise, unhinged criticism of Trump made what should have been a scholarly gathering little more than a political rally. Unfortunately, the conference accurately displayed the maladies that make contemporary MES a mockery of objective, rigorous scholarship and teaching.
Andrew E. Harrod is a Campus Watch Fellow, freelance researcher, and writer who holds a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a J.D. from George Washington University Law School. He is a fellow with the Lawfare Project. Follow him on Twitter at @AEHarrod.