“Respect for religious difference is a foundational ethical teaching in the Qur’an and the Hadith sources of Islamic scripture,” states a video caption at the website of Unity Production Foundation’s (UPF) film The Sultan and the Saint. This statement is indicative of the naiveté and leftist, multicultural ideologies animating the individuals involved with this previously reviewed distorted depiction of the Crusades.
Catholic University of America Professor Wilhelmus Valkenberg and others double down in the video on such dubious beliefs ignoring Islam’s oppressive dhimmitude for non-Muslims. Islam’s “Prophet Muhammad was very aware of religious differences” and “saw them not a as a source of contention but of joy and of common relationship with God,” he states. St. Bonaventure University’s Center for Arab and Islamic Studies director Michael Calabria references the hackneyed, flawed argument that a supposedly tolerant Quran 2:256 verse is “foundational for Islam.” He declares that “Christian communities, Jewish communities continued to thrive under Islamic rule,” notwithstanding copious modern evidence of Islamic oppression.
Valkenberg’s credibility concerning Islam is hardly serious given his close relationship with the shadowy Turkish Islamist movement of Fethullah Gülen. Overlooking the role in recent decades that Gülenists played in dismantling Turkey’s secular republic, Valkenberg has previously abetted the Gülenists self-presentation as an interfaith humanitarian organization. Thus the Gülen movement emphasizes “service as something that is very basic to the Islamic faith” and is “very de-central,” “a very personalized faith…it’s not Islamism in the political sense of the word.”
Elsewhere Valkenberg has summarized Gülen’s teaching as “Muslims living peacefully together with people of other faiths; that is the normal situation.” Meanwhile, “both in Christianity and in Islam, there is a tradition that says, well, you should stay away from political power.”
Another online video at The Sultan and the Saint website features Imam Mohamed Magid and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Magid is the former president of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB)-derived Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), an organization whose radicalism included his bestowing an ISNA “diversity award” upon an anti-Semitic imam. McCarrick’s presence alongside Magid is ironic, given ISNA’s opposition to homosexuality and lurid documentation of McCarrick’s homosexual past. Perhaps this is another example of the strange affinity noted by Jihad Watch’s Robert Spencer of homosexuals for Muslims as fellow “victims.”
Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah and Hamza Yusuf also have a website video endorsing the film. Bin Bayyah has made numerous statements supporting terrorism against Israel by groups such as Hamas, as well as violence against American forces during the Iraq war, and supports Islamic restrictions on speech. Although in more recent years Yusuf likes to emphasize his moderation, he likewise has a troubling radical past.
The film website also has a video with Patrick Carolan, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network (FAN). FAN partnered with UPF in developing The Sultan and the Saint, while UPF in turn was in 2017 the recipient of FAN’s Cardinal McCarrick Award. Perhaps reflecting the loose doctrine of the award’s namesake, Carolan in the video says with casual ecumenism that “there are many journeys to God, many paths we can take.”
Leftist journalist Naomi Klein has written in the New Yorker about her Vatican meeting with Carolan. He is among the “biggest troublemakers within the Church for years, the ones taking Christ’s proto-socialist teachings seriously.” She records him claiming that “Vladimir Lenin supposedly said that what the Russian Revolution had really needed was not more Bolsheviks but ten St. Francises of Assisi.”
Carolan’s background certainly recalls Lenin more than St. Francis. The inaugural 2014 Cardinal McCarrick Award went to the former Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Secretary/Treasurer Eliseo Medina, an avowed socialist, while the 2016 award went to Al Gore’s daughter, Karenna. While representing the George Soros-funded “Catholic” front-group Catholics United, Carolan himself has advocated that the Knights of Columbus cease opposing same-sex “marriage.”
Leftist politics are also evident in UPF’s Sultan and the Saint Peacemaking Award. Recipients include Jacob Bender, the only Jewish leader of a chapter of the radical Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Sister Maureen Brown likewise “supports CAIR San Diego,” notwithstanding this CAIR chapter’s extensive radical history and duplicitous legal tactics.
UPF’s other “peacemakers” include the southern Illinois imam Abdul Haqq, whose deceptive presentation of Quran 5:32-33 ignores the death penalty in these verses for any “villainy in the land” against Islam. Meanwhile, media reports that the homosexuality-affirming California priest Jon Pedigo has a played a key role in making his San Jose parish the “most gay-friendly diocese in the nation.” NPR reporter Tom Ashbrook is notorious for his longstanding anti-Israel biases and more recent sexual harassment charges.
Austin, Texas, Presbyterian minister Jim Rigby combines many of the views dear to UPF and its associates. He has written that the “Palestinian people are suffering genocide” during the “extinction of the Palestinian people as a cultural and political entity with a homeland of their own.” During a 2009 Austin rally for Gaza, he spoke of Israelis who “teach people to kill and to rob other people’s land” with “state-sponsored terrorism” while the “true jihad is the struggle for peace and justice.” Israel, along with the United States, also have offended his equal opportunity sensibilities concerning nuclear weapons; he has declared that “it’s okay for Christian and Jewish nations to have nuclear weapons, but not Muslims” in places like Iran.
Domestically, Rigby’s church has supported same-sex “marriage” and even accepted the atheist journalism professor Robert Jensen as a member. On Christianity, he has argued that the “core insights of the religion are basically socialist and even, I think, anarchist.” His superficial Crusades pseudo-history has also a similarly Marxist flavor:
I doubt very seriously that the primary motive for the Crusades was rescuing the holy lands from Islam. I suspect the booty captured by “pious” European kings was much more to the point.
The views of actual experts consulted by UPF for The Sultan and the Saint such as Smith College Professor Suleiman Mourad often are hardly more substantial. While condemning American “Islamophobia” and “militarism,” he has advanced the absurd claim that around the world “Muslims, in their majority, have…established liberal democratic constitutions.” This analysis ill comports with his past examination of the recurring role of jihad throughout Islamic history.
Meanwhile, journalist Paul Moses, who formed with his book The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam, and Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace a central source for UPF’s film, seems out of his depth on matters concerning Islam. In one lecture, he has cited as an authority George Washington University Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a man whom Iranian media reported saying that he worked to limit the influence of Jewish and Baha’i professors in Islamic studies. Nasr has also overseen the creation of a study Quran that whitewashes the book’s more disturbing passages.
Speaking under the auspices of the Gülenist Intercultural Dialogue Institute in Canada, Moses cited also Quran 5:83 as an example of Islamic respect for Christianity. Yet the text actually indicates Christians recognizing Islam as true, while the preceding verse contrasts the friendship of Christians with Jews, the “most intense of the people in animosity toward the believers” in Islam. His cited source for this verse is, moreover, Hartford Seminary Professor Mahmoud Ayoub, a longtime associate of the MB-derived and terrorism-linked International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT).
Moses displayed similar flawed judgment in praising the New York chapter of the radical pacifist organization Pax Christi for bestowing a “Peacemaker” award on Debbie Almontaser. Her radical ties led to her losing her position as principal at an Arab-language high school.
UPF’s choice of associates becomes understandable in light of Daniel Tutt, UPF’s Director of Programs/Producer. At the European Graduate School, he obtained his doctorate under Alain Badiou and later studied under Slavoj Žižek, two communist philosophers. Amidst their almost indecipherable totalitarian tracts spiced with radical antisemitism, Badiou has described Palestinians as “slaves” of an Israeli “colonial state” engaged in the “project of a genocide of the Palestinians.” Meanwhile, Žižek has attributed Al Qaeda’s September 11, 2001, attacks to the “antagonisms of global capitalism” and described Israel as an “apartheid” state that, as in Badiou’s view, should disappear in a single Palestinian state.
Tutt has shown the influence of his teachers while ombudsman for The Islamic Monthly (TIM). Its editorial staff includes the fanciful Islam apologist Karen Armstrong, the Panglossian believer in Islamic democracy Noah Feldman, former CAIR legal adviser Arsalan Iftikhar, and the radical professor Sherman Jackson. Tutt himself at TIM has sanitized the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement seeking Israel’s destruction. This is a “non-violent campaign using boycotts, commercial divestments and sanctions to pressure Israel to abide by international law and grant Palestinians their rights.”
Sana Saeed, a producer at the radical Al Jazeera network, was even more strident at TIM in her denunciation of “Faithwashing Apartheid and Occupation” by the Israeli Shalom Hartman Institute’s Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI). She described “Israeli occupation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine” as a “mid-20th century Euro-American settler-colonialist project.” Thus the MLI “normalizes Zionism – a racist ideology and institution that is antithetical to our own Islamic traditions of social justice.”
Saeed’s views contradict Tutt’s involvement with The Sultan and the Saint. One of the MLI organizers, Homayra Ziad from the Baltimore-based Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies, appears in an online video. Despite her treatment on TIM’s pages, she gushes that different faiths “have significant theological and practical differences, but we harness those differences to compete with one another, not in animosity, but towards the common good.”
Ziad exemplifies the disjunction between those associated with UPF and not always benign Muslims and their allies. Moses has worried about President Donald Trump’s “anti-Muslim rhetoric.” UPF’s executive producer, the Muslim convert Alex Kronemer, has similarly argued that Muslims “feel attacked by hostile rhetoric about Islam that would never be accepted in the public square about any other faith.”
Yet the gauzy rhetoric surrounding The Sultan and the Saint and other UPF film productions does not correspond to UPF’s reality. UPF simply manifests the various politically correct, sometimes contradictory shibboleths of the modern red-green alliance of leftists and Islamists. Rather than harmonious unity, UPF’s wolves in sheep’s clothing have far more controversial, sinister agendas.