To bring the story to the present, one cannot leave out the case of John Esposito, a Catholic, and Professor of International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University. He is also the director of Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at the same university. While studying for his doctorate at Temple University, Esposito came under the influence of the Islamist, Ismail R.Faruqi, “Palestinian pan-Islamist and theorist of the ‘Islamization of knowledge‘, around whom had developed a personality cult.“46 Esposito tried to present Islam and Islamism in Western categories, thereby hoping to create a more favorable attitude to them in the West.
“Why not place Islamist movements in the political category of participation, or even democratization?”47 Esposito then went on claim that Islamist movements were nothing other than movements of democratic reform! It was sheer “Orientalist“ prejudice that prevented Westerners from seeing this. Esposito wrote that Americans would “have to transcend their narrow, ethnocentric conceptualization of democracy“ to understand “Islamic democracy that might create effective systems of popular participation, though unlike the Westminster model or the American system“.48
Esposito, and his close collaborator John Voll asserted with great confidence that every Islamist state or movement was either democratic or potentially democratic. John Voll appeared before a congressional committee in 1992 pleading on behalf of Sudan, which Martin Kramer describes aptly as “a place without political parties, ruled by a military junta in league with an Islamist ideologue“. For Voll, the Sudanese regime was “an effort to create consensual rather than a conflict format for popular political participation“, and in his opinion,
“It is not possible, even using exclusively Western political experience as basis for definition, to state that if a system does not have two parties, it is not democratic“.49
Martin Kramer sums up Voll’s grotesque apology for Islamism thus:
“And so American congressman were instructed by the president-elect of MESA [the Middle East Studies Association] that a country with no political parties, presided over by a coup-plotting general, ridden by civil war, with a per capita gross domestic product of $200, still might qualify somehow as democracy. This was not deliberate self-parody; it was merely Esposito’s logic advanced ad absurdum.“50
Just months before 9/11, Esposito wrote,
“focusing on Usama bin Laden risks catapulting one of the many sources of terrorism to center stage, distorting both the diverse international sources and the relevance of one man.“
Still earlier, he had predicted that the 1990s would
“be a decade of new alliances and alignments in which the Islamic movements will challenge rather than threaten their societies and the West.“
In 1994, he claimed that Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group, was only a community-focused group that engages in “honey, cheese-making, and home-based clothing manufacture.“ While he saw nothing sinister in Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasir Arafat’s call for Jihad, it was in reality comparable to a “literacy campaign“.
After 9/11, Esposito blamed America first. “September 11,“ he said, “has made everyone aware of the fact that not addressing the kinds of issues involved here, of tolerance and pluralism, have catastrophic repercussions.“
Even more disgracefully, Esposito refuses to acknowledge that the application of the Shari’a, or Islamic law, inevitably leads to a totalitarian society as in former Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, present-day Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Sudan. Freedom House ranks these countries as the worst offenders of human rights in the world. Furthermore, each one of these countries has been linked to the export of international terrorism. And yet, Esposito writes that
“contrary to what some have advised, the United States should not in principle object to implementation of Islamic law or involvement of Islamic activists in government.“51
A second factor leading to the apologetic nature of Islamologists is Saudi money being poured into Western universities. In December 2005, Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, the grandson of Abdul Aziz Al Saud, the founding king of Saudi Arabia, gave Georgetown and Harvard University $20 million each. Anthony Glees52 has demonstrated that eight British universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, have accepted £233.5 million from Saudi Arabia. Prof Glees claimed that the propagation of one-sided views of Islam and the Middle East at universities amounted to anti-Western propaganda. Glees said,
“Britain’s universities will have to generate two national cultures: one non-Muslim and largely secular, the other Muslim.We will have two identities, two sets of allegiance and two legal and political systems. This must, by the Government’s own logic, hugely increase the risk of terrorism.“
A report in the Guardian [U.K.] quoted Dr Denis MacEoin, Islam expert at Newcastle University, as saying that academics were nervous about handling topics that might upset their sponsors:
“‘It’s part of an overall belief that only Muslims can teach Islam, which in an academic context is entirely wrong. It would soon remove the possibility for genuine academic debate.‘ He said increasing numbers of students with Salafist – a more traditional form of Islam – backgrounds were taking Islamic studies and could be upset by ‚proper academic critical debate‘. ‘It does threaten academic freedom and critical thinking,‘ he warned.“53
Dr. MacEoin was dismissed many years ago from his university post because his ideas were not acceptable to the Saudis funding the Islamic department.54
The third factor which inhibits the critical scrutiny of the Koran and the whole Islamic Tradition is the presence of Islamic colleagues on campuses throughout the Western world. Starting probably in the 1960s, Western universities in their search for diversity began appointing Muslims to teach about Islam — as though only Muslims were qualified enough to teach it. Some of them were competent and rigorous, but many Muslim scholars, unfortunately, were also incompetent, and were tenured early on despite the poverty of their scholarship. They now wield enormous power on these campuses, and faculty heads are terrified of rocking the boat and offending their Muslim colleagues, who can shamelessly mobilize local imams to create bad publicity if, for example, the Islamic Department tries to invite a scholar such as Christoph Luxenberg. Professor Joseph Hoffmann had originally planned to hold a conference that looked skeptically at the sources and scriptures of the three Abrahamic religions at a well-known divinity school in Eastern United States, but had to abandon the idea because of the hostility of one Muslim faculty member. (The conference eventually did take place on the West coast in 2007.)
The unfortunate result is that academics can no longer do their work honestly. A scholar working on recently discovered Koranic manuscripts showed some of his startling conclusions to a distinguished colleague, a world expert on the Koran. The latter did not ask, “What is the evidence, what are your arguments, is it true?“ The colleague simply warned him that his thesis was unacceptable because it would upset Muslims.
Western scholars need to defend unflinchingly our right to examine Islam, to explain its rise and fall by the normal mechanisms of human history, according to the objective standards of historical methodology.
Democracy depends on freedom of thought and free discussion. The notion of infallibility is profoundly undemocratic and unscientific. It is perverse for the western media to lament the lack of an Islamic reformation and wilfully ignore books such as Anwar Shaikh’s Islam – The Arab Imperialism, or my Why I am Not a Muslim. How do they think reformation will come about, if not with criticism?
46 Martin Kramer. Ivory Towers on Sand. The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America. Washington, D.C.: The Wsahington Institute for Near East Policy, 2001, p.49.
48 John Voll and John L.Esposito, „Islam’s Democratic Essence„, Middle East Quarterly 1, no.3 (September 1994) p.11, quoted in Martin Kramer. Ivory Towers on Sand. The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America. Washington, D.C.: The Wsahington Institute for Near East Policy, 2001, p.50
49 Quoted in Martin Kramer. Ivory Towers on Sand. The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America. Washington, D.C.: The Wsahington Institute for Near East Policy, 2001, p.50
50 Martin Kramer. Ivory Towers on Sand. The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America. Washington, D.C.: The Wsahington Institute for Near East Policy, 2001, pp.50-51
51All the quotes in the last three paragraphs are from Campus Watch, Esposito: Apologist for Militant Islam, published by FrontPage Magazine, September 3 2002, accessed Nov.30, 2007
52 Ben Leach, “ ‚Extremism‘ Fear in Islam Studies Donations“ in Telegraph On-line, 13 April, 2008, available at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1584954/Extremism-fear-over-Islam-studies-donations.html. Accessed, 29 March, 2010.
53 Anthea Lipsett, Concerns over Funding of Islamic Studies, 17 April, 2008.Guardian, available at
http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2008/apr/17/highereducation.uk. Accessed 29 March, 2010.
54 Daniel Easterman. New Jerusalems, London, 1992, pp.92-93.