This Foreign Policy piece is a lurid fantasy about how a sinister and well-heeled cabal of racist, bigoted “Islamophobes” have smeared a thoughtful, mild-mannered academic, Professor Jonathan Brown, and opened him up to death threats, as part of a larger endeavor to do nothing less than deprive Muslims of the freedom of speech. In reality, just about the opposite is true, and this Foreign Policy article is a sterling example of the victimhood propaganda that the establishment media uses in order to cover for its own and deflect attention away from unpleasant realities of Islam. My comments are interspersed below.
“The Making of Islamophobia Inc.: A well-funded network is trying to strip the right to speak away from American Muslims and fanning the politics of fear,” by Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, Foreign Policy, March 16, 2017:
A decade ago, few outside the academy would have noticed Jonathan Brown’s lecture on slavery. A Washington native who looks a good bit younger than his 39 years, Brown is now a professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University, where he directs the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. He’s also a convert to Islam. Much of his work is aimed at making Islamic thought more accessible to general audiences.
But Brown’s attempts to explain the faith have made him a hate figure for the American right. A flood of articles accuse him of being an apologist for slavery and rape.
No, his “attempts to explain the faith” didn’t make him into a “hate figure.” His acting quite clearly as an apologist for slavery and rape did that, if he is actually a “hate figure” at all.
His family has received death and rape threats.
I very seriously doubt that. There are so very many fake anti-Muslim hate crimes, and it is the Left today, not the Right, that is thuggish, hateful and violent. Unless Brown publishes specifics of threats he has received, and reports them to law enforcement, as I myself have done many times with death threats I have received from his coreligionists, his claim warrants extreme skepticism.
It all started with good intentions. Brown is one of the majority of Muslims around the world who believes the Islamic State practices a warped interpretation of Islamic thought that blesses slavery, rape, and other crimes. But Brown also knows that not all Muslims are so quick to dismiss the jihadi group’s theology. Certainly the hundreds of foreign fighters who have trickled into Syria and Iraq to join its ranks find its ideas seductive. For some others, the veneer of religious authenticity used to justify Islamic State atrocities has led to a crisis of faith. And the cacophony of violence plaguing much of the Muslim world tends to drown out the voices of those most qualified to referee the religious confusion.
But Brown felt that he was called to try, hence his public lecture at the International Institute of Islamic Thought in Herndon, Virginia, on Feb. 7. In the first of what he intended as a three-part series, Brown addressed slavery in Islam, hoping to combat the idea that Islam could ever condone the subjugation and exploitation of human beings.
In reality, Brown did not combat the idea that Islam condoned slavery. He said: “I don’t think it’s morally evil to own somebody.” He also condoned rape of the female non-Muslim war captives: “Consent isn’t necessary for lawful sex.” Watch the video of his lecture for yourself and see. Apparently Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian didn’t do so herself, or doesn’t think anyone else will.
That was when he encountered a cacophony of a different sort — America’s far-right, anti-Muslim ecosystem that has adopted the same twisted interpretations of Islam that the Islamic State promotes. After the lecture, Brown endured a cascade of online attacks from conservative and alternative-right heavyweights such as Ann Coulter, Robert Spencer, and Milo Yiannopoulos, who claimed that he had actually condoned the acts he had set about to condemn. His university department was flooded with demands that he be fired.
In reality, it was a fellow Muslim, Umar Lee, who first blew the whistle on Brown’s apologetics for slavery and rape. The idea that his lecture condemned slavery and rape is false on its face. And of course he should be fired, if not for his justification of these abhorrent practices then for his dishonesty when the furor began, and his tendency to heap contempt upon those who called him out, rather than engage them intellectually. But Georgetown gets far too much Saudi money for that.
Brown is the victim of an increasingly empowered industry of Islamophobia that constricts the space for balanced and open dialogue, sidelining the very Muslims who are doing the most to promote peaceful, orthodox interpretations of Islam. The United States has powerful protections for speech and religious liberty that have allowed faith traditions to hammer out their theological debates in a free and protected environment.
But a targeted network now seeks to deny Muslims that freedom and to treat Islam as a dangerous political ideology rather than a religion — and, like the McCarthyites of the 1950s, to silence and discredit any Muslims who disagree….
The idea that I or anyone else is trying to silence Jonathan Brown is risible. Since he boasted that he would beat me handily in debate, I publicly accepted his challenge; his response to that was “my God you’re ugly.” So on the one hand we have me wanting a debate, and on the other hand we have Brown with his hatred and contempt trying to give people the impression that I am unworthy of serious consideration. So which one of us, exactly, is trying to silence, demonize and marginalize the other?
Anyway, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian then follows with a long discussion of the evolution of Christian thinking in the U.S. about slavery, concluding it with this claim:
Islam in the United States today is increasingly — and systematically — denied that free and respected space for discussion….
Note the irony. Here is Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian running interference for Jonathan Brown’s rape and slavery apologetics in Foreign Policy, a prestigious and respected publication, and claiming that Islam in the United States is not getting a “free and respected space for discussion.” In reality, it is those of us whom she claims are responsible for this who are never granted a “free and respected space for discussion” in Foreign Policy or anywhere else in the establishment media.
Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian then summarizes Brown’s lecture, leaving out the quotes above and other indications that he condones slavery and rape. Then:
What Brown was attempting to do was build a bridge for American Muslims between their sacred scripture and their human rights sensibilities, as many Christian thinkers before him have done. For his efforts, he attracted the attention of an Islamophobic ecosystem designed to marginalize any Muslim who speaks out. Brown’s straightforward academic lecture was quickly transformed into fodder for a flood of unscrupulous articles painting him as someone who “justifies slavery and the rape of female slaves,” leaving him with a horrific online footprint that is likely to trail him for decades.
Nonsense. Brown wasn’t fired, and he is getting protection from the likes of Foreign Policy and the Washington Post. The ones who have the “horrific online footprint” that is likely to trail us for decades are those who pointed out what Brown said, and have been mocked, vilified, and defamed by people such as Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, and other smear merchants who came before her and have long demonized us as “Islamophobes” and bigots.
In the years after 9/11, a small but powerful network of funders and ideological activists has waged a major misinformation campaign, seeking to cast Islam as a diabolical threat that must be eradicated.
I have, of course, never said such a thing. I’ve merely pointed out how jihadis use the texts and teachings of Islam to justify violence and make recruits among peaceful Muslims. Those who point this out have been subjected to a 15-year-long campaign of character assassination, of which this present Foreign Policy article is just the latest example.
Their concerted efforts have resulted in an influential infrastructure of websites, activists, lawmakers, and grassroots organizations that hold sway in municipal councils and state legislatures — and now have the ear of the president of the United States.Between 2001 and 2009, seven charitable foundations donated $42.6 million to think tanks that promoted anti-Muslim rhetoric, as a 2011 report by the Center for American Progress revealed.
A highly misleading figure, and I doubt it is accurate, but even if we take it at face value, look how it is cooked: $42.6 million divided among numerous organizations over an eight-year period. That’s five million a year, divided among disparate organizations. Meanwhile, the Center for American Progress budget is upwards of $50 million in one year alone. So which exactly is the organized, well-heeled cabal of smear merchants?
These organizations include Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy; Stop Islamization of America, founded by Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer; the website Jihad Watch, directed by Spencer; and the David Horowitz Freedom Center, which hosts Jihad Watch. These organizations came up with several talking points about Islam that they promoted among lawmakers, grassroots networks, and the Christian right. Chiefly among these ideas was the belief that sharia, or Islamic law, is a totalitarian political ideology that presents the greatest domestic threat facing the United States today; that the Muslim Brotherhood, a loosely organized international Islamist movement, has infiltrated the U.S. government; and that Islam commands believers to lie about their motives. In other words, no Muslim can be trusted; you must infiltrate their private spaces to learn what they think.
This campaign has been wildly successful. Gaffney is now a senior advisor to the Donald Trump White House. Gaffney’s influence extends throughout the administration. Kellyanne Conway, who ran Trump’s campaign and now serves as counselor to the president, managed polling for the Center for Security Policy. Stephen Bannon, former head of the alt-right website Breitbart and now White House chief strategist, frequently invited Gaffney to appear on Breitbart’s radio show.
Spencer’s website Jihad Watch, which received more than $500,000 in donations between 2001 and 2009 from those same seven foundations,
That is false. I have no contact whatsoever with most of those foundations, and have never received any money from most of them. But here again, even if the claim were true (it isn’t), that’s $62,500 per year over eight years, which doesn’t even cover operating expenses, while Soros is giving groups millions upon millions to smear and defame me and others.
has brought him global influence as well. He has published two New York Times bestsellers. The ideas he has promulgated on his site have resonated in the U.S. Tea Party movement and abroad: Anders Breivik, the self-styled Christian conservative who murdered 77 people in the worst mass killing Norway has seen since World War II, referred to Spencer and his website Jihad Watch 162 times in his manifesto, in which he justified his actions as necessary to combat the “ongoing Islamic Colonization of Europe.”
Re Breivik, see here (scroll down).
Jihad Watch even has a correspondent whose primary beat appears to be attending academic lectures around the Beltway, particularly at Georgetown, and publishing articles “exposing” the creeping ideology of radical Islam.
Actually, yes. That’s the estimable Andrew Harrod, who drives people like Brown crazy, because he draws attention to what they actually say.
Websites like Jihad Watch have proliferated, including sites such as Religion of Peace and Answering Islam, and sites that often repost their content, including World Net Daily, the Daily Caller, Heat Street, and, of course, Breitbart.
The effect has been to create a self-reinforcing online ecosystem that churns out frenzied headlines and constructs alternate online biographies, often displayed in first page results from any search engine, in which normal American Muslims are painted as Muslim Brotherhood-linked, jihad-loving, rape-defending threats to the American way of life. Brown’s lecture lasted like chum in shark-infested waters.
More hooey. Jonathan Brown is no “normal American Muslim.” His father-in-law, Sami al-Arian, is a convicted jihad terror leader. His remarks about slavery and rape in Islam were quite clear. At least he was honest about Islam condoning both, until the firestorm caused him to retreat into dissimulation.
It started with a blog post titled “Georgetown Professor Jonathan Brown Defends Slavery as Moral and Rape as Normal in Virginia Lecture” on a website called Student Voices. The author is a former cabdriver from St. Louis and a Muslim convert named Umar Lee, with a long history of flip-flopping between Christianity and extremist Islam who had attended the lecture. “Not knowing what to expect from Brown I was shocked when he basically went into a 90 minute defense of slavery which included an explicit endorsement of non-consensual sex,” Lee wrote. It’s unclear how that was Lee’s takeaway from a lecture explicitly intended to do the opposite.
Lee’s blog was quickly picked up by the website Jihad Watch, with its founder Robert Spencer getting into a round of Twitter sparring with Brown. On Feb. 10, Ann Coulter retweeted a related article from Heat Street to her 1.4 million followers, which read, “A Georgetown Islamic Studies professor defends slavery and says rape is okay because consent is a ‘Western’ concept.”
On Feb. 11, in an attempt to stem the bleeding, Brown tweeted, “Islam as a faith and I as a person condemn slavery, rape and concubinage.”
But it was too late. Soon dozens of articles were published proclaiming that Brown had defended slavery and rape as acceptable. Pamela Geller wrote about him; Milo Yiannopoulos featured Brown on his website and Facebook account. Brown received dozens of voice messages on his office phone telling him to pack his bags and leave the country, implying that people were coming to look for him and threatening to rape his wife.
By Feb. 15, the relatively mainstream conservative National Review had piled on, suggesting that Brown’s supposed defense of slavery may be related to his endowed chair, which is funded by a Saudi. By Feb. 20, it was on Fox News. On Feb. 22, Gaffney wrote a public letter to Georgetown University President John DeGioia calling for Brown’s termination. Brown told Foreign Policy that the university had remained very supportive; other academics have come out to back him….
Of course they did. They’re part of the same Leftist establishment that Brown and Foreign Policy is part of. Unlike the Right, they protect their own.
Ideologues are seeking to marginalize Muslims by making their speech and their activism relating to their religion come at a very high price. They believe that Muslims are malevolent, duplicitous, and dangerous, and these Islamophobes will bend the truth to fit their claims. In the process, they are denying Islam the same functional rights that Christianity enjoys and silencing the very people best poised to reconcile Islam with modern American life. Which may be the very point.
I don’t believe all Muslims are “malevolent, duplicitous, and dangerous.” I do believe Jonathan Brown is, based on my own experience with him. I do not “bend the truth to fit [my] claims,” and I challenge Foreign Policy or Brown to come up with even a single example of my doing so. But they won’t. This article shows that they aren’t interested in the truth, but only in demonizing those who call attention to the truth when it is inconvenient for them.