Thursday, May 08, 2014
UC Berkeley “Islamophobia” Conference: Pseudo-Scholarship at Taxpayer Expense
A peculiar theme was repeatedly advanced throughout the three-day Fifth Annual Conference on Islamophobia, held at UC Berkeley’s prestigious Boalt Law School in Berkeley, California, April 17-19. Almost all presenters who spoke about the 34 or more “academic” papers that were discussed continually asserted that white racism and colonialism were the causes of “Islamophobia” throughout America and Europe. In their view, this “Islamophobia” is driven by the media, while racism against people of color is the main cause overall behind the (supposed) persecution of Muslims. Fear of terrorism was of no legitimate concern.
Discussions also centered on discrimination against women and gays, a practice deemed not to be a widespread problem in Islamic practices, but the result of “Islamophobia.”
Hatem Bazian was the main organizer of the event. A Senior Lecturer in the Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley, Bazian was an adjunct Professor of Islamic Law at Boalt Law School from 2002-2007. As an undergrad, he was a student leader among the General Union of Palestinian Students at San Francisco State, where he ultimately earned an M.A. in International Relations. He then went through UC Berkeley’s PhD program while serving as a Palestinian activist on that campus with the Students for Justice in Palestine. He is one of the founders of Zaytuna College in Berkeley, the nation’s first “Islamic college” that is graduating its first class this month. Bazian was a co-founder of American Muslims for Palestine that has been featured in the news as a Hamas front.
Bazian kicked off the conference with an introduction that discussed Islamophobia as an irrational fear of Islam and a major issue for Muslims worldwide. He cast much of the blame for this (supposed) situation on Steven Emerson of the Investigative Project.
Bazian stated that the conference would deal with deciphering the causes and activities of latent and manifested Islamophobia and that similar conferences were already in the works to take place in Paris, France and Salzberg, Austria next year to reach European audiences. He also discussed a similar conference to take place in Turkey because, as he explained, “Islamophobia takes place in the Middle East and Muslim countries also.” He concluded by saying that he hoped to see “Islamophobia” as a major studies course in universities and colleges across America and the entire world.
As the conference ensued, the speakers blamed the news media for Islamophobia and complained of so-called “experts” on Islam who allegedly “had no knowledge” and were supposedly inflaming public opinion against Muslims. These individuals included Pamela Geller, Ann Coulter and Robert Spencer, who, like Steve Emerson, were all accused of making “false accusations” against Muslims. Photos were displayed of the controversial bus ads placed by Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer’s American Freedom Defense Initiative condemning jihad in Boston, with examples of how the organizers had managed to get the bus companies to change the wording on the ads to make them less “anti-Islamic.”
At no time during the conference was there a condemnation of terrorism or any other security threat to the United States, despite an agreement by all that 9/11 was a watershed moment for Muslims, particularly in America. Israel also was not mentioned, save for once when the word “occupation” was used. Any type of national security that scrutinized Muslims was deemed “Islamophobic,” as if actual terrorism does not exist and has never been carried out by Muslims — who are, according to the conference’s main theme, only falsely profiled or accused and are, therefore, victims.
Real scholarly research somehow eluded the presenters’ papers. Of special interest was how a visiting French-Arab student had provided the “research” that had resulted in the recent decision of New York’s Mayor Bill De Blasio to close down an anti-terrorism intelligence unit of the NYPD. A recent court case had found no wrongdoing by the NYPD in how it conducted surveillance to prevent a future terror attack, and the program was supposed to continue. Somehow this student got a hold of internal police training documents that revealed that undercover police were concentrated in neighborhoods and at mosques with heavy Muslim populations. The student complained that people who had done nothing wrong other than being Muslim were being scrutinized, and he affirmed that his “research” backed that up.
The reality, of course, is that the police were acting on their experience with the Blind Sheikh and his mosque that led to the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and other planned and executed attacks around New York. But the student suggested to the Police Commissioner and the Mayor that innocent Muslims were the victims of “Islamophobia” — so the program was closed down.
Shariah Law was defended as being an Islamic institution that gets a bum rap. One academic showed some newspaper articles from Turkey where a closing of a madrassa by the government to create a health clinic was opposed by the locals. The article contained a photo of a woman being beaten. The professor claimed this falsely represented Shariah Law. Another speaker claimed honor killings are not mandated in the Koran and serve as a false accusation against Shariah Law, when in fact they are the result of “tribal cultures.” Curiously enough, she never addressed why, if honor killings are so un-Islamic, Imams and Muslim leaders don’t condemn them as “tribal practices” in order to stop then in Islamic societies.
One of the guest lecturers was a Sikh. Despite the fact the Muslims have perpetrated genocide against Sikhs, at one point during a discussion on Islamophobia he turned to a colleague and said, “In Nebraska they wanted to pass a law to outlaw Shariah Law. Can you imagine?” Queried during a break, he insisted that the Muslim potentate who carried out the genocide against Sikhs “wasn’t a real Muslim.” The Sikh community would beg to differ.
Most presentations centered more on activism than on research. The sheer lack of academic responsibility in many of the presentations was palpable. One lecturer said one of her own studies was on the changing attitudes among Americans about Islam and the “rise of Islamophobia.” For her “research,” she said she had read over 300 comments on an Internet blog and used that as her source of information. Since anyone can write on a blog anonymously, and even one person can post multiple entries ad infinitum under false names, such research, one could argue, falls a bit short of being “scholarly.”
One of the worst cases was a “professor” from “Solomon College” who lectured about bias against Muslim males on a college campus in the U.S. On reaching the podium, she assured everyone that her story was true but that her real name was not the one on the program and that the Muslim student’s name in question was fictitious. She went on to tell a tale of a Muslim male student whom a female student on a liberal arts campus back east had complained to administrators about, saying that he had sexually intimidated her. This student was allegedly held captive for eight hours by campus administrators, who criticized Muslim male attitudes toward women. He was purportedly “imprisoned illegally overnight” in a campus basement by private campus security with no governmental authority. She stated she feared for her safety all the time in public because she intervened to help the student, even recounting the tale thousands of miles away at UC Berkeley. When queried by me from the audience about the “false imprisonment” details of the story, Hatem Bazian shouted me down and had the microphone removed from me. Curiously enough, a hijab-clad CAIR attorney on the stage made no comments about the alleged false imprisonment — other than to relate it to herself in regards to being abused as a child for wearing a hijab.
Surely CAIR had the resources to sue over the woman’s accusations of a “Muslim male” being imprisoned falsely for “Islamophobia”?
Only one academic during the three days commented on a need for Muslims to set examples of good behavior in their communities rather than to play the victim of “Islamophobia.” Oddly, he was a Georgetown acolyte of John Esposito and was funded by the Alwaleed Bin Talal interfaith program at the university. Talal has provided financial support to Hamas. Despite his benefactor’s backgrounds, this professor contradicted most of the speakers at the conference by saying that Muslims should behave well in America and abroad rather than cry victim, always setting good community examples, and to “look within.” But he was little more than a voice in the wilderness.
California and US taxpayers should be dismayed to learn that they funded this event through taxpayer-supported academic study groups at UC Berkeley, San Francisco State, Boalt Law School and elsewhere. Consequently, one of the most important facets of Bazian’s program on “Islamophobia Studies” to watch for in the future is how it affects taxpayers and the use of their money in promoting Islamic activism and propaganda over education.