Islamo Fascism Awareness is Week is a Cover for Politicized Attacks on the Foundations of Academic Freedom at UCI and Across the Nation sign now

During the week of October 22-26, certain members of our community, at the urging of an organization called the Terrorism Awareness Project, are planning a series of events intended to draw attention to something they call Islamo-Fascism. Islamo-Fascism, the organizers claim, persecutes women, gays, Christians, Jews, and non-religious people. Among its alleged supporters is the academic left, which has mobilized to create sympathy for the enemy and to fight anyone who rallies Americans to defend themselves. Departments of Womens Studies in particular are accused of hypocrisy for failing to offer courses organized around an explicit condemnation of Islam. Finally, American scholars are accused of telling two Big Lies: first, that George Bush created the war on terror; and second, that Global Warming is a greater danger to Americans than the terrorist threat.

We fully agree with the organizers of Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week (IFAW) when they affirm the right of all people to live free from violence, intimidation, and coercion. We believe that the organizers of IFAW have the right to express their views, whether on our campus or anywhere else.

Unfortunately, representatives of their position have been unwilling to extend the same right to others. Specifically, they have worked to ensure that critics of US and Israeli policy are monitored, harassed, andwhenever possibledenied tenure. In one of the gravest breaches of Academic Freedom in decades, one such critic, Norman Finkelstein, was denied tenure at DePaul, despite the backing of his department and of the universitys tenure committee. The man responsible for this scandalous attack, Alan Dershowitz, has been invited to speak at UCI as a "balance" for inviting former President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmy Carter last year in response to the scurrilous accusation that the former President is anti-Jewish because he dares to speak out about the realities of the Occupation. This is in addition to the outside pressure placed on UCI Chancellor Michael Drake to fire incoming Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky because of his progressive political views.

We fully agree with the organizers of IFAW when they call upon all campus political, cultural, ethnic and religious groups to stand with us in opposing all forms of religious supremacism, violence and intimidation. We hope that they will join us in acknowledging that the US and Israeli occupations, also reflect religious supremacism and other forms of bigotry. Moreover, accusation by the organizers of IFAW that academics focus too much energy on condemning the US and Israel are shown to be blatantly false when one looks at the intense efforts by scholars for human rights and freedom for peoples in Latin America, China, Africa and across the Muslim world.

Yet we also affirm that constructive criticism of both US and Israeli policy is not unpatriotic, anti-Semtic, or "sympathetic to the enemy" (as IFAW puts it). Rather, it is an obligation for all Americans because, in the first place, it is our government engaging in these actions, and in the second, the single largest recipient of US aid doing so. We also urge that the US government base its own policies and foreign aid to all the regions of the world on the same standard of supporting "the right of all people to live free from violence, intimidation, and coercion," regardless of whether their governments happen to be important strategic allies, or (perceived or real) threats.

More broadly, we fail to understandnor does the IFAW explainexactly what Islamo-fascism is. Analytically, the term is nonsensical, as contemporary Muslim extremism bears few resemblances to fascism as an ideology of political system. Indeed, the self-acclaimed originator of the concept, conservative commentator Stephen Schwartz, describes it in terms--totalitarian, preying on middle class anxieties, engaging in willful and gratuitous use of violence, desiring radically to change the existing world system, and being imperialist--that reflect Bush administration policies more fully than the vast majority of "Islamist" movements across the world. As scholars trained to respect the importance of clear language, we see no analytical benefit to labeling groups as diverse as Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, Jama'at Islami or even al-Qa'eda under one analytically meaningless phrase, as do those involved in IFAW. Such careless and simplistic reasoning is precisely what led to the disastrous invasion and on-going occupation of Iraq, and numerous other problems in the Muslim world.

However, if by the term the organizers of the IFAW mean aggression carried out in the name of Islam, or by people who happen to be Muslim, then we do condemn it, as we would condemn aggression by anyone. But if the IFAW organizers insist on applying religious labels, we are tempted to ask that they join us in condemning Christo-imperialism for imposing a decade of deadly economic sanctions on Iraq followed by a murderous invasion and occupation; supporting innumerable authoritarian and repressive regimes, and wars such as Israel's 2006 attacks against civilian targets in Lebanon. We also ask the IFAW organizers to join us in condemning clearly anti-Muslim remarks by American military leaders, and those by the highest levels of the Israeli political establishment, in which even Palestinian citizens of the state are termed a "cancer" that must be removed.

Ultimately, we refuse to use terms like Christo-" "Judeo-", or "Islamo-fascism because none do justice to the complexity of the real world and the amazing variety of beliefs, ideologies and actions in all three religions. For the same reason, we agree with IFAW that calling Islam a peaceful religion is meaningless; some Muslims are peaceful and some are not. In this respect, as in all others, Muslims resemble the rest of humanity; and we see no point in pretending that this is not the case.

As for the role of the academic left, we make no apology for our attempt to provide a different view than the one advocated by the Bush administration and its allies. On every major foreign policy issue of the day, whether it's Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the potential war with Iran, the roots of terrorism, or the support of some of the most corrupt and repressive regimes in the world (such as the rulers of Saudi Arabia or Pakistan), the predictions and views of progressive scholars have been squarely on the mark, and squarely in the mainstream in most every country on earth besides the United States. That should not suggest that so-called Leftist academics are a monolithic voice. But we do agree that we will not be intimidated by name-calling, threats, and unfounded speculations about our intentions and our loyalties.

Regarding Womens Studies specifically, we agree that many departments, including Womens Studies, should offer more courses that explore the history, literature, politics, and religious beliefs and practices of majority-Muslim and Sharia-based states. But the regrettable dearth of such courses is due not to misplaced political correctness, but rather to a combination of factors, including the academys failure to support training and scholarship addressing non-Western cultures. Women's Studies courses will continue to engage questions of gender subordination and violence in Islamic societies as in those of the West and the rest of the world, but they will not design courses to reflect the ignorance and chauvinism inherent in the IFAW and its supporters, nor succumb to bullying tactics that insist that ignorance and chauvinism be elevated over the pursuit and presentation of the most accurate information and analysis possible of the themes engaged by the discipline.

Regarding the two Big Lies, we are not sure what IFAW means by accusing us of teaching that Bush created the war on terror. Many of us would argue that European imperialism and American interventionism helped create the conditions under which a few individuals have come to embrace terrorism as a form of counter-aggression. But none of us is likely to argue that the war on terror is the work of any one person. (Acts of terrorism, on the other hand, do have individual perpetrators, among them Osama bin Laden; and here we may note that the Bush administration, despite invading two countries, supporting the invasion of a third, and threatening a fourth, seems intent on killing, maiming, or terrorizing practically everyone in the region except the actual perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks.)

As for the second Big Lie, namely that Global Warming is a greater danger to Americans than the terrorist threat, we again admit puzzlement: there is no way to know whether drowning in New Orleans is as bad asor better or worse thanbeing incinerated by a suicide bomber, or being gunned down by Blackwater guards for the crime of driving while Iraqi. But if the experts are rightas they were on Iraqthen global warming has the potential to inflict massive harm on a large portion of life on earth. So, if its a matter of sheer numbers, global warming wins. But we fail to see the point of the comparison; like you, we would rather live without either one of these problems.

In sum, we believe that IFAW does not contribute to a clearer understanding of the problems that all of us would like to see solved. Instead, it asks us to choose between Islamo-fascist jihad (or Islamic terrorism, or radical Islam, or Islam plain and simple) and some unspecified set of beliefs apparently identical to the neo-conservative creed of the Bush administration. There are, however, other choices. For example, one might oppose theocracies of all sorts, Islamic and Evangelical Christian alike. Similarly, one might oppose terrorism of all sorts, whether it is carried out by individuals, groups, or states. Finally, one might advocate equal rights and freedoms, including the right to self-determination, for all.

Much of the language in the IFAWs statement suggests that the organizers are closer than they may imagine to these positions. We look forward to an honest and collegial engagement of these issues based on verifiable evidence derived from the best practices of the many scholarly disciplines that study Islam, the Middle East and larger Muslim world, and a willingness by all sides of this debate to be as critical of their own arguments, uncritical assumptions, prejudices, ideological preconceptions and political views as they are of those of their opponents.

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Willard GilesBy:
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