Why are American professors of Middle East studies attending an Istanbul conference chaired by former Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) board member Sami Al-Arian, who pled guilty to conspiring to provide services to PIJ – a U.S.-designated terrorist organization – while teaching at the University of South Florida?
And why, as if Al-Arian’s presence weren’t bad enough, are they cozying up to Turkey’s authoritarian Islamist regime that kidnaps Americans for its hostage diplomacy, threatens to conduct “operations” against opponents in the U.S., and dispatches thugs to beat up Americans as they peacefully protest in the streets of Washington, D.C.?
Because, like so many of their colleagues in the discipline, they are apologists for Islamism or – worse – Islamists themselves. They gathered in Istanbul this week to participate in the Second International Conference on the Muslim Ummah at Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University (IZU) on October 14-16.
Al-Arian’s sordid legal history includes being charged with contempt, spending several years in prison, and deportation to Turkey in 2015 as part of a final plea agreement. Welcomed as a hero by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s lackeys, he is director of the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) and professor of public affairs at Istanbul Zaim University. The Americans’ participation in the conference legitimizes both Al-Arian and, more the point, the brutal government he supports.
Journalists concerned with the rise of extremism in the Middle East should pay attention to the efforts of Turkey’s strongman, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to consolidate his power. Erdoğan is transforming his country slowly into a Khomeini-like Islamic regime. American academics who travel to Turkey for conferences, like the one that ended earlier this week, are helping legitimize a brutal Islamist autocracy, using their credentials and the good names of their universities to support a thuggish regime that is squelching free speech and free thought.
Since the failed coup in July, 2016, Erdoğan has either jailed, killed or purged virtually every free-thinking member of the Turkish academia, leaving only his Islamist allies. In February, 2018, Al-Arian roused Erdoğan’s professors at another academic conference in Istanbul by telling them that the U.S. is “our enemy.”
Al-Arian’s supporters in American academia hail from a variety of institutions, but especially Georgetown University’s Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Christian-Muslim Understanding (ACMU), a world-renowned home to both apologists for and practitioners of Islamism. Its director, Jonathan Brown, (who also holds the Alwaleed bin Talal Chair of Islamic Civilization), offered welcoming remarks on Sunday and lectured on Monday. Brown, a convert to Islam who has defended slavery under Islamic law, is Al-Arian’s son-in-law, married to his daughter Laila, a journalist at Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera.
The conference’s rogue’s gallery of sponsors includes the emirate of Qatar, ever eager to provide cover for both terrorists – whether of the Taliban or Hamas variety – and Islamists. Demonstrating its alliance with Turkey, it sent a few professors from the College of Islamic Studies in Doha where, not coincidentally, Georgetown has a campus, where Al-Arian’s son Abdullah teaches history. He earned his Ph.D. at Georgetown.
In addition to lending Al-Arian a thin veneer of respectability, the conference provided a platform to denounce the evils of European (but not Arab, Turkish, or Persian) colonialism and compare Israel to Apartheid South Africa. IZU professor Mehmet Bulut complained about the U.S. moving its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
All this rank hypocrisy on display is enough to make a decent person gag, and the Americans participating deserve to be called out for dragging their respective schools into the mire. They include: Joseph Massadof Columbia University, whose brutish behavior towards Jewish students was the subject of a documentary and an extensive Ad Hoc Grievance Committee investigation.
- Nader Hashemiof the University of Denver, an apologist for the Muslim Brotherhood.
- Mujeeb R. Khanof the University of California, Berkeley, who has defended Erdoğan at Al-Jazeera by portraying him as a democrat.
- Hafsa Kanjwalof Lafayette College (PA), an Al-Jazeera writer who sees Islamophobia everywhere, even in criticism of the Taliban.
- Sarah Shields of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, a prominent advocate of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
To these professors and others contemplating a conference appearance in Turkey, one is compelled to ask: would you also participate in a conference in Iran, perhaps to applaud the domestic liberties accorded by its brand of Shia Islam, or in Damascus for a colloquium on human rights and the dignity of man with the cream of the Assad regime’s intelligentsia?
Not to get all Joseph Welch on you, but “Have you no decency?”
A.J. Caschetta is a Ginsburg-Ingerman fellow at the Middle East Forum and a principal lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology.