by Stephen Schwartz
John L. Esposito, professor of religion and international affairs and director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (CMCU) at Georgetown University, is the leading defender of radical Islam in U.S. higher education -- if not in the entire Western academy. He and his enterprise have returned to the public eye with the exposure that, in 2006-07, they were offered $325,000 by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to hold a conference on Islamophobia at the university.
A 57-member international body headquartered in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the OIC was founded in Morocco in 1969 to "protect" the Islamic sites in Jerusalem from Israel. It defines "Islamophobia" with considerable and questionable latitude, as any criticism of Muslim individual, institutional, ideological, legal, or cultural behavior. Combating Islamophobia as it conceives it, OIC seeks to prevent free discussion about Islam or the lives of Muslims under, for example, the radical Islamists dominating Saudi Arabia and ruling Iran.
For its part CAIR, which masquerades as a civil-rights organization, has been shown to be a front for the terrorist Hamas movement among Palestinians. Though ostensibly seeking to improve understanding of the Muslim faith among Americans and other Westerners, it employs strident rhetoric and panic-mongering claims of alleged persecution that do not jibe with the American vision of religious activism. It also defends extremist Islamists and has focused its organizational efforts outside the Muslim community, on alliances with radical leftist political groups and academic trends that, like it, oppose U.S. policies, rather than on better inter-religious relations.
Esposito and CMCU have given Georgetown an unappealing image as a nest of Saudi-financed Wahhabis and other extremists. Esposito has published books promoting almost every form of radical Islam. In 2007, when the OIC-CAIR-CMCU $325,000 caper was in preparation, Espositodeclared, "Sami Al-Arian's a very good friend of mine." He expressed solidarity with Al-Arian despite, if not because of, the latter's 2006 conviction for conspiring to provide goods and services to the Palestinian terrorist group Islamic Jihad, based on Al-Arian's admission of guilt. Esposito delivered himself of this personal endorsement of Al-Arian at a CAIR event in Dallas, Texas, during proceedings in which the so-called Holy Land Foundation (HLF) was eventually found guilty of providing more than $12 million to Hamas. Evidence at trial revealed close cooperation between HLF and CAIR. Esposito, nevertheless, proclaimed, "[I am here] to show solidarity not only with the Holy Land Fund [sic, Holy Land Foundation], but also with CAIR."
In 2008, Esposito expressed himself on behalf of Al-Arian to U.S. Judge Leonie Brinkema, supporting release on bond of the admitted terrorist: "Sami Al-Arian is a proud, dedicated and committed American as well as a proud and committed Palestinian. He is an extraordinarily bright, articulate scholar and intellectual-activist, a man of conscience with a strong commitment to peace and social justice." Considering that they represent involvement with terrorism, Esposito's definitions of dedication and commitment to American values of peace and social justice are as perverse as the OIC's manipulative characterization of Islamophobia.
By the time Esposito wrote Judge Brinkema to assist Al-Arian, the OIC-CAIR-CMCU project appears to have collapsed. As disclosed by Patrick S. Poole at Pajamas Media, e-mails and other correspondence between OIC, CAIR, and CMCU show that the OIC, under its Turkish secretary-general Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, had pledged $325,000, to Nihad Awad of CAIR and Esposito as a representative of Georgetown, as expense money for an event on Islamophobia -- "the first ever OIC sponsored event to be held in the United States of America," in Ihsanoglu's enthusiastic words. Ihsanoglu's communication of January 15, 2007, affirming this promise, followed an e-mail sent on November 20, 2006 to Awad and to a CAIR activist who was also Esposito's then senior-researcher, Hadia Mubarak, by the OIC ambassador to the United Nations, Abdul Wahab. Therein, the latter stated that the OIC "would have no problem in transferring the required funds to the Georgetown University after the SG [Ihsanoglu] receives the letter on this subject from Prof Esposito."
While the OIC transferred the requisite $325,000 to CAIR, plans for an elaborate carnival of complaint at Georgetown dissipated. After six months, on July 19, 2007, Ihsanoglu deputy Sukru Tujan wrote to Awad and his mentor, then-chairman of CAIR Parvez Ahmed, asking for return of the money, except for $62,100 to pay for a September 2007 workshop and speech by Ihsanoglu at Georgetown.
CAIR boss Ahmed balked at this demand, stating in a letter of July 27, 2007, that returning the $325,000 would handicap preparations for future activities, and that CAIR could not transfer money to Georgetown because the organization lacked "a proper contractual agreement" with the university, although in the same letter Ahmed referred to a (presumably oral) agreement between the parties interested in the conference, i.e. OIC, CAIR, and Esposito.
Ihsanoglu was unmoved by Ahmed's arguments, replying on July 30, 2007 that OIC did not "feel that the Georgetown side has the ability to proceed with holding a trilateral conference in the near future... we might have to replace the Georgetown University with another partner for the organization of the foreseen symposium." Ihsanoglu's tone was notably chilly, in that he addressed the CAIR chief simply as "Dear Mr. Ahmed," with no reference to the latter's organization or the title conferred by it, and added that "the workshop which is being organized by Prof. Esposito on the 20th of this September is certainly not a substitute for what we have been planning." Bottom line: give the money back -- all of it.
But $325,000, even if it had been presented to Esposito and Georgetown, would have been a small amount when compared with $20 million donated to CMCU in 2005 by Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. Why did the OIC suddenly find Esposito and Georgetown less than attractive as partners? That is the question worth asking. Perhaps Esposito, despite generating mountains of pro-Islamist prose, could not "deliver" Georgetown to the OIC and CAIR in the manner the latter anticipated. Perhaps the OIC did not consider $325,000 an appropriate price for a conference. Ihsanoglu's upbeat letter of January 17, 2007, referenced above, included the rather unlikely suggestion that then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would attend the proposed function. Perhaps Awad and Esposito viewed such expectations negatively.
Founded in 1789 by the Society of Jesus, a long-established and illustrious Catholic religious and educational order, Georgetown has strayed very far from its original inspiration. This might have more to do with its preeminence in higher education in Washington, D.C., and its well-known School of Foreign Service, than its specific origins or attitudes on Islam or other inter-religious issues. But the career of John L. Esposito is rich with episodes in which he has enabled the targeting of "the nation's oldest Catholic and Jesuit university" for misbehavior by the radical Islamists to whose cause he is so manifestly and assiduously devoted. Georgetown alumni, Catholic intellectuals and activists, and others with legitimate concerns about this abominable situation should take note.Stephen Schwartz is executive director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism. He wrote this article for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.
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