by Andrew E. Harrod
Only ten people, including two imams and a reporter, showed up to hear University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, professor of religious studies Carl W. Ernst deliver the “First Annual Ibrahim Abu-Rabi Lecture” on May 7 at the International Council for Middle East Studies (ICMES) in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. Ernst was introduced by ICMES founder and president Norton Mezvinsky, who came to ICMES after a 42-year career teaching Middle East history at Connecticut State University.
A self-professed “anti-Zionist,” Mezvinsky endorsed the infamous 1975 Zionism-is-racism U.N. resolution and developed amiable relations with the deranged anti-Semitic Lyndon LaRouche movement and once spoke at the LaRouchite Schiller Institute in Germany. He also co-authored Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel with the late Israel Shahak, whose work, MEF Fellow Asaf Romirowsky wrote, “rests on his conviction that Judaism is the font of all evil and that most global issues can ultimately be traced back to Judaism via a world-wide Jewish conspiracy.”
In dedicating its inaugural lecture series to the memory of former ICMES director Ibrahim Abu-Rabi, ICMES signals its support of his radical ideology. Mezvinsky tearfully recalled his late “very good friend” and “distinguished scholar,” about whose book on the Muslim Brotherhood’s Sayyid Qutb Daniel Pipes wrote, “author and subject meld into a nearly seamless whole” so that, for Qutb and likeminded individuals, Abu-Rabi was “their apostle to an English-speaking audience.”
Appreciatively hearing Mezvinsky were Imams Mohammad Magid and Johari Abdul-Malik. The Sudanese-born Magid heads two groups with disturbing Islamist connections, the Muslim Brotherhood-founded, terrorism unindicted co-conspirator Islamic Society of North America and the All Dulles Area Muslim Society mosque in northern Virginia. The American convert Abdul-Malik, meanwhile, who called Magid “my teacher” at a press conference the day after the ICMES lecture, is outreach director at northern Virginia’s Dar al-Hijrah mosque, known for many years of attracting violent individuals, some personally defended by Abdul-Malik.
Ernst used PowerPoint to illustrate a chapter on Islamic ethics from his 2004 book, Following Muhammad: Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World. Hackneyed accusations of “modern Islamophobia” with a “connection to racism & anti-Semitism” in an aggressive, post-Cold War Western society seeking “another opponent to take the place of the Soviet Union” introduced Ernst’s comments. “Islamophobia,” Ernst elaborated, “draws upon a well-established attack” upon Catholics previously called disloyal to a secular state.
Colonialism’s “untold results continue to play out” among Muslims as well, Ernst claimed in yet another presentation of the erroneous thesis that present development ills derive from past Western imperialism. Ernst referenced a Dars-i Nizami curriculum established in northern India around 1700 with an “emphasis on rational subjects” suffering marginalization under British rule while more theological Islamic institutions such as the Deobandi prospered. Mixed “Anglo-Mohammedan” law also codified Islamic precedents, thereby eliminating Muslim judges’ “considerable degree of independence.” Ernst left unexplained why Muslim countries such as Turkey, defeated but never colonized, chose to import Western influence.
In Koran 5:48’s ambiguous words Ernst sees a supposedly unique Islamic acceptance of “multiple religious traditions and ethical ways.” “Against de-humanizing essentialism” of a monolithic Islamic civilization, Ernst rejected the “ludicrous concept” of a “separate planet . . . inhabited exclusively by Muslims.” “There is one world of which we are all a part,” rather than civilizational groupings like the West and Islam “juxtaposed as opposites.” Such platitudes, though, leave unexamined whether Western or Islamic civilization is more open to foreign influences such as Anglo-Saxon common law. Orthodox Islamic supremacist doctrines, expressed in canonical sources such as Koran 3:110, for example, belie Ernst’s vision of a Muslim mindset open to borderless experimentation.
“Stealth analysis” is Ernst’s favored tactic for dialogue without “complicated academic jargon” that “doesn’t really connect to the audience” and “gives scholars a bad name.” Yet Ernst’s thesis of multicultural Muslim societies suffering long-lasting imperialist harm is rather transparent. Deficient Islamic intellectual inquiry and the resulting civilizational inferiority vis-à-vis the West, though, is empirical and not part of any Western “selective amnesia” per Ernst in Following Muhammad. Ernst himself bemoaned at ICMES globalization, “ostensibly bringing together various parts of the world,” being “actually a one-way phenomenon” with many Muslims excited by the West, but not vice-versa. Perhaps they know something Ernst refuses to admit.
This essay was written for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.
Andrew E. Harrod is a freelance researcher and writer who holds a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a JD from George Washington University Law School. He is a fellow with the Lawfare Project, an organization combating the misuse of human rights law against Western societies. You may follow Harrod on twitter at @AEHarrod.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.