By Charles C. Haynes
First Amendment Center senior scholar
Halloween arrived early this year in the guise of “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” held Oct. 22-26 on hundreds of college and university campuses across the nation. Scary speakers like Ann Coulter fanned out to warn students about the lies organizers say are being taught about the war on terrorism in institutions of higher learning.
The “protest week” is organized by the David Horowitz Freedom Center, an organization dedicated to promoting the ideas of, well, David Horowitz (a 1960s leftist who now describes himself as a conservative).
If the purpose were only to wake Americans up to the threat of extremists who commit terrorist acts in the name of Islam, then who could object? I suspect, however, that most of us are already fully awake to the terrorist threat — including the many Muslim Americans now serving in our armed services, as well as the many Muslim soldiers fighting with them in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But the real target behind the “Islamo-Fascism” rhetoric appears to be Islam itself. Horowitz is convinced that the “academic left” censors the truth about the Islamic roots of terrorism and thereby creates “sympathy for the enemy.”
That’s why many of the week’s campus events don’t focus on terrorism, but rather on topics like the “oppression of women in Islam.” And that’s also why the featured speakers are not experts on terrorist groups. They are, instead, people like author Robert Spencer, who argues that Islam is “the world’s most intolerant religion,” and Coulter, who refers to Muslims as “rag heads” and describes the Quran as “tied to a Stone Age culture.”
To the extent that political correctness on college campuses chills debate about the true nature of the terrorist threat, I’m all for replacing empty clichés such as “Islam is a religion of peace” with an open and honest discussion about the history and teachings of Islam. As a student of world religions, I’m well aware (as are most Muslims) of the extremist voices within Islam today and in history. (Similar voices are heard in the history of every world faith.)
But my own study of Islam convinces me that a fair, scholarly assessment of Islamic theology, history and civilization would refute the canard that Islam is inherently violent and intolerant. And it would expose al-Qaida and other terrorist groups as preaching a perversion of Islamic teaching.
Beyond demonizing Islam, it’s hard to understand what Horowitz, Coulter, Spencer and company hope to accomplish with their campus protests. If they are genuinely interested in defeating Islamist terrorists, why don’t they reach out to the vast majority of Muslims who share their rejection of extremism instead of pushing them away with blanket condemnations of their religion
As journalist Peter Bergen points out in this week’s New Republic, “the American Muslim community has overwhelmingly rejected the ideological virus of radical Islam.” This explains, he argues, why we have been spared “the scourge of home-grown terrorism.”
Just when we least need to inflame religious differences and most need to work together as American citizens, along comes “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” with its not-so-subtle hostility toward the Islamic faith.
Far from waking people up to terrorism, these campus events are likely to cause a spike in hatred toward American Muslims, already a growing problem in many parts of the nation. To make matters worse, the anti-Islam rhetoric will be a propaganda boon to al-Qaida, already busy working to convince Muslim youth that the West is at war with Islam.
Explain it to me again, Mr. Horowitz: How, exactly, does attacking Islam advance the fight against terrorism?
Charles C. Haynes is senior scholar at the First Amendment Center, 1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va. 22209. Web: firstamendmentcenter.org. E-mail: [email protected].