This week, student organizations at nearly 150 American colleges and universities will be organizing events for “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week,” a national right-wing exercise in irrationality orchestrated by The David Horowitz Freedom Center and the Terrorism Awareness Project.
The mission of the campaign, according to their Web site, is “to confront the two Big Lies of the political left: that George Bush created the war on terror and that Global Warming is a greater danger to Americans than the terrorist threat.” The site further alleges that the academic world is responsible for creating and perpetuating lies about the war in Iraq, the message of Islam, the treatment of Muslim women, and—my personal favorite—the importance of global warming. With just one invented hyphenation, the title “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” alone manages to assign 1.4 billion people radical political ideology by virtue of their religion.
Luckily, the event is not being hosted at Harvard, despite false claims online to the contrary (which were exposed and later corrected) and despite the organizations’ attempt to sign up the Harvard College Republicans (HCR) as sponsors. HCR president, Jeffrey Kwong ’09 had the sense to refuse, recognizing that the event sent the “wrong message, which associates an entire religion with a terrorist political agenda.” Unfortunately, students at many of our peer institutions did not.
The website also lists campus Hillels as possible cosponsors, despite the fact that Jewish student groups frequently work with Arab and Muslim student groups on campus to facilitate dialogue. Both Harvard Hillel and the Progressive Jewish Alliance have asserted their opposition to the event. Horowitz’s suggestion—that, by virtue of their religion and culture, Jewish students would support such outright racism against Muslims—only exacerbates the polarization between Arabs and Jews, and indiscriminately conflates religions, ethnicities, and political allegiances.
It is difficult to argue with those reduce intellectual discourse of complicated issues within Islam to mere sensationalist phrases about the religion itself. No credible academic—on either side of the aisle—would so completely ignore socio-political, historic, and economic issues that are fundamentally entrenched in the idea of Islamo-fascism.
I hesitate to even dignify such clearly ignorant rhetoric with a response, but I fear the profound implications that can and often do materialize from the repeated misconceptions heralded by Horowitz’s brand of “awareness.” Sadly, such a notion of “enlightenment” seeks to teach the academic left lessons such as, “There is no distinction in the American Muslim community between peaceful Muslims and jihadists.” As Sa’ed Atshan, a Palestinian citizen and head teaching fellow for Government 1206, “Contemporary Political Islam,” said, “People in the world and American Muslims are just as concerned about terrorism. People in the Muslim world are the primary victims, frequently, of what’s going on.”
In Horowitz’s attempt to “enlighten” the academic left, The “Student’s Guide to Organizing Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” recommends both a “Teach-In on ‘The Oppression of Women in Islam’” and “sit-ins in Women’s Studies Departments and campus Women’s Centers.” This is completely ill-informed: Feminist scholars have been among the foremost analysts and critics of women’s systematic mistreatment in all Judeo-Christian societies, including Islamic ones. Moreover, feminist academics—especially in the last 30 years—have been explicitly dedicated to self-criticism, acknowledging their own biases and situated knowledge, as well as the complexity of even speaking about “women’s oppression.”
The use of women as a synecdoche for an entire religion, society, or nation—especially in combination with Orientalist and Social Darwinist notions of Western superiority—is unbelievably dangerous. Subsuming the geographies, histories, and experiences of millions of women into the stereotypical image of the veiled, Arab (and, one assumes, “subordinate”) woman is simply inaccurate (there are over 110 million Muslim women living in the more liberal Indonesia alone). By creating a singular entity of Muslim women, Horowitz allows himself to adopt the voice of the “Muslim woman” and use her oppression for his political aims. The cruel irony that the “feminist” Horowitz fails to realize is that in protesting the “silence about the oppression of women in Islam,” he himself both silences and oppresses Muslim women, depriving them of agency.
Harvard’s own Professor Leila N. Ahmed (who is pointedly critical of medieval Islamic society’s treatment of women), wrote at length of what she calls “colonial feminism”: a part of the “civilizing” mission of the British, whereby British colonial presence in Egypt was justified with claims to liberate “native” women from oppression—all while Englishwomen still lacked the right to vote. Horowitz’s logic is nothing more than colonial feminism in today’s neo-colonialist era.
Unsurprisingly, Horowitz himself has a fairly accepted reputation for being a racist, most famously for his commentary on “the melodrama of black victimization and white oppression.” And it comes as no surprise to discover that the David Horowitz Freedom Center—a 501(c)(3) non-profit—is funded by explicitly far-right private foundations, many of which made their millions from Gulf Oil (according to mediatransparency.org), and thus would have a vested interest in continuing to shore up support for the “War on Terror” and American intervention in the Middle East.
Nothing constructive can come of “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week.” In a post-9/11 environment, it is increasingly difficult to be an American Muslim, and efforts like this only serve to further marginalize those living daily on the defensive. Frankly, as a liberal, feminist, American Muslim, immersed in an institution of the academic left, I am upset, but also confused—for I seem to be both victim and oppressor in Horowitz’s Manichean world.
Nadia O. Gaber ’09, a crimson editorial editor, is a history and literature concentrator in Kirkland House. She is president of the Society of Arab Students.
Source: The Harvard Crimson