by Stephen Schwartz
July 17, 2011
Gertrude Stein, the controversial modernist author, spent part of her childhood in Oakland, California, a city on the southern border of Berkeley, home of the flagship campus of the University of California system. Returning to Oakland later in life, Stein is supposed to have complained, “there’s no there, there,” referring to the disappearance of the city as she remembered it. The comment has been turned into a permanent gibe against Oakland, but could equally apply to certain aspects of the Berkeley campus, especially in regard to what one may call “the Berkeley definition of Islamophobia.”
In April, Berkeley’s Law School, also known as Boalt Hall, cosponsored a conference with the University’s Center for Race and Gender (CRG) on “Islamophobia Production and Re-Defining Global ‘Security’ Agenda for the 21st Century.” The event followed a divisive March seminar at the University’s Hastings law campus in San Francisco, “Litigating Palestine,” which was little more than a forum for anti-Israel bombast. On June 23, America’s premier Islamist organization, the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), unveiled a report prepared in cooperation with UCB-CRG’s Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project (IRDP) titled, “Same Hate, New Target: Islamophobia and Its Impact in the United States.”
By contrast with its long held practice of collaborating with big-time Middle East studies figures, such as John L. Esposito of Georgetown University, this time CAIR chose to align itself with a little known leftist outfit. Though CRG-IRDP’s head Hatem Bazian, a lowly senior lecturer in Berkeley’s Department of Near Eastern studies, is certainly known in the San Francisco Bay Area for extremist speechifying (he called for “an intifada in this country” at an anti-war assemblage in 2004) he lacks the long roster of published articles and books credited to Esposito and the Georgetown professor’s cronies. IRDP also seeks to drag CAIR into the obscure terrain of “critical race theory” and other academic fads, which the Islamists must, it would seem, find unfamiliar.
In this respect, the CAIR-CRG-IRDP report is emblematic of the wide gap between West- and East Coast political cultures. The latter tends to produce dry, heavy documents — exemplified by the notorious exercise in extremist apologetics titled “Anti-Terror Lessons of Muslim-Americans,” co-authored by David Schanzer and Ebrahim Moosa of Duke University with Charles Kurzman of the University of North Carolina, and published by no less than the U.S. Department of Justice.
Even under the Obama administration, Berkeley and CRG-IRDP are unlikely to favor such an approach, especially if it receives the imprimatur of the federal authorities. Instead, “Same Hate, New Target” is a garish political pamphlet, filled with splashy graphics and panic-mongering rhetoric. Its message is distinct: while the East Coast Islamist enablers focus on prettifying the condition of American Muslims, West Coast denizens concentrate on the American Muslim as a victim of the Republican political agenda, in need of “positive” assistance. Thus, for example, according to CRG-IRDP and CAIR, the 2010 congressional elections were an American referendum on Islam — not on the policies of the Obama administration and his supporters.
“Same Hate, New Target” is a title that fits the Steinian descriptive of “no there, there,” in that the document never states how Islamophobia represents the “same hate” that might have been projected against others in the past. Rather, the text incorporates a garbled version of American history, in which German and Irish Catholics are linked with indigenous American orphans, ethnic Japanese relocated during World War II, and African Americans as representatives of “minority groups and their leaders . . . painted as a threat and vilified, even by the government.” Perhaps predictably, Jews are allowed perfunctory mention much later in the text, along with Mormons and Hispanics. But unpredictably, references to women denied the right to vote and equal pay with men are interspersed in the more detailed evocation of prejudice. That is the Berkeley touch: women, although neither a minority nor historically vilified, must be mentioned in the catalogue of victims. Indeed, according to “Same Hate, New Target,” women are included in CAIR’s judgment that “virtually every minority in our nation has faced and in most cases continues to face discrimination.”
Even before this wacky exercise in revisionist history, “Same Hate, New Target” exposes CAIR’s Islamist intent by defining its vision as “look[ing] toward the time when being Muslim carries a positive connotation and Islam has an equal place among many faiths in America’s pluralistic society.” Here, CAIR admits that its ideology prevents it from understanding the American compact on religion. “An equal place among many faiths in America” is not based on assigning a “positive connotation” to any religious identity, but in denying special treatment, comprising “a positive connotation,” to any faith. Those on the receiving end of prejudice are legally protected from criminal and discriminatory actions, not from expressions of dislike or criticism, however harsh.
UCB and CRG-IRDP, however, are happy to endorse CAIR’s vision of a pro-Muslim, rather than a “religion-neutral” America. CAIR even identifies a statistical goal for approval of Islam by Americans whereby “Islam [would have] a 75 percent or higher favorability rating among the general public.” This goal would put American Muslims ahead of American Jews, since a 2009 poll by the Anti-Defamation League found 43 percent of a sample of 1,200 interviewees holding the bigoted view that Jews “stick together more than other Americans.”
Next, CAIR calls for “A person’s Muslim faith [to be] considered an asset in private employment and public service.” This demand looks suspiciously like preparation for “affirmative action” to benefit Muslims, which would certainly please the ethnic ideologues at UCB and CRG-IRDP.
“Same Hate, New Target” places critical speech and writing on Islam as “Islamophobic Acts,” alongside incidents of violence, workplace and school discrimination, denial of “public accommodation” (including controversies involving women wearing head-coverings, or hijab, when seeking drivers’ licenses), mosque vandalism, and the indefinable but politically-correct “profiling.”
CAIR, of course, fails to understand what every member of the numerous moderate religious minorities in America knows: that hateful speech and writing, although repellent and discordant, is protected by our Constitutional standard of freedom of expression, and cannot be equated with hate crimes, such as physical assaults and vandalism, or discrimination in employment and other public transactions, which are prohibited by civil rights legislation and regulation. Still, regarding an Islamophobia comparable to discrimination against other minorities in the past, notwithstanding the efforts of CAIR and CRG-IRDP, “there’s no there, there.”
CAIR implicitly admits the divergence of its “vision” from American standards, claiming in “Same Hatred, New Target”:
[W]hen we originally crafted our vision regarding Islamophobia in America we wrote, ‘Being Muslim carries no negative connotation in America,’ setting the mere absence of negative associations as an ideal, rather than [the] positive model we ultimately chose.
CAIR and CRG-IRDP assert that heightened approval for Islam is the only solution to a problem they have defined over-broadly.
That very dissonance from American principles has made CAIR, and its constituency of American Muslims indoctrinated in fear, perfect prey for the ideological operators who have guided identity politics on the West Coast for two generations. In a phrase that CAIR might have thought would delight a Berkeley audience, the organization has designated its “vision” as “utopian.” On the West Coast, academic Islamist argument gives way to demagogic Islamist propaganda, which will, if history is our guide, soon be employed to justify other, more “positive” actions, including special compensation, employment quotas, and similar “reparations” for American Muslims. Berkeley’s definition of Islamophobia as a phenomenon requiring a radical response could prevail. In this manner, CAIR’s deal with the Berkeley left could pay off handsomely if unopposed.
Stephen Schwartz is executive director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism and a U.C. Berkeley alumnus. He wrote this article for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.