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Abdulrahman El-Sayed Headshot

Is Your Professor an Islamophobe?

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Satoshi Kanazawa is an evolutionary psychologist and professor at the London School of Economics. Although his research as a scientist has ruffled some feathers in the past, his attempts as a "public intellectual" are indisputably inflammatory. In a recent article entitled, "What's Wrong with Muslims" published in his blog hosted by Psychology Today, Kanazawa wrote:

"Major Nidal Malik Hasan is a native-born American citizen, trained military officer, and educated MD and psychiatrist. Yet none of these things matters for him; first and foremost, he is a Muslim...They are all united in their values and goals by their singular identity of being Muslims. It's tempting to dismiss these observations by saying that [he and others implicated in terrorism plots] are all 'extremists' or 'Jihadists.' That would be politically correct and comforting, but factually inaccurate."

In his very next article he boasts:

"No, not all Muslims are terrorists, but...half of Muslims worldwide are terrorists and active supporters of terrorism, who would encourage their sons, brothers, and nephews to blow themselves up in an airplane or in a crowded market."

Kanazawa is just one in a growing number of academics using his intellectual identity to promote intolerance and xenophobia against Islam and Muslims. In a recent article entitled "Going Muslim", Tunku Varadarajan, professor at the Stern School of Business at New York University and graduate from my current institution, Oxford University, describes what "Going Muslim" might mean:

"This phrase would describe the turn of events where a seemingly integrated Muslim-American--a friendly donut vendor in New York, say, or an officer in the U.S. Army at Fort Hood--discards his apparent integration into American society and elects to vindicate his religion in an act of messianic violence against his fellow Americans."

Academics engaged in public discourse have long enjoyed an air of objectivity, a level of sophistication and nuance that raises the stature of their commentary above that of the average talking head in the corporate media. A reflection of years of study and trained intellectual rigor, academics who lend their thought to the public debate often bring with them the same measured reserve and unemotional tone that characterizes the academic literature. Used sparingly and decisively, academic perspectives on public debates have turned the tide on important issues in history, from Jonathan Swift and his pamphlets against the Duke of Marlborough during the early 18th century to stunning critiques of modern economic and social policies such as The Three Trillion Dollar War, estimating the true costs of the Iraq war, by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes.

Unfortunately, as the pseudo-intellectual quotes above demonstrate, this image of unemotional, reasoned thinking can also be abused. Driven by recent truths regarding the demographic profiles of terrorists in the news, the seeming freefall in media standards in ethics and responsibility in reporting, and a clear personal prejudice against Muslims, academics like Kanazawa and Varadarajan have joined the feeding frenzy against Islam and Muslims in the media. Although the fundamental messages portrayed in the public musings of academics are no different from the crude ramblings of a Glenn Beck or a Rush Limbaugh, they are many times more damaging. With PhDs and daunting lists of academic publications to their names, academics are perceived to carry the weighty, objective backing of "knowledge" and "science" by the lay-public, so bigoted, ignorant opinions on their parts are taken as justification to those who already hold skewed perspectives and hateful opinions about Islam and Muslims. Thus these academic dogmatists cloak (perhaps under their PhD hoods) the fire of Islamophobia with the cool, measured tones of objectivity.

When academics choose to denigrate a particular demographic, curbing to an appetite fed by entrenched hate and the opportunity for an agreeable, well-primed readership, they betray the responsibilities of their training. As a doctoral student and future academic, I'm trained to consider and reconsider ideas--to tease them apart and examine them honestly and unemotionally: to use reason in pursuit of truth. In fact, it is this objective, unabashed quest for the discovery and dissemination of truth that makes academia so appealing.

Clearly, there is nothing honest, unemotional, or true about the assertions that 50% of Muslims are active supporters of terrorism, or that every Muslim-American is just waiting to discard "his apparent integration into American society" to lash out at innocent Americans whom we call neighbors and friends.

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