Lawrence Auster brings to our attention an article, published by the National Association of Scholars, about a Christian student’s experiences in the Islamic Studies department at the Hartford Seminary (which is, by the way, the oldest Islamic Studies department in America). The Seminary represents itself as a secular institution dedicated to interfaith dialogue and comparative study; when it comes to Islam, however, it appears to be anything but.

The student, Andrew Bieszad, who graduated this past May with a master’s degree, describes systematic harassment and intimidation for his Christian beliefs, and for his questioning of Islamic dogma. His Muslim classmates told him on at least one occasion that he deserved to die.

Before recounting these details, though, Mr. Bieszad points out a fundamental reversal in the academic study of Islam in America (and presumably in the West generally):

Islamic studies in Europe began as a Christian missionary enterprise, born out of necessity rather than interest. Islam was the first religion Christianity encountered that, as theological doctrine, sought to convert Christians and regulate their religious practices. In turn, Catholic priests and monks, particularly in the Middle East, Spain, and Italy, worked to convert Muslims from Islam, as well as to educate Christians so they would not convert.[1] This changed following the fall of Muslim Spain in 1492 and the military expansion of Spain and Portugal and later England, Holland, Belgium, and France into Islamic countries. Catholic and Protestant missionaries followed their nations’ armies and compiled information about Islam and Muslim peoples. This information made its way back to European universities and gradually transformed Islamic studies from a missionary enterprise into a full-fledged academic discipline, sometimes called Orientalism.

Orientalism was originally defined by both political and religious visions. Politically, the colonizing governments sought to understand people to rule them more efficiently. Spiritually, missionaries sought to understand Islam to convert Muslims to Christianity more effectively. Both groups took an interest in studying the Muslim world. They translated and studied thousands of Islamic texts from Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman Turkish sources. Their work formed the foundation for academic disciplines such as archaeology, anthropology, Egyptology, Assyriology, and of course, Islamic studies.

Islamic studies changed significantly in the decades following World War II, with the massive reorganization of European empires, national boundaries, and colonial identities. One idea that gradually took root in academia was that the Muslim world was the victim of systematic prejudice stemming from European “ignorance.” The only way to rectify this was through embracing Islamic ideals and peoples while repudiating the Christian and Hellenistic roots of Europe. Edward Said, the Palestinian-American professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia, eventually codified these views in his highly influential Orientalism, in which he argued that criticism of Islam or of the Muslim world is either a covert attack on the humanity of Muslims or gross ignorance in need of enlightenment.[2] Simultaneously, Muslim groups exploited this situation to promote Islam by funding Islamic studies programs and cultural venues at universities, who in turn reformed curricula in order not to offend Muslim sentiments. In a short time, scholarship in Islamic studies was overtaken by Islamic missionary and political interests.

Academia is filled with biases and presumptions upon which entire belief systems are constructed. The inhabitants of the West are privileged to have the freedom to examine and criticize ideas and beliefs and respectfully agree to agree or disagree. This concept is anathema to Islam, since in Islam academia exists to propagate orthodox Islamic dogma. In Islamic studies at universities today it has become difficult to disagree with Islam and still maintain one’s credibility, safety, or ability to study in school. Academia has refused to question Islamic teachings, and has thus become a participant in promoting Islamic orthodoxy at the expense of academic integrity. I know this because I am a product of this environment.

In other words, an academic system originally intended to prepare Westerners for projecting political or missionary influence into the Muslim world now serves almost exclusively as a conduit for Muslim influence to infiltrate the West.

In The Hinge of Fate, the fourth volume of Winston Churchill’s incomparable history of the Second World War, Churchill wrote (page 279):

I have often tried to set down the strategic truths I have comprehended in the form of simple anecdotes, and they rank this way in my mind. One of them is the celebrated tale of the man who gave the powder to the bear. He mixed the powder with the greatest care, making sure that not only the ingredients but the proportions were absolutely correct. He rolled it up in a large paper spill, and was about to blow it down the bear’s throat.

But the bear blew first.

Read Mr. Bieszad’s article here.

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  1. Kevin Kim says

    Fascinating reading. I didn’t have the same experience in my MA program, but that’s probably because Catholic University sits directly under the thumb of Rome, and is immune to the wiles of Otherness. Quite a few of the priests in my program were veterans of the Gregorianum. Phrases like “the encroachment of Islam” were heard regularly, if not always in a lecture context.

    Posted March 3, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    It doth encroach.

    Posted March 3, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Permalink
  3. bob koepp says

    I sympathize with Mr. Bieszad, and wonder at his tolerance of the abuse he received. In his place, told that I deserved to die, I would not have been able to resist going on the offensive…

    Deserve? Taking a god’s eye view of ‘desert,’ I’m afraid we all deserve to die (shades of original sin!). Justice can’t help us. Mercy, grace — that’s the ticket! So, what was that you were saying about Allah the All-Merciful, etc, etc.

    Posted March 3, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Bob, I suppose the answer to that is that God already showed His mercy by revealing the path of Islam to you through His Prophet, Mohammed.

    If you want to turn your back on that, well…

    Posted March 3, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Permalink
  5. JK says

    I’m uncertain how to inject anything into the conversations which occur here on Waka – but being even more depressed than I was before I read the link – well I hope this doesn’t take the comment train off it’s intended rails. (Malcolm, you may’ve seen this link before.)

    “None of the above policy prescriptions will be easy, nor can they be achieved overnight. Most of them require the support of other nations, which may be problematic. Many of these nations have not recognized the risks they face from Arab collapse and see no reason to take preemptive measures. It is easy to say that we need to work closely with Europe to secure its southern border. In reality, that task will be devilishly hard, not least because the Europeans appear very reluctant to take any measures to protect themselves that might give even a whiff of intolerance.”,13190,NI_0905_Arab-P1,00.html

    Posted March 4, 2011 at 6:56 am | Permalink
  6. bob koepp says

    Well, if Allah’s mercy is exhausted by his revelation to/through an imperfect human (who deserved to die), then he’s not really All-Merciful, after all.

    If these supposed “scholars” can’t hack baby logic, I’ll happily offend more than their faux religious sensitivities.

    Posted March 4, 2011 at 10:06 am | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says

    No argument here, Bob.

    Posted March 4, 2011 at 10:40 am | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says

    Very interesting paper there, JK. I disagree with some of what it says, but it certainly makes very clear how bad the situation is.

    Posted March 4, 2011 at 11:01 am | Permalink
  9. Malcolm says

    In particular, the author waffles when it comes to what the real root cause of Arab collapse is. He insists that it is not Islam, but then offers nothing substantial in its place.

    Posted March 4, 2011 at 11:20 am | Permalink
  10. JK says

    I’m certain you noticed the date of the paper Malcolm – 2005. That timeframe Sir, offers a clue as to “why” a root cause might not be included.

    Of course I am fully aware I have “seen clues” where none, in fact, existed.

    Speculation on my part here – but the author is mentioned at the end as having been a member of the 101st and having served in Iraq.

    Now it may just be me, but I can imagine “a set of circumstances” that led a Lieutenant Colonel [as an active duty officer – in combination with Mr. Bieszad’s later(?) observations] being somewhat justifyably reticent in presenting his full assessment – at the time.

    Posted March 4, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Permalink
  11. Malcolm says

    There’s more that I would quibble with, but I’ll let it go for now. Might be worth a post of its own later.

    Posted March 4, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Permalink