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Yvonne Haddad: America's Islam "Sensitivity" Trainer By: Jonathan Dowd-Gailey
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, November 01, 2004

When White House officials briefly used the word “crusade” to express American resolve in the war on terror, Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, professor of the history of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations at Georgetown University scolded them. “It’s what the terrorists use to recruit people -- saying that Christians are on a crusade against Islam. It’s as bad to their ears as it is when we hear “jihad.

But when the media recently reported American Muslim football teams using such names as “Mujahideen,” “Intifada” and “Soldiers of Allah,” Haddad rushed to defend the team titles, saying, “Who cares? Why are people so sensitive?  Intifada is something that Muslims and Palestinians all approve of. It means ‘just get off my back.’ Is the only way we accept [Muslims] is if we devalue their faith?”[i]  

In fact, although Haddad has made a name for herself advocating “sensitivity” in the dialogue between Orient and Occident, hers is a one way street, where it is only the West that possesses a deficit of cross civilizational understanding, contrition, and deference.  Haddad’s double standards are embodied in the very mission statement of Georgetown’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, which she helps run, proclaiming, “Regrettably, it continues to be imperative to counter the misunderstanding and ignorance of Islam. The Center works to erase the stereotypes and fear that lead to predictions of Islam as the next global threat or a clash of civilizations between the Muslim world and the West.”   As Haddad would have it, between Occident and Orient, it is exclusively the West that is in desperate need of remedial education.

Haddad’s preoccupation with Muslim sensitivity extends to other domains, especially concerning U.S. foreign policy.  Since the World Trade Center attacks of 2001, she has used the language multiculturalism and Muslim sensitivity to critique a raft of policy decisions the administration has embarked on.  For example, when the US intervened in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, Haddad reportedly explained, “many Muslims were offended by the U.S. destruction of the Taliban in Afghanistan because the Taliban stood for Islam.”  Haddad added that liberating Afghan women was counterproductive to U.S. interests, as Muslim women have formed their opinion of American women from watching T.V. reruns of shows like Dynasty and as a result assume American women to be 'whores'. In other words, regardless of national security interests (which never figure in Haddad’s commentary on U.S. foreign policy) Afghanistan, in particular, Afghan women, would have been better left to Taliban rule, for fear of offending Muslim sensibilities.

Similarly, Haddad’s quest for greater sensitivity towards Muslims prompted her to castigate virtually every domestic response to the Al Qaeda threat.  In a speech last spring, Haddad condemned the Patriot Act, saying (falsely) “It basically lifted all legal protection of liberty for Muslims and Arabs in the United States.  When the FBI closed down several Islamic charities after discovering they were assisting terrorist organizations, Yvonne protested, “In effect, the American government is perceived by Muslims to have assumed a veto power over zakat (tithe), one of the basic tenets of the Islamic faith.”  Her conclusion: “The security measures adopted by the Bush Administration are perceived both overseas and among many in the Muslim community in North America not as anti-terrorism but as anti-Muslim.”

True to multiculturist form, Yvonne Haddad would have the West respond to its present security challenges, not with statecraft or decisive force, but with apologies.  In a forum discussing Pope John Paul II’s visit to the Holy Land in 2000, Haddad fixated on what she called an “apology deficit” from the West. “It is a fact that there are some Arab Christians and Muslims who are still waiting for the Jewish people to apologize for what they have done to the Palestinians.” In addition, she remonstrated with the Pope for apologizing to Jews for the Holocaust but not apologizing to the Palestinians for Israel is doing to them. In addition, Haddad called on “somebody like the chief rabbi of Israel” to apologize to Palestinians.

Haddad’s case is important because it is symptomatic of what is wrong in much of the academy where matters Middle East and Islamic are concerned. Instead of analysis, apologetics; instead of balance, advocacy, even if this means decrying the removal of the Taliban for fear of upsetting Muslims sensitivities. The American public, students in particular, are entitled to something better; Georgetown should start providing it. 

Jonathan Dowd-Galey, a writer in Washington state, wrote this for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum to critique Middle East studies at North American universities with a view to improving them.

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