(February 22, 2022 / JNS) What do you call a Rutgers law professor who is ignorant of basic facts about her field, but who claims expertise on critical race theory, “racializing Muslims,” the “expansion of whiteness” and “Islamophobia?”
You would call her Sahar Aziz.
In a Feb. 9 webinar about her new book, The Racial Muslim: When Racism Quashes Religious Freedom, she announced that the world’s “largest Muslim-majority country … is Egypt, and maybe Iran is a close second.” Meanwhile, Indonesia’s population is “nearing 100 million.”
Such howlers make Aziz a prime example of how woke academics substitute trendy theories and impenetrable vocabularies for knowledge of their presumed field. For the record, Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population with some 229 million Muslims out of a population of almost 280 million. Egypt ranks sixth and Iran seventh, behind Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Nigeria. These facts are readily accessible to anyone with Internet access and a dollop of curiosity.
Then again, Aziz’s webinar was sponsored by Georgetown University’s Saudi-founded Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU), home to one of the largest collections of Islamists, apologists and fellow travelers in academe. The moderator was Mobashra Tazamal, a senior research fellow at the Bridge Initiative—a project of ACMCU that exists to censor Islamism’s critics. In such company, attitude and ideology always trump competence.
Aziz’s understanding of American Muslims is no less flawed than her knowledge of their co-religionists worldwide. They ostensibly live in a society that must “overcome structural segregation,” where individuals of different races and classes “will not engage with each other” in daily life, notwithstanding burgeoning interethnic marriage. She asserted that the “colorblind narrative” in America “is impossible in a country where race is a master category” and the “anti-racist response is the system is flawed.” She cited “disproportionate” social indices among America’s black population, including above-average incarceration, but left unmentioned that (male) blacks commit crimes at disproportionate rates.
Various ethnic groups have faced discrimination throughout American history, noted Aziz. While “blackness has always been at the very bottom of the hierarchy” of American societal prejudice, past immigrants like Irish, Italians, East Europeans or Jews formed “in-between races” that were not “socially white,” she said. Yet American “whiteness was expanded to eventually include them” such that, along with Whoopi Goldberg, Aziz saw “no question” that Jews, among others, now have the “privileges of whiteness” rather than enduring anti-Semitism.
The “social whitening of Jews and Catholics” exemplified for Aziz how “there is oftentimes a competition among immigrants” to become a “model minority,” as if achieving American dreams of the good life constituted self-betrayal. Immigrants “try to pass as white, act as white, dress as white, whatever white means at that particular moment in time,” she said, without distinguishing between “whiteness” and multi-ethnic meritocracy (e.g., is punctuality really “white”?). This model has “always been associated and continues to be associated with northwest European norms and culture and now has expanded more into Europe writ large” as an “Anglo-Saxonized normativity,” she added. Her assertion would absurdly classify East Asian countries like China and Japan, and their American diasporas as “white.”
In the midst of such unremitting American bigotry, Aziz argued how events such as the Arab-Israeli wars would “gradually racialize Muslim identity” so that, after 9/11, “Muslim identity is permanently racialized.” As if possessing “biological traits,” she claimed that Muslims suffer from suspicions of being “disloyal,” “prone to violence,” “sympathetic to terrorist groups,” “anti-democracy” or “misogynistic.” She failed to explain why jihadist terrorist attacks or recruitment along with honor killings in America should not provoke scrutiny of Islamic doctrines.
Being “anti-Semitic” is “another ‘Islamophobic’ trope,” Aziz claimed, despite anti-Semitism’s presence among modern Muslims and historic Islamic doctrine. She linked such accusations to Muslim involvement in the “Arab-Israeli conflict, which is a political conflict over land,” she claimed, even though the driving force against Zionism and Israel’s existence has always been jihadist in nature. “Palestinians are both Christian and Muslim in large parts,” she posited absurdly, while the tiny Christian population under Palestinian rule continues to dwindle in the face of intense Muslim persecution.
Beyond the Palestinians, non-Muslim Arab minorities played an outsized role in Aziz’s imagination as she complained of an “influx of negative stereotypes” in American media. “Muslims and Arabs” are “always equated together, as if Arab Christians didn’t exist, as if Arab Jews didn’t exist, as if Arab Bahá’ís— Bahá’ís are primarily in Iran—but there are Arab Bahá’ís as well,” she said. “All of that just gets erased and homogenized into one large, monolithic thing,” she bewailed, yet Muslims themselves have erased and Arabized the Middle East’s non-Muslims over centuries in order to create a homogeneous Muslim society. Particularly Mizrachi Jews, who reject the inaccurate term “Arab Jews,” became largely extinct in the region after post-World War II expulsions to Israel and other countries.
Consequently, Aziz could not comprehend negative impressions of Islam and Muslims. “Christianity has always been associated with superior Europe,” a “colonial mindset” that means that Arab Christians consider themselves “superior to the Arab Muslims,” she said of Christianity, whose cradle is in the Middle East. She ignored that such Christians have often been leaders in the development of their societies, despite religious bigotry.
In keeping with Islamic doctrine and her own sense of superiority, Aziz smeared ex-Muslims. The “former Muslim is essentially weaponized by many ‘Islamophobic’ groups,” she sniffed, as if apostates like Ayaan Hirsi Ali had no insight into Islam. “People will race you as Arab” if a Caucasian person converts to Islam, Aziz also argued, thereby ignoring the Arabizing effects upon the faithful of an Islam often criticized as ethnocentric. Thus, a professor at ACMCU, like the American Caucasian and Muslim convert Jonathan Brown, can assert outrageously that slavery is not immoral given that Islam’s founder and role model, Muhammad, owned slaves.
Aziz epitomizes a core problem with contemporary Middle East studies, in particular, and academe at large: Disciplinary competence is no longer required for professional advancement. Instead, professors parrot the now-ubiquitous crude racialism and anti-Western prejudice to great acclaim by equally compromised peers and administrators. As their careers soar, the society that supports them plummets—an untenable situation that demands thorough and immediate reform.
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