While the rest of America is wondering where Islamic jihadists will strike next, the biggest concern at Georgetown University is not with Islamic terrorism but with “Islamophobia.”
On April 30, the Jesuit university sponsored a “Conversation on Islamophobia.” It featured a lineup of Islamic apologists all testifying to the societal threat posed by anti-Muslim “hysteria.”
If you’re inclined to think that Islamic terrorism is a bigger threat than Islamophobia, Georgetown will set you straight. For two decades, the folks at Georgetown’s Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding have worked diligently to put a friendly face on Islam and to demonize its critics. Alwaleed bin Talal? He’s just a friendly Arab prince who has donated over $20 million to the center. And if you’re thinking that his largesse may explain Georgetown’s pro-Islam posture, consider that such thoughts will be taken as proof positive of your Islamophobia.
While Georgetown is worrying about people who worry about Islam, over at John Carroll University in Ohio, retired Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald is teaching students about the wonders of the Koran. He urges Catholics to look for commonalities with their own religion, and he suggests that, in its own way, the Koran is a sacrament — “a sign of the presence of God.”
The search for commonalities with Islam is the order of the day in many Catholic colleges — and in seminaries, too. At one Catholic seminary, a professor who took note of some major differences between Islam and Catholicism had his course canceled because it contradicted another course extolling the similarities. When Catholic schools, colleges, and seminaries teach about Islam, the main effort is to find common ground with Catholicism. Thus, Catholic students learn that Muslims revere Jesus, give alms, and go on pilgrimages. They’re less likely to learn that the Jesus Muslims revere is not the Jesus of the Gospels, that the alms are only meant for other Muslims, and that Christians are not allowed to enter Mecca, the main destination for Muslim pilgrims.
The same half-truth approach is used to teach about jihad. Catholic students are usually taught that jihad is an interior spiritual struggle. Although that definition resonates with Catholics and although it is one possible meaning of the word, it’s not the way that jihad is typically understood in the Muslim world. According to the vast majority of Islamic scholars, the primary meaning of jihad is “holy war against non-Muslims.”
One way to understand Islam today is to understand its history. But, even though Islam was one of the great imperial and slave-holding powers of all time, textbooks used in Catholic colleges tend to present a rose-colored picture of Islamic history. Thus, textbooks present a romanticized view of Islam’s “Golden Age,” and Islam’s brutal conquests are typically portrayed as little more than a peaceful “spread” or “expansion” into surrounding territories. Without a knowledge of Islam’s bloody past, students are easy prey to the notion that today’s violent jihad “has nothing to do with Islam.”
It’s not that Catholic students aren’t learning about Islam, it’s that they’re learning only a heavily edited, “Disneyfied” version of it. Why is that dangerous? Because it leaves them unprepared for the kind of persecution being suffered by Catholics and other Christians in Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Libya, and other parts of the Muslim world. Catholics who think that Islam means “peace,” that jihad is a spiritual struggle, and that Islamophobia is the greatest threat to national security are in for a rude surprise.
Catholics have been lulled into complacency by the oft-repeated emphasis on the similarities between their faith and the faith of Muslims. This puts them at a disadvantage not only in regard to armed jihad, but also in regard to cultural jihad — the steady incremental advance of Islamic law and culture. Cultural jihad is more insidious than the armed variety and thus more difficult to detect and resist. How well does it work? Some experts predict that several European countries will succumb to stealth conquest within two decades.
The co-option of Georgetown by Islamic interests is an example of cultural jihad at work. But, unless you want to be branded as a hate-filled Islamophobe, it’s better not to mention it. Indeed, the concept of Islamophobia was invented in order to dissuade people from looking too closely at the phenomenon of cultural jihad.
Georgetown long ago switched sides in the other culture war — the one against militant secularism. By presenting a benign view of Islam and by embracing the concept of Islamophobia, it looks like Georgetown, along with some other Catholic colleges, has taken sides in another, possibly much more deadly culture war.
WILLIAM KILPATRICK is the author of Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West. His website is: TurningPointProject.com.