Michael Rubin Fear Mongers About ISNA, Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Anti-Semitism

In our fever pitched anti-Muslim environment there are those eagerly willing to piggyback on the hate atmosphere by subverting truth and fairness; for them it is another opportunity to malign Muslims and Islam. The largest American Muslim gathering in the United States, the ISNA Convention, offers a golden opportunity for bigots, and is eliciting a predictable prejudiced volley filled with cynical vitriol and smear casting from professional haters.

Commentary Magazine’s recent foray into the raging anti-Muslim atmosphere offers a twist however, the abuse of the very serious charge of “anti-Semitism.” To be sure Michael Rubin’s article with the inflammatory title, “ISNA’s Anti-Semitic, Anti-Bahai Speaker” also repackages all the invective that would be included in an anthology dealing with common place Islamophobe-isms. Rubin decries ISNA’s role as an interlocutor with the US government despite the label of “un-indicted co-conspirator,” and tries to insert ISNA into the grand conspiratorial world wide “Muslim Brotherhood” web, writing falsely that ISNA is a “Muslim Brotherhood inspired group,” a talking point that has been abundantly disproved,

Knowingly ISNA is not now and has never been involved in any covert or illegal activity and has never supported any terrorist organization.  ISNA is not part of the Muslim Brotherhood, a fact which we have asserted in a legal motion to remove our false designation as an un-indicted co-conspirator in documents produced by the U.S. Government in its prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation.  This label has been used to discredit ISNA and to create fear of the organization and its members.

Interestingly, the very fact that the US government has great relations with ISNA, with Imam Magid having served as an adviser to President Obama proves that the “un-indicted co-conspirator” opinion from a Texas federal prosecutor holds no weight and was a calculated political move by certain segments bent on discrediting ISNA. All of Rubin’s tired and faulty charges have been sufficiently dealt with and exposed as quite desperate attempts by those in the Islamophobia Movement eager to prevent American Muslim enfranchisement.

Most of Rubin’s attack on ISNA however centers around the character assassination of prominent academic and Islamic scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Rubin attributes a (mis)quote to him from an Iranian government newspaper, deducing that it proves Nasr is an anti-Semite and anti-Bahai.

Before the revolution all the chairs in Islamic studies were taken by the Jews and that now all the Shi’a studies chairs are taken over by the Bahai’s! Before the revolution I used my position to send professors from Iran to take over such chairs and I am pursuing the same goal today… Since I have access to the Dean of the George Washington University I have the opportunity to establish a chair in Shi’a studies and the preliminary phase of the course is also ready and I only need financial assistance from Iran in order to support the chair. If this does not happen before I become a pensioner this opportunity will be lost.

Why does Rubin torture himself by using a quote pulled out from an Iranian state press paper to extrapolate that Nasr is as he terms an “anti-Semite”? The reason is simple: because out of the dozens of books, hundreds of videotaped lectures, articles and papers that Nasr has written in and for, you will not find a single instance of bigotry, let alone anti-Semitism! In fact the opposite is true, Nasr, a stalwart of the interfaith movement is a leading voice against bigotry, including anti-Semitism, making Rubin’s glib pronouncements of “anti-Semitism” doubly horrendous.

Caner K. Dagli, an Islamic scholar in his own right, well acquainted with Nasr’s work writes about these smear attempts with forthrightness and eloquence::

by Caner K. Dagli, Muslim Comment

In recent years not a single American Muslim leader has been able to avoid being subject to some brand of fear mongering or mud slinging from the professional agitators and paid propagandists we usually call “Islamophobes.” Respected figures with religious and intellectual authority such as Hamza Yusuf, Ingrid Mattson, Zaid Shakir, Sherman Jackson, and many others have all been tarred as “Islamic supremacists” or as fronts for the “Muslim Brotherhood” or “apologists for terror” and the like. In fact any Muslim at all in a position of prominence receives similar treatment, not only those whose main public profile is related to religion. Sheila Musaji at The American Muslim has an excellent rundown of how universal this mudslinging smear operation really is.

A recent example is the reckless and cynical smear by Michael Rubin in Commentary against Seyyed Hossein Nasr, one of the most prominent and influential Muslim intellectuals of the last century. Rubin is terribly concerned that at the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America, Nasr was invited to give a talk on the subject of, “Interweaving Religion & Life in a Moral Society.” Even though Nasr has written dozens of books, hundreds of articles, and has been lecturing internationally for fifty years, and even though Nasr and Rubin work in the same city (Washington, D.C.), Rubin chooses to base his judgment regarding Nasr’s talk at ISNA entirely on an article from two years ago in the Iranian press which describes something Nasr is alleged to have said in 2009.

Rubin does not pay attention to Nasr’s writings about, well, anything at all. Neither did he apparently bother to ascertain what Nasr actually said at the ISNA convention. Nor did he contact Nasr in DC. I don’t know where Rubin’s office is in DC, but I suspect he could probably walk to Nasr’s office, and certainly could have made a toll free call. Rather than bother with any of that, he dredges up some second hand quotation without any corroboration from a foreign country’s press.

As a student of Dr Nasr’s for many years and as someone who now works with him professionally, I have heard him lament on occasion that Muslims have not been able to reach the most important positions in academia in Islamic Studies. I have heard him say that no one would accept a situation where the majority of the most important Jewish Studies positions in the academy should be held by non-Jews. Indeed, such a state of affairs could only be evidence of some kind of bias or structural contraints. Can anyone imagine a world today where African American Studies professors were mostly white? My own understanding of his position, which I have heard him articulate often, is that he objects to Muslims being elbowed out and being excluded unfairly. I believe that this does often happen though the situation is much better today than it once was.

Nasr would never deny the contributions and value of non-Muslim professors of Islamic Studies. Read his intellectual autobiography and a book of interviews about his life to see the respect he felt for his own teachers in the Western academy such as Sir Hamilton Gibb and Harry Wolfson. Moreover just look at his many published works, which are the most decisive evidence of all. I can only assume that the quotation in Rubin’s citation are the result of a misrepresentation, whether intentional or accidental. I have never heard Nasr say or write anything so stupid or factually inaccurate as “all the chairs in Islamic studies were taken by the Jews and that now all the Shi’a studies chairs are taken over by the Bahai’s”. Nasr is one of the most widely published, translated, and recordedintellectuals around. It would be easy to look into it if one were a responsible intellectual as opposed to a cheap pseudo-intellectual hatchet-man.

But Rubin’s piece is instructive for other reasons as well. Indeed he doesn’t mention anything Nasr wrote, but he does mention that ISNA has “status as an unindicted co-conspirator” and ISNA is a “Muslim Brotherhood-inspired group” that is “well-funded, in part by donations from the Emir of Qatar and other elements in the Persian Gulf”.

First of all, no one has a “status” as an unindicted co-conspirator. This label means a person is guilty of exactly nothing, and is used as a procedural matter in order to allow certain kinds of hearsay evidence to be allowed during a grand jury investigation. For that reason, it is accepted practice for “unindicted co-conspirators” to be kept secret, because they have not been found guilty of any crime and have no means of contesting the label. Because of a single case where the prosecution decided to include just about every prominent American Muslim group on a list which was unethically made public, people like Rubin now have something to include in their hit pieces forever. For more on that read here.

What is a “Muslim Brotherhood-inspired group” anyway? What does that even mean? Who are these “elements” from the Persian Gulf funding ISNA, and where is the evidence that the Emir of Qatar is funding ISNA? Is there any evidence anywhere? I have yet to see any any. Has Rubin actually gone to the trouble of asking ISNA how it is funded? I doubt it.

But this is all to take Rubin all too seriously. Rubin is a war propagandist, and part of preparing Americans to the idea of war with Iran (and indeed any violence that serves Rubin’s vision of the interests of Israel) is to make sure Americans think Muslims are all scary, foreign, treacherous characters. The leadership of the American Muslim community are perceived as a threat people like Rubin because they are the ones he believes (correctly) to be most likely to object when Muslims abroad are incinerated and blown to bits. Since the policies Rubin supports require that Muslims to be incinerated and blown to bits, he would like ensure such policies meet as little resistance as possible. To make sure that it is dangerous for policymakers to pay attention to Muslims here in the U.S., vulgar propagandists like Rubin litter their prose with scare words like “Muslim Brotherhood” “anti-Semite” and “unindicted co-conspirator”. There’s no real knowledge being communicated; it’s the ad man’s tactic or bypassing the mind and going for the id.

The figures I mentioned earlier in this post, as well as Nasr himself, are so reasonable, publicly engaged, and sincere, and have such well-established records of responsible leadership, that it is clear to any intelligent observer that the purpose of hired guns like Rubin is not just to sling mud at the “bad” Muslims but to make it rain mud on an entire community whose inclusion in mainstream discourse and life is perceived as too dangerous to these provocateurs’ own ambitions and ideological goals.

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