If you want to understand why academicians are often society’s court jesters, then the program titled, “ISIS An Historical Perspective,” presented at the University of California, Santa Barbara last month, would have gone a long way toward providing an explanation.
Up to bat in defense of Islamic extremism and to absolve the Islamic State of the brutality that daily lacerates the sensitivities of civilized human beings were assistant professor of history Sherene Seikaly and her colleague professor Adam Sabra.
Billed as seeking to “contextualize” ISIS’ formation and actions, the two professors engaged in such nonsense that should have incited the audience to question how they ever were awarded degrees.
Certainly if the drivel that was presented is remotely representative of what the professors do in their classrooms, their students should be encouraged to demand a refund for farce masquerading as education. If Goodyear can warranty a set of tires, should not the Regents of the University of California warranty that their universities provide education and not a strange mixture of nonsense and propaganda?
The professors tried to “locate cruelty in a broader ecology.” Such farcical statements are part of the academic lexicon for absolving individuals of moral responsibility and making some greater entity responsible. It did not take long for this blame game to focus on the United States as the reason for ISIS itself and its savagery.
Showing that her ignorance of the Middle East was only exceeded by her ignorance of the laws of physics, Ms. Seikaly began her talk by alluding to the American use of depleted uranium in the battle of Fallujah, which, in her expert opinion as an erstwhile physicist, caused higher rates of cancers, leukemia, and birth defects than found in Nagasaki after being devastated by an atomic bomb.
The source of this mythical information and the basis for the comparison was conspicuously unmentioned. After all, depleted uranium outside the body creates no health hazard. In fact, the good professor probably flew on an airplane whose construction materials contained depleted uranium.
Perhaps, Ms. Seikaly should be pardoned when venturing into the natural sciences, but then how does one explain her blaming the United States for the Shiite/Sunni blood bath that has existed since the death of the Islamic prophet in 632 AD? “Sectarianism doesn’t just happen,” she announces and then goes on to place the blame for sectarianism on the United States. Before then, as we all know, the Shiites and Sunnis lived in total harmony since the seventh century and in Saddam Hussein’s multi-cultural nirvana.
At no time did the professors mention the Koran or the fundamentalist Islamic revivalism sweeping the region as an inspiration for ISIS. Anyone who wanted to understand the theological basis of ISIS—excuse me, anyone who wanted to locate the “broader socio-political ecology of ISIS”—should have skipped the political circus, gone to the UCSB library, and opened a copy of the Atlantic. Graeme Wood’s seminal article on ISIS has not only received praise in intellectual circles, ISIS members too have cited the work as an authentic rendition of their ideology and its Koranic roots.
Back at the lecturer in Buchanan Hall, the apologists for the savages were relentless in blaming America. In a scene out of Saturday Night Live, Ms. Seikaly said, “Some of this intense fetish for violence is coming from the leaks of torture that are coming out of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.” And if that were not a sufficient indictment of America,
Ms. Seikaly invoked, the bio-pic, American Sniper. “Some of it is coming out of Hollywood, particularly the images of violence against Iraqi bodies,” she said.
We do remember all those decapitations and immolations at Gitmo and sniper Chris Kyle running around with a scimitar beheading all those innocent Iraqi children, waving a Bible, and yelling, “Praise the Lord!”
With its violence, ISIS tears at the fabric of civilization. With their dissembling, these professors tear at the fabric of education. What is there in this political circus that remotely suggests immersion and expertise in a field of study? There is nothing here but raw and silly opinions spouted by people who think their stupidity rises to some sublime level because they hold credentials.
Instead of presenting an understanding of the rise and spread of a fundamentalist Islam whose adherents themselves claim theological inspiration from the Koran, they introduced their own unvarnished propaganda to distort the role of Islam and blame America for ISIS savagery.
The takeaway from this lecture is that this is what sadly passes for education in one of our more prestigious public institutions of higher education. The lecturers’ behavior also raises the question of why some academics are so full of hate toward America that there is no evil in the world for which they cannot hold America ultimately responsible.
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a senior fellow with the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought.