Saturday, May 2, 2009

Controversy at Harvard: Muslim Chaplain Suggests Death of Muslim Apostates?

For the past two weeks a controversy has been brewing at Harvard as reported by the Harvard Crimson. Recently it has also been covered in the Forward.

In short, the Muslim chaplain, Abdul-Basser wrote the following to a Muslim student:
great wisdom (hikma) associated with the established and preserved position (capital punishment [for apostates]) and so, even if it makes some uncomfortable in the face of the hegemonic modern human rights discourse, one should not dismiss it out of hand.”
In the Crimson article a number of Muslim students were quoted as being quite critical of his stand. He claims that he has been misinterpreted and was not saying that he supports death for converts from Islam. It's hard how to see otherwise, particular in light of his comment about "hegemonic modern human rights discourse."

He, of course, is free to have any religious view he wishes. It is just disturbing to think that this is the point of view being imparted to students.


Ian Thal said...

Based on both the Forward article, and the one in The Crimson, there is at lease a modicum of doubt as to whether Abdul-Basser is advocating that position or summarizing and explaining a position with which he claims not to agree.

How many of us have summarized a despicable viewpoint with the purpose of elucidation? I know that I have. How many of us have then wrongly had those views attributed to us? I, thus far, have not, but I could see how it could be done.

An inquiry is reasonable; making a conclusion this early in the story is not.


The Jewish faith is on dangerous ground here if we criticise this cleric. In his reply all he need do is "to point out that the Jewish Lubavitch and Chassidich'e movements", take the same stance as him. We need to remind ourselves that in 1933 when Jews in Germany were being subject to the rather harsh Nuremburg social exclusion laws, the German Beth Dins were preaching a similar message, they said "Don't marry out, don't marry a non- Jew, meaning don't marry outside the faith". In the Warsaw Ghetto the Catholic Church offered to take 2000 Jewish children, [see Ringelblum] but the Ghetto Beth Din said "No, we'd rather they'd died first", they did. In London 1938 - 1939, Kinder Trips were being organised for German children, but this had relatively little success because Jewish couples were not coming forward in the numbers required and offering to give a home to a desperate Jewish child. An analysis of the volunteers who did offer to take a Jewish child revealed most were just ordinary, kind, loving families, English to the core, who were obeying their own concienses and beliefs. Many English Catholic families did volunteer but the London Beth Din refused to consider them as suitable homes for Jewish children. Its said 10000 Jewish children lost thier lives due to this tragic decision. Even in 1950 - 1965 in England, anyone who married out of the Jewish faith was ostracised in the community. Jewish fathers who had never been inside a temple for years suddenly became 'pro-orthodox critics'. Humbugs one and all. In 1970 the tide turned and it became common knowledge that 60% of young Jews were marrying out. The turning point in the Leeds Jewish Community was when Rabbi Brown's son married out. Tday I doubt if there is an Leeds Jewish family who's not got someone who chose to marry outside the faith. Critics of the orthodox clergy abound and many blame them for shuls being empty and boarded up. I guess the same things happened in the US,Cananda and Australia.

Deborah Lipstadt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Deborah Lipstadt said...

No Jewish source I know of has ever said a Jew who converted should be killed. None of the examples you give say that. Moreover, you judge their positions from hindsight, i.e. when we know what would happen to the Jews who did not leave. It's so easy to be a Monday morning quarterback.

It is hard to find see any misinterpretation in a statement which points out the "great wisdom" in a certain position and then argues that one "should not dismiss it out of hand."

How am I misinterpreting here?

I also want to stress that in the Crimson article there were a number of Muslim students who found this position distasteful.

So in no way am I suggesting that this is a position on which all Muslims agree.

And there are many positions taken by Jews on "religious" grounds with which I greatly disagree.

This is about one person -- who happens to hold a very important position with the power to influence students -- and his apparent position.


In life we are always going to have one person who advocates something we disagree with. Can't we learn to ignore them. I'm aware whilst writing this last sentence that someones going to reply "thats what they did with H" [I hate the man so much I won't even write his name] But look at the facts, a German Corporal, wild eyed, smelly, dressed in a shabby rainmac, living in a doss houses, meaning a tramps shelter is given power with a 1/3 of the vote, and the rest is history. If we starved these people of publicity they'd all go back to carrying suitcases for a living and drawing juvenile watercolours. Instead because of your 'welcome publicity' he's been preaching to one and all today: As endorsed by Professor Lipstadt and, taking a guess I'd say Muslim students are'nt fools and are not taken in by his extreme views. God Bless America, and I'd like it even better if they'd return Montana, Wyoming and Colorado to us.

Ian Thal said...

I only note that the journalists for both The Crimson and The Forward had not come to a conclusion as to whether Abdul-Basser was advocating the reprehensible or merely describing and explaining the logic of the reprehensible. The writers had neither convicted him nor exonerated him.

While the aim of the historian and journalist is to tell a story that coincides with the preponderance of the verifiable evidence, the philosopher and the theologian often write in terms of thought-experiments, bracketing off generally held assumptions in order to explore the internal logic of another world view.

Sometimes it's a technique for exploration of a view with which one is opposed, other times it's a method of creating plausible deniability when just such a controversy blows up

Lichas said...

Professor Lipstadt,

You are criticizing the chaplain for having his views known among students, saying he should keep these things to himself since he's an influential figure. (I take no position at all on the content of his remarks, which I'm not sure I understand anyway.)

Could the same criticism be made of you? I've seen you on the Bill O'Reilly show, and here on your blog you have frequently taken political positions, without being prompted, that might make your students uncomfortable. I recall reading, for example, during Israel's war on Gaza, you having posted a fairly hawkish op-ed that you say you 'didn't disagree with'.

Content aside, how is this any different?

Blackheart said...

One wonders the purpose of this article ?

Having only gone to this blog to check on some criticism of Carter's book on Palestine it would seem that there is a continuance of anti muslim sentiment within this blog.

The cherry picking of private e-mails without the full text being offered and the contents ambiguous at best is not what I would call a rational or objective posting.
As is the non posting of the following statement....

“I have never expressed the position that individuals who leave Islam or convert from Islam to another religion must be killed. I do not hold this opinion personally,” Abdul-Basser

hmmmm.... that seems to be an oversight on your behalf. Awaiting your response.

Blackheart said...

One wonders the purpose of this article ?

Having only gone to this blog to check on some criticism of Carter's book on Palestine it would seem that there is a continuance of anti muslim sentiment within this blog.

The cherry picking of private e-mails without the full text being offered and the contents ambiguous at best is not what I would call a rational or objective posting.
As is the non posting of the following statement....

“I have never expressed the position that individuals who leave Islam or convert from Islam to another religion must be killed. I do not hold this opinion personally,” Abdul-Basser

hmmmm.... that seems to be an oversight on your behalf.

hockey hound said...

Whenever Islam is exposed for the violence it so often espouses, there is always the predictable side-show of apologists and brain-dead pluralists. These hopeless dreamers have yet to publicly acknowledge veridical Islam, the Islam slowly and insidiously destroying the Western world.

Benny Morris articulates in his recent book ('One State, Two States') that secular democracy was never the vision of the PLO or Hamas. What is he saying? He is pointing out that if the PA and Hamas are really Islamic movements, which they certainly are, then they are implacable and malefic movements precisely because of the religion of Islam.

Fairplay, the "reprehensible" (Ian Thal's word) content of Islam is not something which "one person who advocates something we disagree with." There are millions upon millions who just happen to agree with this Muslim chaplain (yes, I really think he was not being ambiguous).

And I won't even touch on your faux pas of equating the prohibition and counsel in Judaism against marrying non-Jews with the violent and very real threats of death within Islam (threats which include "honour killings" as a cultural norm) against those who convert or marry outside of its egregious tenets. And I won't comment on Ian Thal's vacillation when, as Prof. Lipstadt points out, there is no apparent ambiguity in this Muslim chaplain's statements. None that I can see. (I'm being generous here, no?)

Is it impossible to be noetic and an intellectual while simultaneously remaining supportive of Judaism and the Jewish people? Isn't such a fidelity a deterence against anti-Semitism? And isn't anything less a measure of betrayal? Forgive my simplicity. For doesn't anti-Semitism begin with words? (Didn't Eli Weisel say that?) Apologizing for those malefic ideologies that target the Jewish people (as does Islam's and National Socialism's) or equating the salubrious tenets of Judaism with the violent cultures Islam is responsible for creating is not contributive to preventing anti-Jewish hatred. If you and Ian Thal can see otherwise, I would be happy to hear you out.

"Nothing explains the actions of Muslim extremists, and the widespread tolerance of their behaviour in the Muslim world, better than the tenets of Islam." -Sam Harris

hockey hound said...

"Critics of the orthodox clergy abound and many blame them for shuls being empty and boarded up. I guess the same things happened in the US,Cananda and Australia."

You are guessing indeed. Orthodox Judaism is alive and well in Canada, thankyou very much.

hockey hound said...

"...taking a guess I'd say Muslim students are'nt fools and are not taken in by his extreme views."

No, it's quite possible they have their very own extreme views, Fairplay. Read the preponderant, verifiable evidence (to borrow from Ian Thal's post) below.

May. 14, 2009

Israelis are wild about Europe. A poll carried out by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation last month showed that a whopping 69 percent of Israelis, and 76% of Israeli Jews, would like for Israel to join the European Union. Sixty percent of Israelis have a favorable view of the EU.

This poll's most obvious message is that as far as Europe is concerned, Israelis suffer from unrequited love. A 2003 Pew survey of 15 EU countries showed that 59% of Europeans consider Israel the greatest threat to world peace. A poll taken in Germany the following year showed that 68% of Germans believe that Israel is pursuing a war of extermination against the Palestinians and 51% said that there is no difference in principle between Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and German treatment of Jews during the Holocaust.

And it isn't simply Israel that they hate. They don't like Jews very much either. In an empirical study published in 2006, Professors Edward Kaplan and Charles Small of Yale University demonstrated a direct link between hatred for Jews and extreme anti-Israel positions. A recent poll bears out the fact that levels of hostility toward Israel rise with levels of anti-Semitism.
According to a 2008 Pew survey, anti-Semitic feelings in five EU countries - Spain, Britain, France, Germany and Poland - rose nearly 50% between 2005 and 2008. Whereas in 2005, some 21% of people polled acknowledged they harbor negative feelings toward Jews, by last year the proportion of self-proclaimed anti-Semites in these countries had risen to 30%. In Spain levels of anti-Semitism more than doubled, from 21% in 2005 to 46% in 2008.

Not surprisingly, increased hatred of Jews has been accompanied by increased violence against Jews. Just last week, for instance, three men assaulted Israel's ambassador in Spain Rafi Shotz as he and his wife walked home from a soccer game. They followed after him and called out, "dirty Jew," "Jew bastard," and "Jew murderer." A crowd witnessed the assault, but no one rose to their defense.

Shotz was lucky. As Israel's ambassador he had two policemen escorting him and so he was not physically threatened. The same was not the fate of Holocaust survivors who assembled at Mauthausen death camp in Austria last week to commemorate the 64th anniversary of the camp's liberation by American forces.

As Jewish survivors of the camp where 340,000 people were murdered mourned the dead, a gang of Austrian teenagers wearing masks taunted them, screaming "Heil Hitler," and "This way for the gas!" They opened fire with plastic rifles at French Jewish survivors, wounding one in the head and another in the neck.

And Austria is not alone. From Germany to France, Belgium, Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and beyond, Jewish kindergartens and day schools, restaurants and groceries have been firebombed and vandalized. The desecration of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues has become an almost routine occurrence. Jewish leaders from Norway to Germany to Britain to France have warned community members not to wear kippot or Stars of David in public. Rabbis have been beaten all over the continent.
There is no state sanction for anti-Jewish violence in Europe. But in many places it is either brushed off as insignificant, or justified as a natural byproduct of the Palestinian conflict with Israel. In at least one case, the official downplaying of the significance of anti-Jewish sentiments and violence has had murderous consequences.

In January 2006 Ilan Halimi, a French Jew, was kidnapped by a gang of Muslim sadists. For an entire week, the police ignored the anti-Semitic nature of the attack - and hence the imminent danger to Halimi's life - in spite of the fact that his kidnappers made threatening phone calls to Halimi's parents where they recited verses from the Koran while Ilan was heard screaming in pain from his torture in the background.

In the end, Halimi was tortured continuously for 20 days before he was dumped at a railhead naked, with burns and cuts over 80% of his battered body and died of his wounds shortly after he was found.
SOME HAVE attributed the rise in European anti-Semitism to the rapid growth of Muslim minorities throughout the continent. This explanation has much to recommend it. Levels of anti-Semitism among most Muslim minority populations in Europe are exceedingly high. According to Kaplan and Small's study, European Muslims are eight times more likely than non-Muslims to be openly anti-Semitic. And Franco Frattini, the EU official responsible for combating anti-Semitism, told The Jerusalem Post last year that some 50% of anti-Jewish attacks in Europe are conducted by Muslims.
But while European Muslims are a major factor in the rise of anti-Jewish violence, they are a bit player when it comes to the overall prevalence of anti-Jewish attitudes.

For example, with 46% of Spaniards negatively disposed toward Jews, and with Muslims making up only 3-5% of Spaniards, we learn that nearly half of Christian Spaniards are anti-Semitic. And as the 2008 Pew survey shows, European hatred of Jews is growing at a fast clip. Indeed, it is growing two and a half times faster than European hatred of Muslims.

In all likelihood, these negative trends for Jews are only going to escalate in the coming years. Politicians interested in being elected have already begun exploiting the rise in anti-Jewish sentiments to increase their electoral prospects. In the 2005 British elections, for instance, the Labor Party under Tony Blair depicted then Conservative Party leader Michael Howard as the hateful anti-Semitic icon Fagin from Oliver Twist in a campaign poster. Another Labor poster portrayed Howard and fellow politician Oliver Letwin as flying pigs.

This state of affairs bodes ill for Israel's future relations with Europe. In most cases, European politicians pander to the growing constituency of anti-Semites by adopting hostile policies toward Israel. These policies then serve to further justify anti-Semitic attitudes, and so the number of European anti-Semites continues to grow, and in turn, European hostility to Israel increases.

No doubt recognizing the political advantage to be garnered by attacking Israel, last year Spanish investigative magistrate Judge Fernando Andreu Merellesis decided to use a specious complaint submitted by the discredited Palestinian Center for Human Rights to launch a war crimes investigation against Israel's top political and military leaders. Against the stated will of Spain's state prosecution, Merellesis announced last week that he is proceeding with his investigation into claims that a dozen senior Israeli leaders committed a war crime when they approved the 2002 decision to target Hamas terror master Salah Shehadeh.

ALL OF this brings us back to Europhilic Israel. Due to the fact that the majority of Israelis have yet to get their way, and Israel continues not to be a member in the EU, EU courts lack the power to enforce their rulings against Israelis. Today the only thing Israelis need to worry about is that we will be arrested if we visit Europe. This is inconvenient, but not impossible to live with.

Were Israel to join the EU, however, EU laws would supersede Israeli laws. European courts could compel Israeli courts to enforce their rulings. Israel, in short, would find itself subsumed in a hostile political entity that could simply adjudicate and legislate it out of existence.

So what explains Israel's unrequited love affair with Europe?
There is no all-encompassing explanation for the EU's popularity in Israel. It is a function of a number of complementary causes. The most important among them is the abject failure of the Israeli media to examine European anti-Semitism and its implications for European policy toward Israel in any coherent fashion.

Rather than recognize that European anti-Semitism and its concomitant hostility toward Israel is the consequence of internal European dynamics, the Israeli media tend to cast both as a function of Israel's actions. Doing so certainly makes for neat, easily digestible news stories, but it also trivializes the situation. Moreover, by acting as though Israel's actual behavior is at all relevant to European treatment of Jews and the Jewish state, the local media effectively buy into cynical European moves to belittle the significance of anti-Jewish violence. They give credence to false European claims that the firebombing of synagogues is simply the regrettable consequence of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Then there is the issue of Israel's constant quest to end its international isolation. For many Israelis, it is tantalizing to think that we can end our international isolation by joining the EU. The EU is seen as a club of rich and cultured countries with which Israel would benefit from merging. This view again is nurtured by the media, which have failed to report on the failure of the European welfare state model.

In light of the media's refusal to tell the story of Europe's hostility toward Jews and the Jewish state, or the story of the EU's severe economic problems, it is not surprising that precious few Israeli politicians have a clear understanding of Europe. Successive foreign ministers - from Shimon Peres to Silvan Shalom to Tzipi Livni to Avigdor Lieberman - have all voiced varying degrees of support for Israeli membership in the EU. Their statements have never been challenged in debate.

Finally, there is the nostalgia that many Israelis feel toward the old pre-war Europe from their grandparents' stories. That long gone Europe, where young women and men would walk along the promenades in Berlin, Paris, Antwerp and Prague holding hands and eating ice cream, breathing in the air of Heinrich Heine and Franz Kafka, has been kept alive in the imaginations of generations of Israelis. Many of them work today as leading journalists, movie directors and actors. For many Israelis, then, the myth of Europe is more familiar than the real Europe.

Looking to a future of an increasingly Jew-hating Europe it is clear that Israel and Israelis must quickly divest ourselves of our delusions about Europe. For Israel to competently contend with Europe in the coming years, it will be essential that both our political leaders and society as a whole gain a firm grasp of where Europe stands in relation to both the Jewish people and the Jewish state.

With a burgeoning and deeply anti-Semitic Muslim minority, and with a Christian majority increasingly comfortable with flaunting traditional anti-Semitic attitudes, dispensing with anti-Jewish myths ranks low on the priority list for most European leaders. In contrast, for Israel, gazing at this unfolding European state of affairs, it is clear that abandoning our adoration for a mythological Europe is one of the most urgent items on our national agenda.

hockey hound said...

"I recall reading, for example, during Israel's war on Gaza, you having posted a fairly hawkish op-ed that you say you 'didn't disagree with'."

Actually it began as Hama's war on Israel. Israel responded to continued rocket attacks on her citizens, attacks which originated in Gaza.

Prof. Lipstadt was not being "hawkish" at all but merely responding in kind to distortions and excoriations and calumny not at all dissimilar to those you have written above, Lichas.

If you take no position "on the content of his [the Muslim chaplain] remarks," and if you're not sure you understand his remarks anyway, how are you qualified therefore to disapprove of Prof. Lipstadt's criticisms? You're sounding nonsensical, literally.

Reads to me like you're interested solely in attacking Prof. Lipstadt because she's Jewish and defends the right of Israel to exist in the Middle East. Reads to me like you disapprove of any political discussion in favour of the State of Israel and the existence of a Jewish homeland in the Middle East. Do you favour, therefore, as does the terrorist entity Hamas, the extirmination of the Jewish people?

"The world enthusiastically endorses the inbuilt asymmetry that obliges Israel to recognize a second Arab-Palestinian state while Arabs refuse to accept the legitimacy of one ethnic Jewish state. This lopsidedness is based on the premise that Israel is an occupier (in its own homeland), while migrant/conquistador Arabs are downtrodden natives."-Sarah Honig

hockey hound said...

Happy Shabbat, Prof. Lipstadt. Enjoy.

I would just like to say that it is a great honour for me to post on your blog. You inspire me always to fight back against anti-Jewish hatred. Thankyou for having me here and for warming my ears when I deserve it.

Hockey Hound

Blackheart said...

The original post is a distortion of the facts. there are a number of worrying things that have been presented.

1. The email is not presented in its entirety and the small sentence or two that is presented is so ambiguous in nature it is not clear what position the Muslim cleric represents personally.

2. Addressing the latter the cleric clearly states

“never expressed the position that individuals who leave Islam or convert from Islam to another religion must be killed. I do not hold this opinion personally.”

So lets see .....private email released without approval by an unknown source for unknown reasons which is ambiguous at best.

Then again posted on this site for what can only surmise that it is to misrepresent the veiws of prominent muslims.

Being anti-muslim is just as bad as being anti-semitic....soft racism has no place in the minds of University professors that have the important role of education the youth of today.

Ian Thal said...

Since we don't have the full transcript of what Abdul-Basser said, the only thing that is clear is that he considers the hard-line stance that converts from Islam are to be executed is completely incompatible with liberal humanism that insists on the absolute dignity of the individual conscience to one's own beliefs.

So if we extrapolate from that, it becomes clear that Abdul-Basser regards the language of human-rights and the language of Islamic fundamentalism as irreconcilable. (Recall that plenty of spokespeople for fundamentalism seem not to grasp that basic insight.)

However, because of the brevity of the quote, I simply can't tell on which side of the equation he stands.

Lichas said...

Leaving aside the hasbara hysteria of HockeyHound's conclusion that my comment indicates that I in any way "...favour, therefore, as does the terrorist entity Hamas, the extirmination of the Jewish people," I'm surprised you haven't replied to my query. It's obvious you disagree with this chaplain's remarks, but your sticking point is that "It is just disturbing to think that this is the point of view being imparted to students." You may think that Israel's assault on Gaza was and is entirely justified - indeed, perhaps could have even been amplified. You're perfectly free to hold that opinion. But should others be concerned that yours is a point of view being imparted to your students? You hardly kept your opinion to yourself on that matter, and quite a few people around the world disagree with it. What say you?

Ian Thal said...

I won't comment on Ian Thal's vacillationI didn't vacillate.

What I did see (and did not explicitly state in my first comment, but clarified later) is that Abdul-Basser stated that the language of universal human-rights and the language of Islamic fundamentalism are incompatible. On this matter I agree.

From the initial article, however, it was hard to determine if he was advocating the fundamentalist position or merely describing it-- and this is what I stated at the outset.

That's not vacillation.