The New Crusades: Islamophobia and the Global War on Muslims, by Khaled A. Beydoun (University of California Press, 390 pp., $26.95)
Law professor Khaled Beydoun’s The New Crusades offers an interpretation of Islamic issues through the lens of critical race theory. For Beydoun, Muslims can only be victims, never perpetrators, of persecution or discrimination. Through his lens, “Islamophobia” is an interconnected global phenomenon rooted in a broader system of white supremacy (even when the perpetrator isn’t white), while bad deeds that Muslims commit are discrete events, disconnected from Islam as a whole.
As Beydoun would have it, seemingly isolated instances of oppression in which the victims are Muslim are inherently connected. But it’s unclear what he makes of cases where Muslims are the oppressor because he ignores those cases. Hence, there can be no connection between groups like Boko Haram targeting non-Muslims in northern Nigeria and ISIS targeting non-Muslims in Iraq and Syria—but there is a connection between China’s persecution of its Uyghur population and Hindu nationalism in India, even as the Indian and Chinese governments are constantly at odds and therefore unlikely to be coordinating their activities. (Often, an institutional connection, not just an abstract ideological nexus, indeed exists between groups like Boko Haram and ISIS.)
Of course, violence that Muslims commit in one part of the world does not justify discrimination against Muslims in another. But when studying whether animus toward Muslims is a global phenomenon, one must consider both. Beydoun, while writing about the heinous 2019 gun attack by a white supremacist on two mosques in New Zealand, suggests that the attacker represented an extension of the War on Terror. By contrast, he never ties attacks by Muslims to the larger Islamic world. Even the Saudi intervention in Yemen, which prompted a humanitarian disaster, is somehow a product of Islamophobia.
Kimberlé Crenshaw, who coined the term “intersectionality,” wrote the introduction for Beydoun’s book. She says that Beydoun’s “experience was formative in the ways that living in a discordant state of existence always is.” No doubt that experience is a valuable tool for an academic: we would prefer to learn about Russia from someone who has spent time there, for example. But Beydoun mistakes experience for scholarship itself. It is not a tool in his toolbox; it is the entirety of his scholarship.
Take the book’s first chapter, which revolves around a short trip Beydoun took to Wajir, Kenya, to help restore the sight of Somalis suffering from cataracts who had fled violence in their own country. It is almost a parody of parachute journalism. Beydoun’s group in Wajir run into two U.S. State Department employees (at least that’s how they introduce themselves) working on deradicalization programs. The employees make small talk with the group of international Muslims who have come to help their coreligionists. With no other information, Beydoun decides that the State employees are part of an imperialist project to cast suspicion on all Muslims. “The haughtiness of the two intruders [to our conversation] was jarring but reflected the imperial arrogance of the global crusade launched by the government that had deployed them here.” Perhaps that is true, but Beydoun fails to make the case convincingly. He sees just two Americans in Wajir and asserts with confidence who they are and what they think of the Somali Muslims they are working with.
The book creates strawmen constantly, but still barely manages to knock them over. For Beydoun, the Somalis in Wajir are helpless victims of Islamophobia. His group visits a local school, and “during our visit the principal shared, in meticulous detail, how the terrorists kidnapped and killed his colleague,” Beydoun writes. “Her crime: she was a Christian teaching Muslim youth . . . how to read and write.” Beydoun’s bogeyman is Islamophobia, but his own experience shows that Islamophobia can be the culprit of suffering only if one ignores the information he presents. He insists that Islamophobia lingers over the Somalis fleeing the violence of terror group Al-Shabaab, even as the U.S. military works with the nation and its neighbors to combat it (efforts that Beydoun does not acknowledge). One might reasonably argue that U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Somalia are doing more harm than good; Beydoun instead asserts, risibly, that America’s presence in Somalia is merely a prop to indulge its Islamophobia.
Beydoun’s selective outrage is glaring. He rightly laments Hindu nationalists’ scapegoating of Muslims for Covid outbreaks. He conveniently ignores, and perhaps is unaware, that the same tactic was used in Mosul, Iraq, against Yezidis; on social media, many Muslims blamed them for the coronavirus. Meantime, he sees the Uyghur genocide pursued by China as an extension of the War on Terror launched by the United States after 9/11. He admits, however, that “even Donald Trump, the global figure most closely connected to Islamophobia, weighed in and accused China of waging ‘genocide on Uyghur Muslims.’” In truth, it is mostly Muslim governments that have failed to condemn China’s actions against Uyghurs. In 2021, for instance, then-prime minister of Pakistan Imran Khan acknowledged how the Chinese explanation of the Uyghur situation was “completely different to the version of what we hear from the Western media and the Western governments.” But, Khan continued, “Because we have our very strong relationship with China, and because we have a relationship based on trust, so we actually accept the Chinese version.”
Beydoun’s fault is not in highlighting the real persecution that Muslims suffer in various corners of the world, such as the Rohingya in Myanmar. It is in his selective understanding of that persecution. As a Muslim, Beydoun understandably sympathizes with Muslims suffering from brutal or hateful treatment. But the putative scholar picks his cases as a partisan would. He dedicates an entire chapter to the alleged persecution of Muslims living in France but seems almost unaware that French secularism was originally targeted exclusively at the Catholic Church. One can debate the merits of French secularism, but to see it as an exclusively Islamic issue is to ignore its history.
Such shoddy scholarship is unlikely to convince anyone who doesn’t already agree. It is emblematic, however, of the identitarian-progressive strain of thought that exculpates people from bad behavior if they belong to protected classes. Beydoun writes that “it must be good to be white. In fact, it must be divine, or very close to it. To always be seen and scrutinized as an individual, as independent. Disconnected from the vile acts of those who look like you, and disaggregated from the genocidal actors who believe like you.” This analysis, small-minded and petty as it is, exemplifies an entire field of pseudo-scholarship. Yes: we should all be judged by our own actions, not by the actions of those who happen to share our skin color or religion. But Beydoun insists on applying that principle only to Muslims.
Beydoun closes his book with scenes from a conference in Istanbul on Uyghur Muslims where he was invited to speak. “It was at once an inspiring and absurd scene,” he says. “A Muslim American academic sitting between Kashmiris and Uyghurs in exile, discussing the bulldozing of Indian Muslim homes by the Modi regime amid the picturesque backdrop of the Bosphorus, landmark mosques in every direction, and minarets that reached high into the Turkish sky.” Beydoun was comfortable in Istanbul, a mostly Muslim city filled with mosques. He ignored how many of those mosques originated as churches, then became mosques and finally museums. Long after the Islamic conquest of Constantinople, the genocide carried out by the Ottoman Empire during World War I devastated the Christian population of Turkey, now almost nonexistent. Today, Beydoun can enjoy the minarets of Istanbul in peace while he complains about a global campaign against Islam.
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