(Outing the Conservatives: Search Committees and the Failure of Academia in the 21st Century)
by Timothy R. Furnish
Investor’s Business Daily
June 29, 2007
I was cautiously optimistic that my quest to move from a community college to a four-year school might succeed this time. The gatekeepers at the annual conference of the American Historical Association, where thousands are interviewed but few are chosen, had seen fit to let me pass, and I was now on the campus of a large state university for round two.
Everything had gone well: my 75-minute PowerPoint lecture to a class studying early Islamic history, subsequent interviews with the department chair and dean — I was on a roll.
Then I was outed. During a meeting with the search committee, a professor produced irrefutable evidence that I “appeared to be more conservative than others in my field.”
Worse, the evidence gave him the weapon he needed to deliver the coup de grace: “You sounded like Daniel Pipes!”
Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum in Philadelphia, a think tank that seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East, and a widely published scholar on Middle East issues.
The professor had in hand a two-year-old article, titled “7 Myths about Islam,” that I wrote for the History News Network, a Web site run by George Mason University at which professional historians and history buffs read, write and debate myriad topics.
In the article, I argued against seven pious falsehoods about Islam that the mainstream media treat as historical facts: Islam is the world’s fastest-growing religion; Islam was spread only through peaceful means; poverty produces Muslim terrorists; jihad does not mean holy war.
The committee member took particular offense at another myth I described as “a politically correct mendacity,” namely Tony Blair’s statement that on 9/11 Islam had been “hijacked by terrorists.” He even delivered a brief lecture on the definition of “mendacity” for my edification.
I pointed out the Quranic roots of violence and jihad and insisted that jihadists have firm Islamic roots for their lionization of violence. And I stated plainly (as I had in my lecture earlier that day) that the vast majority of Muslims don’t support a seventh-century interpretation of jihad.
In response to the offended academic’s demand that I fess up and call Christianity violent, I answered that Christians had indeed practiced violence throughout their history, but that to do so they had to contradict their founder, whereas Muslims had only to emulate theirs.
Further, I adduced my Middle East Quarterly article, “Beheading in the Name of Islam,” which traces the Quranic, Hadith and historical precedents for jihadist decapitations of non-Muslims.
Challenged by me to refute my work, the objecting professor sidestepped academic evidence — further indication that he lacked the ability to disprove my research. He did, however, betray his political agenda when he said, “Most of our students are conservative Christians who already hold a view of Islam and Muslims similar to yours.”
Was he suggesting that the role of the history professor is to disabuse his students of their religious beliefs — to transform them into reliable fellow travelers — rather than to engage them with solid research and teaching? If so, he needn’t look far for allies.
For another committee member objected that my research into Mahdist (Islamic messianic) movements presented Muslims as imperialists — never mind that the Ottomans were seen as such by co-religionists in Africa and Arabia. Her worldview, shaped by Edward Said’s notorious book “Orientalism,” would admit of only one kind of imperialism: Western.
No one involved in the selection process objected to the accusations that I was too conservative — too much like Daniel Pipes — to join their faculty. At this university, as at so many others, such charges are seen as rational objections to professional weaknesses, not as politicized protests against candidates who fail to pay proper obeisance to reigning pieties.
Before heading home I met again with the search chair, who tried in vain to assure me that the ideological litmus test I’d just failed in fact had never occurred. I asked her if she had ever heard a committee member accuse a candidate of being “more liberal than others in the field.” Of course she answered “never.” When the rejection letter arrived, it was hardly a shock.
I now have a personal story that backs up all the empirical studies documenting the bias against conservatives in the academy. If getting a Middle East or Islamic history job at a college or university means converting from following Bernard Lewis to the false messiah Edward Said, I won’t be changing jobs anytime soon. I only wish search committees would stop pretending that the diversity they seek is anything other than skin-deep.
Furnish is an assistant professor of history at Georgia Perimeter College in Dunwoody, Ga., and the author of Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Their Jihads, and Osama bin Laden (2005). He writes occasionally for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. His website is http://www.mahdiwatch.org/.
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